President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will not step in just yet to resolve the face mask mandate row in Cebu City as he is still weighing the positions of various agencies as well as that of the local government, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in an interview in Jakarta on Sunday.
“Primarily, this is a matter for the Department of Health and it will be the DOH who will primarily advise the President on health matters. That being said, we will also have to wait because right now, although the issue is ranging, there is intervention by the SILG [Secretary of the Interior and Local Government] and he has asked Cebu to kindly defer their plan,” she said.
“I understand that there is a response that they [Cebu City] will not defer. So, we will wait first for further action on the part of the Department of the Interior, and so all of that will be taken into consideration by the President.”
“For now, we will wait for a definitive statement. The President – what we can say – is he values the opinion of the DOH but he will likewise listen to everybody,” Cruz-Angeles added.
In defiance of a national mask mandate, Cebu City made mask wearing voluntary in open spaces starting Sept. 1, despite an appeal from the DILG.
DOH officer-in-charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire emphasized the importance of taking a “one-nation approach” in the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
“Just imagine if one or two or three LGUs are implementing different protocols, what will happen to us when the virus crosses borders?” she said. “That’s one of our worries… That would be really disastrous for all of us.”
Vergeire also said COVID-19 cases must stabilize before the government can lift the mandatory face mask policy.
She added that COVID-19 was not yet at an endemic stage in the Philippines.
“When we say endemic stage, this means that the cases are stable and the immunity of the population is high,” she said.
For her part, Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia said she is now considering relaxing the face mask rule further to make it optional even indoors.
“I do plan to take consideration even indoors. We are now closely studying this. We are consulting other sectors including the local Department of Health, Department of Tourism, DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], all other sectors because the wheels of government are not centered on the DOH alone,” she said.
The Singapore Ministry of Health released its new guidelines on Aug. 29 which makes wearing of face masks required only in the following areas: health-care facilities including medical transport, residential care homes, public transport, and outbound flights where countries of destination would require a mask.
“The economy has been devastated for too long because of their restrictive policies that have been crafted by those who haven’t seen their actual situation right here on the ground,” Garcia said.
She said her office is still drafting the executive order.