President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he would not obey the courts “in the matter of managing the (COVID-19) pandemic” as he ordered Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to fall in line with national quarantine protocols and left her fate with the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
This was after Garcia said earlier in the day that her province will continue to carry out its own quarantine protocols for returning overseas Filipinos amid growing coronavirus cases outside Metro Manila.
Saying he met the governor earlier in the month, Duterte said: “I assured her we are fair. I see the wisdom in her view. But the overwhelming notion among us in government... simply do not agree with her.”
“I leave the fate of Governor Garcia to the DILG,” the President added, stressing that a provincial ordinance -- which Garcia was leaning on in defying the Palace’s directive – was not higher than national policy “because of this national emergency.”
“This is a question of the survival of the nation,” Duterte added.
This developed as two lawyers filed a case for declaratory relief against the country’s pandemic task force regarding Cebu’s protocols for arriving Filipinos, seeking to make a particular resolution “inapplicable and ineffective” within the province.
In a press conference, Garcia said the national government must respect the autonomy of the provinces because it knows the situation on the ground better.
Last week, President Duterte ordered Cebu to follow IATF protocols for returning overseas Filipinos.
“The provincial ordinance is the law of the land at this point because no one has questioned it, no one has gone to court, much less has it been declared ultra vires by a proper court,” Garcia said in a press conference. “We are a government of laws, not of men.”
Meanwhile, lawyers Clarence Paul Oaminal and Valentino Bacalso petitioned the court that Resolution No. 114 of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) declared as “inapplicable and ineffective” in Cebu.
They stressed its conflict with Cebu Provincial Ordinance No. 2021-04 as amended and Executive Order No. 17 validly enacted pursuant to Sections 105 and 16 of Republic Act No. 7160.
Under the resolution, the IATF requires returning Filipinos to stay in an accredited quarantine facility for ten days and undergo RT-PCR testing seven days after their return.
Governor Garcia’s EO, meanwhile, allows arriving nationals to be swabbed upon their arrival and return to their homes after a negative RT-PCR test result.
They would be allowed to finish their mandatory quarantine in their homes under the supervision of barangay health workers, then take another RT-PCR test on the seventh day.
The EO, which was issued in March, was later adopted into the provincial ordinance.
National officials and provincial governments have been in a constant tug of war over Cebu’s own policy which departs from the IATF rules. Malacañang even ordered the diversion of international flights from Cebu to Manila to force the local government to follow the national protocols.
Cebu tests arriving passengers from foreign countries on the first day to fast-track the transfer to particular cities and towns. They would be tested again on the seventh day in their hometowns to ensure they would not spread the coronavirus disease.
Garcia said she was not defying the president but wanted to abide by the local government’s laws.
“It is not about someone saying that the provincial ordinance is null and void because it goes against a resolution particularly issued by the IATF,” Garcia told reporters.
“If that is perhaps to be so, then perhaps we should abolish the provincial board. We should then forget about RA 7160 and even forget about the Constitution that states specifically that local governments shall enjoy local autonomy.”
Garcia said she will meet with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III next week to discuss the differences in the protocols.
But until then, the governor said local government units in Cebu could face sanctions if they disobey the provincial protocol.
Oaminal and Bacalso, who petitioned the court, argued the government task force failed to properly coordinate and consult with regional officials.
“The general welfare clause of the Local Government Code also gives the Sangguniang Panlalawigan the right and responsibility to exercise police power to protect the lives of the people in an emergency,” their petition said.
“COVID-19 is precisely the type of health emergency that calls for quick, decisive, and innovative measures to save lives, and the Governor has the express authority and responsibility to respond effectively to protect the health and safety of the people of this province.”
The lawyers argued that the IATF resolution “cannot supplant” both the ordinance and its amendatory ordinance “for only the Courts can declare these ordinances invalid or the Sangguniang Panlalawigan abrogates or repeals it.”
The case filed also shares the governor’s view that the IATF needs concurrence from the local government units if it continues to impose health policies on a locality beyond six months during the pandemic, in line with Section 105 of the Local Government Code.
The petitioners also eye the issuance of a temporary restraining order good for 72 hours, mandating the IATF to cease and desist from implementing its protocols on arriving Filipinos, and a 20-day TRO along with “subsequently a preliminary injunction to be effective during the entire pendency of this suit” after separate summary hearings.