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IATF rule on masks prevails over ordinance – DOJ chief

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Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra STORY: IATF rule on masks prevails over local ordinance – DOJ chief

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. (File photo from the Facebook page of Presidential Communication Operations Office)

MANILA, Philippines — The rule on mandatory mask-wearing set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF) prevails over the Cebu Provincial Board ordinance making it optional, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday.

The Cebu Provincial Board earlier adopted Executive Order (EO) 16 issued on June 18 by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia making the use of face masks in the province optional outdoors and in well-ventilated spaces.

Guevarra explained that Garcia’s EO, even though formalized through an ordinance, is not consistent with the current rules of the IATF, which was created to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“The EO of Governor Gwen is not consistent [with the IAT rule]. Even if’s an ordinance the net effect is the same: It’s still not consistent with the national rule or policy on the mandatory wearing of face masks,” Guevarra said, speaking in a mix of Filipino and English at the weekly “Kapihan sa Manila Bay” forum.

He agreed that the IATF could only issue guidelines, but he pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte had issued executive orders that gave the IATF resolution the force of law.

Under the Constitution, according to Guevarra, the president is supposed to have supervisory authority over the heads of local governments, through the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

He added that Congress had also passed laws allowing the president to impose emergency measures during a state of public emergency.

He cited two laws:

  • the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, which imposes penalties for noncooperation
  • the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which empowers the president to ensure that “all local government units will observe the policies and regulations imposed by the national government in connection with the fight against the pandemic.”

Cebu’s recourse?

Instead of going up against national policy, Garcia should approach the IATF and propose to make mask-wearing optional, Guevarra said.

“Just tell the IATF you have this proposal. You don’t need a direct confrontation,” Guevarra, who is a member of the IATF, said. “The IATF can adjust easily if it sees that there’s sufficient scientific basis to take a particular action. IATF moves fast.”

According to him, the IATF rules are “very dynamic” and “always change” because it’s “coping up with changes in the environment and developments in the control of the pandemic.”

Guevarra said he would raise the possibility of pilot testing in Cebu the optional wearing of face masks in the next IATF meeting.

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Cebu’s optional face mask rule stays; Garcia warns vs arrest of ‘unmasked’

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