The police leadership in Cebu has taken the side of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and supported her order to ease the outdoor mask rule in the province despite stiff opposition from the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of Health.
This resulted in a virtual stalemate between the local government unit and the national government over Garcia’s Executive Order No. 16 that made the use of face masks in outdoor and well-ventilated spaces option.
“The Philippine National Police is mandated to enforce the law. Hence, Cebu Provincial Police Office will support whatever is legal and supported by existing laws. EO 16 of Cebu signed by Hon. Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia remains the law as far as Cebu province is concerned and we recognize that unless it is later on invalidated by proper authority,” said Police Col. Engelbert Soriano in a statement posted on the CPPO’s Facebook page.
“In all other situations, a mask is still required. It actually encourages people to wear it in closed and crowded places and when with symptoms. In the latter case, the PNP will come in for appropriate enforcement,” he added.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Friday said police may arrest individuals in the province who violate health protocols “if necessary.”
“Current [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases] protocols allow only for specific instances when masks can be taken off, such as when eating or during certain well-ventilated sports and activities. This Department does not recognize the Executive Order issued by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia because we have the IATF Guidelines approved by the President,” he added.
The PNP is under the administrative control and supervision of the National Police Commission, which is an attached agency of the DILG.
Under Garcia’s EO 16, face masks are only required in indoor and air-conditioned spaces and for those with symptoms of COVID-19 when leaving the house.
“I am only normalizing what people are doing these days, they are taking off their masks [outside]… Please, let us not bring the [use] of the mask to ridiculous levels,” the governor said.
“I am not making decisions on some capricious whim,” Garcia said, adding that “local autonomy must prevail.
Cebu province is currently classified under Alert Level 2 by the DOH.
However, Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire on Saturday dissuaded local governments from veering away from the country’s health protocols.
“All LGUs should follow. There is only one protocol for all of us and we should abide by this,” Vergeire said.
Vergeire noted that other countries that prematurely lifted their face mask mandate experienced a surge of fresh cases.
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