Face mask ordinance debate on a stalemate

The Iloilo City Council has yet to decide on what to do with the current mask mandate. (Joseph B.A. Marzan file photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The Sangguniang Panglungsod of Iloilo City’s Committee on Health on Tuesday seemed to reach a point of confusion when they discussed the fate of City Regulation Ordinance (CRO) No. 2020-061, or the city’s face mask mandate for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee held a public hearing on the ordinance, following the proposal to suspend the ordinance.

While the proposal was submitted as an urgent motion on Sept 14, it was referred to the committee due to debates among councilors on whether it should be approved or the existing ordinance should be amended.

Councilor Ely Estante, CRO No. 2020-061’s original proponent, doubled down on his proposal to suspend the ordinance, stating that they can adhere to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s Executive Order No. 3.

The observance of the executive order, according to Estante, should be added to the suspension ordinance as a “whereas” clause.

Marcos Jr.’s edict allows the optional use of face masks in open outdoor spaces, except where physical distancing cannot be practiced, as well as in public transportation.

Marcos said that it was based on opinions from experts whom he sought, as well as his closest advisors.

Another option Estante proposed was to pass a new ordinance to penalize the non-wearing of face masks in indoor settings.

Councilor Urminico Baronda, chairperson of the city council’s Committee on Health, supported the suspension of the ordinance, and suggested for Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas to issue his own executive order implementing that of the president’s, which was then backed by Estante.

Estante was also backed by Councilor Sedfrey Cabaluna, citing the fact that protocols change periodically, and that the ordinance should stay in its current form in case COVID-19 cases rise again.

Cabaluna said that a suspension ordinance might lead to misinterpretation that face mask use would be completely suspended.

The neophyte lawmaker instead suggested that they recommend the suspension of the ordinance via executive order by Mayor Treñas, similar to the suspension of CRO No. 2022-027 (Local Public Transport Route Plan).

“We might look at the suspension component to be an executive decision, suspending the implementation of the ordinance on the face mask rather than passing a suspension ordinance. Like what they did to the LPTRP as our basis, it’s still there but the mayor chose to suspend the implementation of it,” Cabaluna said.

Councilor Alan Zaldivar, the previous health committee chairperson who oversaw the passage of the measure, rejected his colleague’s proposals, and instead reiterated his prior suggestion to amend the existing ordinance.

Zaldivar also suggested that they issue a resolution to adopt Executive Order No. 3.

His positions were backed by fellow Councilor Johnny Young and a lawyer from the City Legal Office.

“For me, there’s no need for the suspension of the [CRO No. 2020-061] but to include certain provisions that would address [Executive Order No. 3]. The penalties should still be there, but at least we could permit the non-wearing [of face masks],” Zaldivar said.

Dr. Roland Jay Fortuna, representing the City Health Office, did not state the office’s position on the proposals but said that they should just follow the executive order.

Councilor Candace Tupas’ representative aired her boss’ recommendations, to retain the mandatory wearing of face masks within the premises of hospitals and medical facilities, as well as areas where medical missions are conducted.

The final committee report with the official recommendations is expected to be presented at the City Council’s next regular session next Wednesday, September 28.