DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. (File photo)

MANILA – Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said on Thursday that Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama has agreed in principle to temporarily hold the executive order making the wearing of face masks in the city's open spaces non-obligatory.

Abalos said this came following his talk with the local chief executive on Wednesday night, committing to immediately bring up the matter to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“In fact, I am going to even further suggest to make Cebu City the pilot implementer of this measure since the city has always been first in espousing non-masking policies outdoors for the ease and benefit of its people amid the pandemic,” he added in a statement.

Abalos reiterated that the country is still in a state of national health emergency and President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has repeatedly called for the public to be vigilant and proactive in following health protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

He noted the importance of harmonizing existing laws and policies where implementation should benefit the public.

Abalos appealed to all local chief executives to put on hold their possible actions on the matter until he brings it over to the IATF which he already requested to convene to thoroughly discuss the measure.

“In the spirit of unity, I likewise appeal to all local chief executives to do the same until I bring this matter to the IATF. I have already requested the IATF Secretariat to immediately convene in order to thoroughly discuss this measure. Be assured that I, and the whole of DILG, will support its implementation as soon as this initiative gains the concurrence of the experts and policy-makers of the IATF,” he added.

In a separate interview, Abalos said Rama was cordial and accommodating when they discussed the order.

"Pinakiusapan ko po si Mayor Mike Rama na baka puwede namang 'Mayor Mike, marami tayong batas na ganito, okay lang ba sa’yo baka pupwedeng i-defer natin muna tapos ito’y ire-refer ko sa IATF' (I asked Mayor Mike Rama over the phone if he can defer the implementation of his new policy, as I refer it first to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases)," Abalos said.

"Ang sabi ni Mayor, 'Okay ‘yan, Secretary.' Sabi ko, 'I guarantee you, ‘ka ko sa kanya, bibilisan ko ito'. Bibilisan ko lang ito (The mayor said, 'That's okay, Secretary.' I told him, 'I guarantee you, I will prioritize this. I will make it fast'.)," he added.

In June, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia issued EO 16 which makes the wearing of face masks in the open spaces in the province no longer mandatory, in contrast to the protocols set by the then IATF against Covid-19.

In relaxing the face mask rule in Cebu City, Rama acknowledged that while the prevention of Covid-19 infection is the responsibility of every Filipino, the people must be given the freedom to choose between wearing a face mask or not on the basis of self-preservation.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan and John Eddu Ibañez, executive secretary to Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes also said they are already studying the lifting of the mandatory face mask rule in their areas of jurisdiction.

Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue City were the remaining local government units in the province of Cebu that have yet to drop the mask mandate. (PNA)