EXPLAINER: Duterte asserts IATF is boss on Covid protocols. Capitol capitulates. Shaking up judges, LGUs. Gains for Cebu, Gwen.

SunStar File

QUICKLY, WHAT HAPPENED

[1] Two Cebu-based lawyers filed Monday morning (June 21) a petition with the Regional Trial Court assailing the national agency IATF’s 10-day mandatory quarantine in a hotel for overseas workers (OFWs) and returning Filipinos (ROFs) and asking the court to stop the enforcement within the province. They allege the IATF rule won’t apply in Cebu because the province has an ordinance providing for only one-to-three-days stay in a hotel if the returnee is found negative after a swab-upon-arrival test.

[2] That Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte, responding to the Cebu lawsuit, warned he wouldn’t follow any court order that would interfere with the national government in its response to the pandemic. He ordered DILG to compel obedience by defiant Cebu officials.

[3] Tuesday, June 22, from Sta. Fe, Bantayan, Governor Gwen Garcia live streamed her announcement she had set aside Executive Order #23, issued the day before, which reminded government agencies to implement the disputed ordinance (2021-04) and warning that violators will be sued. The move was “in deference” to the president’s Monday night declaration that national government guidelines are superior to any ordinance or order from an LGU.

Gauntlet dropped; foot put down

Governor Gwen’s EO, reminding people and agencies to comply with the Cebu protocol, came even after (1) the president, through Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on June 14, ordered Cebu Province to follow the national procedures on arrivals, and (2) IATF-MEID, in its Resolution 122 of June 17, advised local governments to comply with the rules for inbound travelers.

In the wake of the two orders from the national government, the governor in effect was throwing down the gauntlet, as expressed in SunStar Print’s June 22 banner headline about the Capitol directive issued the morning before: “Gwen’s new EO warns agencies: Apply Cebu policy or face charges.”

The president too could put his foot down and he did. This time, he himself spoke, instead of the spokesman. He wanted obedience, as he ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government to enforce it, because it is “very dangerous” for any government agency or department “to mess up with a situation that is being managed.” “Not because we want to be ‘mas marunong,’ but, remember,” he said, “our decisions are based on what the medical people say, period.”

The imperial-sounding “period” indicates the heavy thud that a presidential foot being put down makes.

A scary part: shaking up the courts

The president, as chief executive, could’ve limited his “Don’t- mess-up” warning to agencies and instrumentalities under the control or supervision of the executive department. But he included the judicial department, even mentioned it first with the categorical promise he would disobey any court order suspending the national protocol. The lawsuit filed by Attys. Clarence Paul Oaminal and Valentino Bacalso, from which the governor reportedly distanced herself, asked that IATF guidelines be suspended for 72 hours at Mactan airport while the TRO request is being heard.

Like some of his controversial pronouncements, this one cannot be taken seriously at once. The president generally cannot stop a valid court order.

Legal experts point out that judicial processes and the bill of rights are not suspended by any health emergency. National laws and local ordinances were being passed from 2020 up to this year to authorize Covid response not covered by existing legislation. Would the pandemic justify the president to disobey court orders? Enough then of Capitol’s argument for local autonomy, rights under Local Government Code and the Constitution.

Gains for Capitol, Gwen, Cebu

Capitol supporters say Cebu Province has not lost anything in trying to modify national policy. Groundswell of support for the Cebu protocol — from town and city mayors to local members of Congress to senators and even some DOH and quarantine officials — must tell Manila that Cebu was doing something right.

The Capitol may consider these among its gains:

[1] It was able to get the May 31 audience with President Duterte, who, after listening to Governor Gwen’s side, ordered a “critique” of the Cebu procedure.

[2] Health Secretary Francisco Duque III accepted the governor’s invitation for IATF experts to argue against the Cebu ordinance and explain its critique before the Provincial Board (scheduled, a report said, on June 28).

[3] An initial concession to the local advocates for a modified guideline for inbound travelers is for the national government to pick up the hotel bills for ROFs, when under the old rule only OFWs got free accommodations. Earlier, Roque announced reduction of IATF’s 10-day-stay to seven days but it was not certain if that pushed though.

[4] The controversy rallied Cebu leaders to a common cause, under one leader who stands out, like the one spawned by Sugboak (a mix of Sugbo and “buak” or the cutting up of Cebu into four provinces) before the 2007 election. The coalition then beat the proponents, Sugboak failed and helped propel Gwen Garcia to easy wins for the last two elections of her three-term 2004-to-2013 stint. Given her performance during the pandemic, she might not even have a serious rival for a reelection in 2022.

Senate run in 2025?

More than the boost to Garcia’s political career is the investment in a possible, future run for the Senate, which has not had a full-pledged Cebuano in its ranks for a number of years now. Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III, 78 this December 13, ended five years ago his 18-year service as senator (from 2010 to 2016, then 1995 to 2007). He was the last red-blooded Cebuano senator standing.

Governor Gwen being entangled in a hot-button issue has put her on the national stage long enough to increase her “aware-of” and “will-vote-for” ratings in a poll on probable senators in 2025, if not 2022.

SunStar Cebu

SunStar Cebu

The SunStar Cebu, often stylized as Sun•Star Cebu, is a community newspaper in Cebu City, the Philippines. It is the flagship newspaper of the SunStar network of newspapers and is the leading newspaper in both Metro Cebu and the province of Cebu. It is also the oldest of the SunStar newspapers, having been in continuous publication since 1982. Its office is in Kamagayan, Cebu City.

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