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Cebu gov backs down, withdraws local health rule

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, deferring to President Rodrigo Duterte's policy statement, withdrew her order warning stakeholders in her province of possible punishment should they violate the swab-upon-arrival ordinance.

Garcia said she "looked forward" to the scheduled meeting between the Provincial Board and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases, including its chairperson, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, on June 28.

“This EO, I am now setting aside in deference to the President even as we look forward to the scheduled meeting this 28th of June with Sec. Duque and the same technical experts who had advised the President last night as regards the need to implement IATF guidelines (in Cebu),” said Garcia.

Garcia made the announcement through a live Facebook video from the Capitol’s media arm, Sugbo News, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said all local government officials, who are constitutionally under the supervision of the President, must align their policies, resolutions, and ordinances in accordance with the directives of the Chief Executive.

“Otherwise, there will be chaos and disorder in our society,” Guevarra said.

The DOJ chief was referring to two Cebu lawyers' move to question before the court the government policy requiring Filipinos from abroad to undergo a 14-day quarantine even if they test negative for COVID-19.

Guevarra, however, said they were “most welcome” to contest the IATF as it may prevent similar legal tussles in the future.

"The filing of a case by Cebu lawyers is most welcome. It provides a judicial forum for the settlement of an important legal issue that may crop up again in the future," he told reporters via text message.

Guevarra said the Office of the Solicitor General will handle the case for the government after lawyers Clarence Paul Oaminal and Valentino Bacalso Jr. on Monday asked that the IATF protocol for returning overseas Filipinos be declared “ineffective and inapplicable” in Cebu province.

The lawyers asked the Regional Trial Court in Cebu City to issue a 72-hour temporary restraining order and to order the IATF to “cease and desist” from implementing Resolution 114 that mandates Filipino travelers from abroad, including overseas workers, to undergo quarantine for two weeks regardless of COVID-19 test results. 

The order covers the Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City.

The province’s swab-upon-arrival policy allows travelers to go home if they test negative but they will be tested again after seven days.

Cebu officials, led by Governor Garcia, met with President Duterte and Duque on May 31 in Malacañang to discuss the arrival policies.

Guevarra said the IATF resolution remained in force as it was adopted by the President through an enabling executive order.

“As such, these IATF resolutions apply with equal force in every nook and cranny of our country. The IATF is a creation of the President. It is therefore a qualified political agency of the President. Its actions are the actions of the President, unless reprobated by the latter,” he said. 

In related developments, the Department of Labor and Employment said it would appeal to the government’s anti-COVID-19 task force for the reduction of the quarantine period for returning overseas Filipino workers who were vaccinated outside the country to just seven days.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he would try to convince the Inter-Agency Task Force on the government’s COVID-19 response to  reduce the quarantine period for vaccinated OFWs in the country where they come from.

“Currently, OFWs have to stay in a quarantine facility for 10 days and get swabbed on the 7th day. They are also required to observe 4 more days of home quarantine,” Bello said in a radio interview.

The Labor chief said he was hopeful the IATF might grant his request for a seven-day period for returning already vaccinated abroad.

He said vaccination cards or proof of vaccination was enough  to ease quarantine protocols for returning OFWs so that they can spend more time with their families and truly enjoy their stay in the country.

Earlier, the IATF allowed travelers who are fully vaccinated in the country against the novel coronavirus to undergo a seven-day quarantine upon entering the Philippines.  However, the new rules do not apply to OFWs.

Bello said shortening the quarantine period for OFWs inoculated abroad might also speed up the turnover of quarantined individuals, allowing the decongestion of quarantine facilities.

Meanwhile, Malacañang denied flip-flopping on the face shield policy, saying it was because of the “supervening events” such as the detection of the more infectious Delta variant.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there was nothing wrong with changing and adjusting policies because the government had to adapt to the mutations and variations of the coronavirus disease.

“We should know how to adapt with whatever science discovers. This is not flip-flopping because we have to adapt in protecting ourselves as the virus mutates,” he said.

“It will continue, the process of adapting, as this disease further develops and mutates, that will continue. And there’s no flip-flopping there because we’re just implementing policies to protect ourselves in accordance with how the virus mutates,” Roque said.

Topics: Gwendolyn Garcia , Menardo Guevarra , Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases
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