PHILIPPINE police will arrest people in Cebu province who don’t wear face masks despite an order by its governor easing the practice, according to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
The agency would also consider asking Cebu Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia to explain her policy of making face masks optional outdoors, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco V. Densing III told a televised news briefing on Monday.
The show cause order, which contradicts a national policy, would be issued if refuses to budge, he added. The central Philippine province is under Alert Level 2.
“That should be the last step, sending a show-cause order to the good governor,” he said. “In the meantime, we will have to ask our officials in the region to talk to the governor and make adjustments in her executive order.”
Mr. Densing said the DILG regional director in Cebu was coordinating with the governor so she could change her order.
The agency earlier said it would not recognize the optional face mask policy and would follow the national guidelines approved by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
“There’s no legal basis for apprehending people who are outside in open, well-ventilated areas and not wearing face masks,” Ms. Garcia told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday. “If they wish to continue wearing face masks, that is their choice.”
She said the country’s pandemic task force should respect the autonomy of local governments, adding that forcing people to wear face masks outside is unimplementable.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message guidelines and resolutions issued by the national pandemic task force and approved by Mr. Duterte should prevail.
“Between an executive order issued by the president, as manifested in resolutions issued by the task force composed of Cabinet secretaries who are the alter egos of the president, and executive orders issued by local government units, the former shall prevail,” he said.
Mr. Guevarra cited the 1987 Constitution, which says the president exercises general supervision over local government units.
In February, Ms. Garcia issued an order allowing unvaccinated foreign travelers into the province, which was contrary to the national pandemic task force’s guidelines limiting entry to fully inoculated tourists.
The governor had locked horns with the National Government last year when she shortened the quarantine period for arriving Filipinos to three days from the seven days required by the task force.
Mr. Duterte ordered her to follow the pandemic task force’s guidelines shortly after.
Meanwhile, Senator Maria Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos said Filipinos should get used to wearing face masks under the so-called new normal.
“Living with COVID will include wearing a face mask in crowded, enclosed spaces, as many countries learned during the SARS and other contagions,” she said in a statement. “Really, it’s a small price to pay for our families’ health.”
The Philippines has relaxed coronavirus restrictions by allowing establishments in areas under Alert Level 1 to operate at full capacity. Only those who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus are allowed to get inside.
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian noted that like Singapore, the Philippines could enforce mask-free policies when outdoors.
“The effect is a resurgence of their tourism industry to shore up government revenues,” he said in a separate statement. — John Victor D. Ordoñez and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan