Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia on Tuesday stood firm on the implementation of the province’s COVID-19 protocols instead of those set by the national government, saying the provincial ordinance would be imposed unless a proper court declares it as “ultra vires” or beyond its power.
In a Senate hearing, Garcia gave the statement when she was asked about President Rodrigo Duterte’s order which urged the provincial government of Cebu to comply with the COVID-19 quarantine protocols set by the national government for international travelers.
Cebu's provincial ordinance on testing and quarantine protocols differed from that of the IATF in that passengers arriving from abroad must undergo swab testing for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport.
Following a negative test result, the traveler would be allowed to go into home quarantine.
Under the IATF-approved quarantine protocols, returning Filipinos and OFWs are quarantined in a government facility. They are given an RT-PCR test on the seventh day of quarantine .
Once they test negative, they will finish the remainder of the 14-day quarantine at home.
Before standing by the provincial board’s decision, Garcia emphasized that she had deep respect for Duterte and his office, pointing out that her province even helped the former Davao City mayor during the 2016 elections.
However, the governor said she also has “great” respect for the rule of law.
“In Cebu, we are not only talking about an executive order, but a provincial board ordinance that was passed by our provincial board unanimously, adopting the protocols of my executive order,” she said.
“As we all know, a provincial ordinance, unless declared ultra vires in a proper court, is the local law of the land in accordance with Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code,” Garcia asserted.
While she insisted that the Local Government Code provided LGUs with autonomy, Garcia said she will be asking provincial board members to revisit the ordinance “out of deep respect to the President.”
Garcia also invited the technical advisers and medical experts of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to visit Cebu and present their data on COVID-19.
The governor also recalled her last meeting with Duterte during which the President asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to present a critique of Cebu's protocols.
However, she lamented that the Cebu provincial government had not been furnished with a copy of the critique.
“So we are unaware, particularly where we could go wrong. So we respect the opinion of the medical experts, of Secretary Duque and they will be kindly invited including members of the IATF who may wish to accept our invitation before the provincial board so that shall be guided accordingly,” she said.
Garcia explained that she needed to continue implementing the Cebu ordinance otherwise she might be accused of dereliction of duty.
“I had presented our data, Secretary Duque keeps on insisting that Dr. [Edsel] Salvana presents his, but it’s out of my hands, this is a provincial board ordinance that the provincial board has tasked me to implement as the chief executive of the province.”
In response to Garcia, Duque, who was present at the Senate hearing, thanked Garcia for the invitation, saying he would present this to the IATF.
The Health chief apologized for failing to provide Cebu’s governor with a copy of the critique, and promised that national government experts would visit the province to explain why they are certain "that the protocol that is nationally adopted is the way to go.”
However, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, also present in the Senate hearing, argued that President Duterte’s order had supremacy over the ordinances and resolutions passed by the LGUs
“The IATF resolutions, all their protocols are binding and mandatory. The rules and policies of the local government units are expected to conform,” Año said, reacting to Garcia’s statement.
He said that the IATF was created by an Executive Order, citing provisions of the Administrative Code of 1987.
Año added that executive orders state mandatory requirements of the executive branch and have the effect of law.
The EOs are issued based on laws passed by Congress or based on powers granted to the president in the Constitution and must be consistent with other authorities.
"Since the local government units are under the Executive Branch, they are expected to follow the command of the national government exercised through the executive power of the chief executive,” Año said.
“Hence, no amount of Executive Order or ordinance from a province can dictate this power of the president, rooted in a constitutional preset considering that the constitution is the fundamental and the highest law of the land. In other words po, hindi mo kailangan ng ultra vires because at the first instance the ordinance or the resolution is in the first place opposing the resolution that has been approved by the President,” the Interior secretary added.
Still, Garcia maintained that LGUs are given powers under the Local Government Code, saying Cebu’s provincial ordinance is an issue that should be resolved legally.
“Be that as it may, Mr. President, this is a legal issue which I don’t wish to delve into,” she said.
In addition, Garcia said she will have their provincial ordinance reviewed by Cebu provincial board as well as medical experts of the national government's task force against COVID-19.
Garcia then thanked Duque for accepting her invitation so that the provincial board “shall be able to judge in a balanced manner.”
On June 12, the memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea diverting Cebu-bound flights to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) had expired.
Medialdea issued the memo at the time the Cebu government was administering COVID-19 RT-PCR tests on non-tourist travelers from overseas on the day of arrival instead of during the seventh day of quarantine in a government-accredited facility since the virus takes days to incubate.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque could not say what action the national government would tak if Cebu, led by Garcia, decides to continue defying the national government protocol. — DVM, GMA News