THE Executive Order issued by Cebu governor Gwen Garcia making the wearing of face masks optional for Cebuano in well-ventilated and open spaces in their province seems to have generated a lot of controversies.
For one the said Executive Order – which was later adopted by the Cebu provincial board thus becoming a local ordinance – runs counter to one of the most important health protocols in reducing the chances of being infected by the COVID-19 virus and all of its mutations and variants. While the executive order cum ordinance has set a condition that the non-mandatory wearing of face masks applies only in well ventilated and open spaces and still requires its use in “closed and/or air-conditioned spaces, and “further encourages to continue to wear their masks in crowded outdoor areas,” the governor and her provincial board members might have conveniently forgotten that there is still a continuing COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The order itself which is titled, “Rationalizing the Wearing of Face Masks Within Cebu” comes out as a total disconnect from the reality of what is actually happening on the ground. In fact, in the whereases of the local law, we find the justification for the non-mandatory use of the face mask puzzling by stating simply, “other countries, including Singapore, have already directed the wearing of masks and other personal protective equipment be optional in outdoor settings due to the global improvement of the COVID-19 situation, or “as a necessary step towards the new normal, there is a need to rationalize the requirement on wearing of masks,” and finally, “on 26 May 2022, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) issued Resolution No. 168-A, Series of 2022, de-escalating the Province of Cebu’s Alert Level classification to Alert Level 2”.
Nowhere can we find a statement grounded on a scientific basis for such a directive or conclusive and factual data and information that would justify the non-mandatory use of face masks by Cebuano in well-ventilated and open spaces. If at all the provisions of the executive order mentioned above rely on superficial considerations such as that since other countries have already made optional the use of face masks considering the general trend of an improving global situation with respect to the COVID-19 situation then it follows that the country or the province of Cebu, in particular, should follow suit.
While great respect is afforded to the autonomy of local government units, especially in the governance of their constituencies, it is of equal importance to have a good sense of perspective or as they often say situational awareness of everything that is going on before proceeding to take action or issue orders or directives in the local level.
If the good governor and her board members can come up with conclusive scientific proof that there is no longer any imminent COVID-19 threat that would affect their constituents, or definite zero possibility of any COVID outbreak happening in the near future in their province, then the executive order would have been on safer ground. But as it stands right now, the general sentiment in medical circles, particularly with the World Health Organization (WHO) is that the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much around and lurking just around the corner, even if somehow most countries, the Philippines included, may have seemed to have effectively contained and managed it for the moment. That is actually the problem when you are dealing with a crisis where the enemy you are confronting cannot be seen and can only be felt by the damage it has inflicted. In fact until now medical experts are still grappling with sub-variants of the COVID-19 virus which continue to raise havoc against the health security of the nations.
Now going back to the executive order of governor Gwen Garcia of Cebu which has already been made part and adopted as an ordinance by the province it would do well for the governor and her board members to reconsider for now the implementation of their local law. It would be better for Cebu to err on the side of caution than to later on experience a surge in the number of COVID cases in their locality. Going by the latest update on COVID in the province of Cebu, a report in Philippine Star reveals that the COVID cases in Cebu have doubled in a week with 53 cases in June 16, 2022 compared to only 25 in June 6, 2022.