The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) today said that the provincial ordinance passed by the Cebu Provincial Board relaxing the wearing of face masks outdoors cannot supersede President Duterte’s Executive Order 151 which mandates the mandatory use of face masks all over the country except in allowable circumstances.

“EO 151 issued by the President in accordance with RA 11332 is superior to any local ordinance passed by the Cebu Provincial Government. RA 11332 gave the President the authority to declare a public health emergency and mobilize all government agencies to respond to the pandemic,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano.

He emphasized that the country is still under a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity until September 12, 2022. “The entire nation is still under a state of public health emergency, Cebu Province is still under Alert Level 2, and we have an uptick of cases. Now is not the time to be complacent. There should only be one policy across the country,” he said.

At the same time, Año said the Philippine National Police (PNP) will strictly enforce in the Province of Cebu the mandatory face mask rule imposed by the President under EO 151 and all police officers who refuse to follow orders from higher authorities will be relieved of duty.

“We cannot play around with the laws of the land. Even with the passage of a provincial ordinance by Cebu province making the wearing of face masks optional, such ordinance is void and legally infirm and incapable of superseding EOs of the President of the Philippines,” he said.

He said EOs are acts of the President providing for rules implementing constitutional or statutory powers. These have the force and effect of law as they are an exercise of the power of the President under the Constitution, Administrative Code of 1987, and RA 11332.

“There is only one President of the Philippines and we should follow all legal orders of the Chief Executive,” he said.

Garcia recently issued provincial Executive Order No. 16 making the wearing of face masks optional in open spaces which was backed and adopted by the Cebu Provincial Board through an ordinance.

According to Año, the Cebu provincial ordinance violates the following national laws: EO 151 series of 2021 which makes wearing of face masks mandatory under all alert levels; EO 168 s, 2014 which created the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) with functions to pass measures that will prevent the local spread of COVID 19 including the mandatory wearing of face masks; EO 1218 which placed the country under a state of calamity from September 13, 2021 to September 12, 2022; and Republic Act 11332 which authorized the President to declare a state of pubic health emergency.

“We emphasize that these EOs are superior over LGU ordinances. Local governments are merely agents of the national government and local sanggunians exercise only delegated powers conferred by the national government. Hindi naman puwede na mas masusunod pa ang mga LGU sa national government. Obviously, the delegate cannot exercise powers superior to its principal,” Año said.

The DILG Chief likewise said that data from the DILG Provincial Office show that at least 20 LGUs of Cebu Province already have existing ordinances on mandatory wearing of face masks and observance of minimum public health standards (MPHS). Among these are Alegria, Aloguinsan, Badia, Carmen, Compostela, Medellin, Talisay City, and Tuburan.

“The Cebu provincial ordinance cannot repeal the ordinances of the said LGUs pursuant to the principle of local autonomy,” he said, stressing that local autonomy is not absolute as local issuances should always conform to national laws. Autonomy, he said, is “decentralization of administration and not decentralization of power.”

Mask mandate stays

“Therefore, there should be no confusion in Cebu. The PNP will continue to confront, apprehend, and arrest, if necessary, all violators of the mandatory face mask rule in the Province of Cebu and in other areas of the country. Yung mga matitigas ang ulo, 'yun ang huhulihin natin. 'Yung iba na cooperative naman will just be warned,” he said.

He said that this enforcement is critical in ensuring that other LGUs will not follow the example of Cebu. “We do not want to set a precedent for other LGUs. We are still in a pandemic and more transmissible variants are still arising, hence, we must abide by the MPHS, including wearing of face masks in order to finally defeat this pandemic,” he pointed out.

According to the data of the Department of Health, COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila have been increasing since mid-May and have climbed to more than 100 cases per day in June 2022. At least 1,889 new cases from June 7 to June 13 were recorded nationwide, with the current positivity rate at 1.9 percent.

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