MANILA – More lawmakers on Wednesday expressed their support for President Ferdinand R. Marcos' decision to make the use of face masks in indoor settings voluntary.

Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. said Marcos’ “audacious step” of further easing the once stringent protocols on masking and border entry for international travelers sends a clear message to the world that the Philippines has started to normalize the coronavirus situation.

“In the words of Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco, the Philippines is now fully open and ready for tourists and investments. The President’s issuance soon of an executive order (EO) on the removal of the strict Covid-related requirements on masking and inbound travel would attract more tourists and boost Philippine tourism, which is integral to the country’s quick and robust recovery from the global economic and health crises wrought by the once-in-a-century pandemic,” he said in statement.

Quezon 3rd District Rep. Reynan Arrogancia said he supports Marcos’ decision because “our country is long overdue for relaxing the safety protocols.”

“Yes, the voluntary wearing of face masks should be the general rule with very few exceptions. I very much agree with President Marcos on this matter,” he said in a separate statement.

“Mas magiging masaya dahil hindi na matatakpan ng face masks ang matatamis nating ngiti. Makakatulong ito sa lalong pagsigla ng turismo (We would be better off because our sweet smiles would not be hidden by face masks. It would help in revitalizing tourism),” Arrogancia said.

Meanwhile, Manila 3rd District Rep. Joel Chua believed that transitioning to voluntary mask-wearing “is crucial to living in a new normal.”

“The impracticality and inconvenience of mask-wearing is quite acute especially when tourists, students, and teachers have had their primary doses and boosters. For tourism sites and campuses there really must be consistency in the safety protocols. Voluntary masking and bivalent boosters would be the right steps,” he said.

For Quezon City 2nd District Rep. Ralph Tulfo, easing the indoor mask mandate is the right thing to do since it is already proven that the country’s resistance against Covid-19 is strong, considering that more than 80 million Filipinos have had their primary vaccine doses and more people lining up for their booster shots.

“I welcome the good news that wearing of face masks will also be voluntary indoors. Dapat naman talaga luwagan pa ang ((It’s only right to further ease) Covid safety protocols. Napag-iiwanan na ang Pilipinas (The Philippines is getting left behind),” he said.

Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera echoed her colleagues’ sentiments, saying the “voluntary wearing of face masks really should be more widespread now and in the coming weeks and months.”

“Mas malakas na ang panlaban ng mga Pilipino at mga bisitang turista kontra Covid. Nagiging impraktikal na sa maraming lugar ang pagsusuot ng face masks (Filipinos and tourists are more resistant now against Covid. The wearing of face masks is becoming more impractical in many areas),” she said.

On the other hand, Ang Probinsyano Party-list Rep. Alfred delos Santos said while the voluntary indoor wearing of face masks is a welcome development, he encouraged everyone “to proceed with cautious optimism” to ensure a Covid-free Philippines.

“The fight against Covid-19 is not yet over. The threat of Covid-19 is still very much present, especially for certain groups of people. As such, we would like to highlight that the EO still requires unvaccinated individuals, senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and other Covid-vulnerable persons to wear their masks indoors,” he said.

He also expects citizens and tourists to follow protocols that remain in place, such as frequent hand washing, and the wearing of face masks in hospitals and public transportation.

“Sa ganitong paraan ay masisiguro po nating hindi masasayang ang nakaraang dalawang taon na paglaban natin sa Covid-19 pandemic (Through this, we could ensure that our two-year fight against that Covid-19 pandemic will not go to waste),” delos Santos said.

The lawmakers all agreed that the government should make booster shots readily available and more accessible to more Filipinos to prevent the resurgence of the pandemic.

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Marcos approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) for the issuance of an executive order (EO) allowing the voluntary wearing of face masks in indoor places, "with few exceptions.”

"But generally, the direction of the Marcos administration is to lift the remainder of travel restrictions into the Philippines, and that includes easing of our mask mandates to allow our country to be at par with our Asean neighbors [which] have long liberalized the mask mandates," she said. (PNA)