DILG Secretary Eduardo Año (left) and Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia (right) (File photos)

MANILA – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said it is looking to take legal action against Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia if she will continue to defy the national government's mask mandate amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ganun ang mangyayari diyan. Kapag patuloy nila yan gagawin at nagkakaroon na talaga tayo ng injury, damage and confusion eh talagang hindi naman pupuwede ang ating national government ay pababayaan lang mangyari ang ganyan (That's what we will do. If they continue to do it and it causes injury, damage and confusion, the national government cannot just allow that to happen),” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

This came as the national government and the Cebu provincial government continue to lock horns over the mask mandate, with the Cebu provincial board siding with Garcia as it passed an ordinance that adopted her Executive Order (EO) 16 making the wearing of face masks optional in open and well-ventilated areas in the province.

Año said Cebu's move does not have a legal basis, noting that policies of local government units should be anchored on the national government's policies, pronouncements made by the President, and the Constitution.

“We have ongoing talks in Cebu. The provincial director of the DILG continues to talk to them. In fact, I told them to fix the EO and the ordinance and align it with the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) rules. It cannot be optional. You can add some exemptions based on the advice of health and science experts but you cannot make the mask rule optional," he said in mixed English and Filipino.

In November last year, President Rodrigo Duterte signed EO 151 which approves the nationwide implementation of the Alert Level System for Covid-19 response as recommended by the IATF.

The IATF resolution highlighted the maintenance of minimum public health standards consistent with the Department of Health (DOH) Administrative Order No. 2021-0043 which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks, especially in public areas in places under Alert Levels one to five.

EO 168, on the other hand, was signed by late President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 to institutionalize the creation of an IATF in anticipation of any epidemics and pandemics in the country.

“So let's put order into things. You cannot just do that because you know that you have a mandate to ensure order. You cannot just ignore EOs and national policies especially when the health of the people is at stake. Why did we make wearing masks mandatory? It's because we are still in a pandemic and it is not yet over," Año said.

Following the issuance of Garcia’s EO 16, Año ordered police personnel to continue to arrest, if necessary, those not wearing face masks in public spaces in the province.

The DOH earlier said it is not yet time for the country to lift the mandatory wearing of face masks especially since several cases of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant have been detected in the country. (PNA)