DILG Secretary Eduardo Año (Screengrab from DILG press briefing)

MANILA – Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Thursday gave the Cebu provincial government a three-day ultimatum to rectify its newly-passed ordinance which made the wearing of face masks in open and well-ventilated areas in the province optional.

“We will be giving the Cebu provincial government, the governor, and the councilors to amend, rectify, and adjust their ordinance and EO to be consistent with the EO 151 and the guidelines in the implementation of the alert level system which is part of EO 151. Maybe over the weekend, we will give them a chance to rectify this. After the weekend then we will do whatever is necessary,” Año said in a press briefing in Camp Crame.

Año maintained that the ordinance passed by the Cebu provincial board cannot supersede President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) 151 which mandates the use of face masks all over the country except in allowable circumstances.

He emphasized that the country is still under a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity until September 12, 2022.

“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.

Año also said the Philippine National Police (PNP) will strictly enforce the mandatory face mask rule imposed by the President in Cebu and that 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.

Año added that the Office of the President ordered them to exhaust all legal remedies if the Cebu provincial government will refuse to comply with the mask mandate.

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

Citing data from DILG provincial office in Cebu, Año said at least 20 local government units (LGUs) in the province already have existing ordinances on mandatory wearing of face masks and observance of minimum public health standards (MPHS), including Alegria, Aloguinsan, Badia, Carmen, Compostela, Medellin, Talisay City, and Tuburan.

He said the enforcement of the mask mandate is critical in ensuring that other LGUs will not follow Cebu's act.

“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 face masks in order to finally defeat this pandemic,” he said.

The Department of Health earlier rejected calls to lift the mask mandate, especially since several cases of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant have been detected in the country. (PNA)