Abalos eyes Cebu City as pilot area for optional face mask use

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos said he's willing to make Cebu City a pilot area for the optional use of face masks.

(Maskmedicare Shop/ Unsplash)

This was confirmed to congressmen by Abalos during the budget deliberations of the agency before the House Committee on Appropriations on Thursday, Sept. 1.

During the hearing, Abalos was asked by Zamboanga Sibugay 1st district Rep. Wilter Palma about his stand on Cebu City's desire to make the use of face mask optional amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In response, Abalos shared to the panel a conversation he had with Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama on Wednesday.

"I've called up Mayor Mike Rama yesterday when I heard about his pronouncements [to make face masks optional) and told him, 'Mayor Mike, is it possible for you to defer this executive order?'" he said. Rama apparently agreed.

"Mabuti po na lang at napakabait ni Mayor Mike, pumayag po siya sa suggestion ko (It's a good thing that Mayor Mike is very kind, and agreed to my suggestion), so it is where we are right now," Abalos said.

"I promise I will bring this to the IAFT (Inter-Agency Task Force) next week. And not only that, I will even move that Cebu be a pilot here since Cebu has always been wanting to have this policy of removing masks outdoors.

"But we have to have a process and we have to have one policy here in the whole country," said the DILG chief.

The IATF has been the body recommending public health safety measures to the executive ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The mandatory use of face masks outdoors is one rule that has persisted.

"If Cebu will prove probably in two weeks of three weeks na pupwede nang mag-mask (that it's OK not to wear masks), why not? At least we have something to start on," said Abalos, the erstwhile Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman.

DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos (Screenshot from Zoom)

He said that he asked Rama to defer his order "for the simple reason that we could harmonize the national law of course...yung executive order para iisang direksyon na lang tayo, iisang sagwan na lang tayo (so that we will move in just one direction)".

Abalos also committed to Palma and the rest of the solons that he would have a resolution on the matter expedited.

"I commit that next week I will bring this matter to the IATF. I've been trying to call up secretary Vergeire here, and once it is there I also commit that this process should be expedited para wala na pong nalilito (in order to avoid confusion)," he said.