(File photo)

MANILA – Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. on Tuesday said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is carefully studying the proposals to relax the country's mask mandate.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Abalos stressed the need to weigh things carefully regarding the matter as the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Abalos said the IATF might come up with its decision on the matter by the end of the week but declined to give further details on what transpired during their meeting.

“Well number one, as previously agreed with the IATF, kay Pangulong Digong (Rodrigo Duterte) hanggang ngayon (from the time of President Rodrigo Duterte up to the present), everything would be kept a secret until the final result,’’ Abalos said.

The DILG chief pointed out that what is being discussed is all about the issue of "mask mandate outdoors", adding that the indoor face mask policy is out of the discussion.

“There are points of view saying we (the Philippines) and Myanmar are the only countries in Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) that have a mask mandate, the others have already lifted theirs. Of course, there are those mentioning things like vaccination, booster shots, and other factors. So we have to weigh everything as that is what we are discussing,’’ Abalos said.

Meanwhile, Abalos admitted having talked anew with Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama regarding his executive order on making the wearing of face masks non-obligatory in his city.

Abalos said while he understands Rama's good intentions over the issue, he said it would be best for the mayor to wait for the IATF to give its nod on the measure.

Hindi ko maintindihan yung sinasabi niya (Rama) eh. Ayoko na magkaroon ng miscommunication, (I don’t understand his point. I do not want any miscommunication), so it's better to just move on. Just give me a few days. Let's make a process here because if everyone will do as he wishes, baka magkagulo naman tayo (things might turn chaotic),’’ he said.

Rama continued to impose the non-obligatory wearing of face masks and denied shelving the policy in open spaces after reports said he supposedly acceded to Abalos' request.

Last week, 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.

Earlier, the Department of Health said wearing face masks decreases the possibility of infection by 70 percent to 80 percent while reminding Filipinos that decreasing the number of Covid-19 cases does not mean the virus is no longer around. (PNA)