DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. (left) and Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama (right) (File photos)

MANILA – Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said he is open to holding a dialogue with Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama over an apparent "miscommunication" regarding the local chief executive's order, making the wearing of face masks voluntary in his city.

“There seems to be a miscommunication as to what Mayor Rama and I discussed regarding the issue. I respect the statement of Mayor Rama, and I fully intend to keep communication lines open to give him the opportunity to explain his position and basis behind the enactment of the city-wide order,” Abalos said in a statement on Friday.

Abalos said his commitment also includes proposing to make Cebu City a pilot city that will help assess the lifting of masking protocols in outdoor areas and wide open spaces to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

Ang DILG ay mananatiling kaisa ng bawat sektor, lalung-lalo na ng mga lokal na pamahalaan sa bansa, sa pagprotekta sa kalusugan ng mamamayan at masiguro ang ating unti-unting pagbangon mula sa pandemyang dulot ng Covid-19 (The DILG will remain united with every sector, especially local governments in the country, in protecting the health of the people and ensure our gradual recovery from the pandemic caused by Covid-19),” he added.

On Thursday, Abalos said Rama agreed to defer the implementation of Executive Order No. 5 which makes the wearing of face masks in all areas in Cebu City optional.

Rama, however, denied Abalos' remarks as he stood firm in enforcing the EO.

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 requested to convene to thoroughly discuss the measure.

In June, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia issued EO 16 which makes the wearing of face masks in open spaces in the province no longer mandatory.

Garcia's EO drew the ire of then IATF officials who maintained that the country's mask mandate should stay amid the pandemic. (PNA)