KEY POINTS.  Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia did not ‘ignore’ Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año’s threat to ‘correct’ alleged flaws within three days, or until weekend of the Executive Order of the Governor of the Province of Cebu and the Ordinance of the Provincial Council on optional face masks. She specifically dismissed the threat and again said Capitol policy remains as is, hammering home the reasons as directly as her attorney did.
 The Governor, herself, and through Capitol consultant Atty. Jon Sepulveda, during the Friday, June 17 press conference, said they found a “flaw” in Secretary Año’s attack on Capitol’s legal position, which led them to conclude that the presidential protocol protocol the IATF’s face mask health policy was “unlawful”.
 The governor’s catalog of arguments on the DILG’s moves against the Capitol initiative also beefed up against national officials’ contradictions and quirks in dealing with the pandemic as a national emergency.
1. THREAT, RESPONSE. Secretary Año’s threat was clear enough: the Capitol’s failure to correct errors in the Governor’s EO (#16, June 8, 2022) and PB Order, June 14, 2022, could lead to the issuance of a “show cause” order against Capitol officials and, by implication, administrative and judicial action.
His threat was preceded by a Justice Department resolution that (a) the President’s EO endorsing the IATF rule takes precedence over the Governor’s EO and (b) local health mandates must follow the national health mandates. Additionally, the order from senior PNP officials to the police to enforce IATF regulations, backed up by news of the dismissal of the Cebu Province police chief for “supporting” Capitol.
Año may not have expected the Capitol’s response, having seen Governor Gwen end past confrontations by expressing respect for the president, who endorsed IATF orders. Each time, Gwen was about to challenge the central government but stopped short.
2. UNAVOIDABLE LEGAL FACE-OFF, that is, if the head of the DILG, Año, will insist on a punitive course against the governor and the legislators, which must necessarily go through the courts. Embracing the rule of law – “no knee jerk” which she said was Secretary Año’s response – Gwen actually says, Sue us.
But Año is pressed for time, his mandate ends on June 30. Atti. Sepulveda and Governor Gwen have more than once referred to Año as outgoing secretary, which is true. Nobody, of course, will expect the court to solve the problem quickly enough, but he could leave his office with guns blazing: issue a show cause order and, before June 30, bring the case before the tribunal.
In any case, this is a situation where Capitol, supposedly at fault, leaves it to DILG to take care of the rest. For now, Gwen and company don’t expressly say “Bring it on”, but the statement that “The EO and the Ordinance will remain” says the same.
3. CONSULTATION. The “flaw” that Atty. Sepulveda and Governor Gwen said they discovered in Año’s legal basis for the assault on the Capitol a matter of fact: there was no consultation by the Department of Health with its “local counterparts”, referring to DOH health offices in cities, provinces, and towns. It’s fatal and I made the President’s EO 151 illegal, they said.
Thus, the Capitol’s legal position is that the President’s Order cannot be superior to the local EO and Ordinance because EO President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11332 “violated », the legal support of the order. Presidential EOs, Sepulveda said, implement and execute what the law and the Constitution provide. Duterte’s OE broke the law, so it was illegal.
This assumes that Capitol can prove that the national DOH did not consult the local DOH before the IATF drafted them and the president signed the IATF resolutions. The National DOH, IATF and Office of the President should each insist with their body of evidence that the consultation was done.
4. “WE ARE ELECTED” CARD; OPTIONAL, CEBU ONLY. Governor Garcia questioned why unelected officials in Manila made the decisions by writing the guidelines without consulting local leaders on the ground. Año and the others in Manila can say that is not true, they are listening to what the general managers of LGU are saying.
Last Friday, she was more outspoken. “Magbuot-buot” while they were unelected, she said, citing that she had been re-elected for “an unprecedented fifth term” with 1.4 million votes, “historic and unprecedented “.
She also argued that the Capitol policy only applies to the province of Cebu, excluding non-constituent cities. It does not completely remove face masks. It simply makes wearing optional in environments declared safe by experts and – she finally said this last Friday more explicitly, humorously or not – for those “mga bati og nawong” who would prefer to hide their face.
The system may be what’s wrong: the leaders who oversee local governments and the people who make up the IATF are not elected. The president is however elected and is supposed to look after the interest of the nation without forgetting the interest of the locals, which must include a certain form of autonomy despite the confinements and other forms of repression.
5. PRINCIPLE UNDERLYING THE COVID WAR has been a centralized policy on measures regarding vaccines, quarantines, lockdowns, alert levels and ordinary health protocols such as face masks and distancing. This assumes that the central government has to issue the orders and that the local governments only follow.
Laws and enforcement rules have not always been consistent with this basic policy, but almost everyone has recognized and accepted it during the first two years of the health crisis.
Officials like Año have used this as an almost biblical principle: don’t quibble over a discrepancy when it doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the Constitution and laws. And obviously, national leaders wielded that authority to bully local leaders reluctantly.
6. INCONSISTENCE IN APPLICATION. While they would arrest low-level mask mandate violators, they wouldn’t touch high-ranking officials such as the PNP officer in charge or Secretary Año exposing their faces in high-profile moments? Governor Gwen grabbed the AIATF list of occasions, just three, where masks can be dropped and they don’t include taking pictures.
She also insisted on how “ridiculous” how long law enforcement could go. Would cops spy on people eating and drinking in establishments open to the public, watching when they aren’t eating or drinking but their masks are off? The zeal and intensity the police could use to pursue the real crime.
7. WHY ANO, OTHERS WON’T LET GO. Governor Gwen has described Año more than once as “outgoing”, whose days in power are numbered (11 days from Sunday June 18). And compared to the country’s economic and health problems, the face mask problem would be insignificant, she said. Why doesn’t Año “let go” or, that despised cliché, “move on”?
When asked by a reporter, the governor said she had no “bad blood” with the DILG secretary – yes, outgoing. She cited past incidents when she publicly argued with Ano, including the banning of processed pork and motorcycling.
What has not been highlighted is this: the pain and anger of a national official when a local official, in public and with intense media attention, speaks out, retaliates or rejects central authority . He won’t say he’s personally offended; it is not pride, it is the national institution or the national policy that he protects, he will say.
That could be why Secretary Año won’t “let go” even if you think he’s more lame than most lame ducks in an administration with less than two weeks to finally waddle.