An official from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Manila clarified that Governor Gwendolyn Garcia did not violate any law when she issued an executive order that no longer requires swab tests for persons coming to Cebu for tourism-related activities.
Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III told the Cebu media in a virtual press conference Thursday that he was “just joking” when he issued a statement warning Garcia to follow the protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).
Garcia, for her part, said that the Executive Orders (EO) she issued that had any relation to the fight against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were in accordance with the IATF guidelines.
"It was a speculative question. Tinanong lang ako niyan na paano kung hindi daw sumunod si Governor, so ang sagot ko pabiro lang muna, sabi ko 'eh di i-force natin si Governor'," said Densing.
In fact, Densing disclosed that in today’s meeting with IATF, DILG will be proposing to ease up travel restrictions by no longer requiring the medical certificate and travel authority for travelers in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
In a separate press conference in Medellin town, Governor Garcia thanked Densing for shedding light on the issue.
"I wish to thank Undersecretary Densing for clarifying and I wish to thank them for going beyond what we already started in taking out the medical certificate and travel authority," Garcia said.
The governor was in northern Cebu where she led the reopening of tourism activities in the towns of Medellin, San Remigio, and Bogo City.
Garcia added that she has no fight with IATF when she opposed the recommendations of three doctor consultants of the Department of Health (DOH) to put Cebu under lockdown again.
"I want to make this very clear. It was garbled. I was not speaking against IATF, I was answering the three doctors. I have always abided by the IATF omnibus guidelines," said Garcia.
Before issuing the EOs related to COVID-19 measures, Garcia said she made it a point to analyze IATF guidelines "which are constantly evolving."
"I analyze the data, I do my own study," said the governor.
During the tourism stakeholders meeting Wednesday, February 24 in San Remigio, Garcia said even the DILG in the region supports her direction, acknowledging the Province’s local autonomy, in reopening Cebu’s tourism to rejuvenate economic activity and assist 85 percent of the economically disadvantaged population.
“Nakadawat ta’g assurance gikan mismo sa DILG supporting our direction. Kay sumala sa giingon ko, local government units may issue reasonable regulations which must be submitted to the DILG. Niining maong linyaha, girespetohan ang atong local autonomy sa DILG kay kining atong gibuhat reasonable alang sa tanan,” the governor emphasized.
Cebu Province is the first in the country to have taken decisive steps to resuscitate tourism activities since August of 2020.
At the same time, Garcia issued a series of EOs requiring mandatory health guidelines per activity such as canyoneering, whale-shark watching, trekking, swimming, and diving, to name some.
“Baga kaayo ang atong EO mahitungod ana kay ato gyung gitagsa-tagsa pag-outline ang mga regulation,” she added.
In her latest EO No. 12, tourists from outside the Province are now welcome to visit Cebu. A valid medical certificate and proof of pre-booking at a resort or a hotel establishment within the Province of Cebu shall be the only requirements for the purchase of a ticket for travel via air, land, or sea.
The medical certificate shall be issued by a reputable doctor and within seven days prior to the travel date.
The resort or hotel establishment located within the Province of Cebu should also be duly accredited by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Cebu Provincial Tourism Task Force.
Visitors must also pass the symptoms checking or screening at the point of departure and at the point of arrival.
DOH 7 Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas said the EO has clearly stated that the procedure involves syndromic examination of travelers.
“Gawas sa medical certificate nga gi-ssue nga ilang dalhon, duna tay symptoms screening such as temperature checking. Duna’y monitoring ang Bureau of Quarantine sa port of entry. Bisan pa og nakalusot ka sa thermo check, naa’y ilang thermal scanner, so makita gihapon if nag-display og symptoms. Pero kon wala’y symptoms nganong imo man siyang babagan?” Dr. Bernadas emphasized.
It is also the responsibility of local hotels and the local government to enforce syndromic surveillance.
“Ang atong hotels mo-monitor man if naay symptomatics. Duna tay gitawag og influenza-like surveillance, duna may mo-report ana sa atong RHU (rural health units). Basta duna tay makita nga symptomatics mao ray atong ipa-swab," Bernadas said.
"Mao na ang atong mga safeguard pinasubay sa EO ni Gov. And of course, we should practice minimum health standards sa atong panagtigum, paggawas ug pagsuroy sa atong lalawigan,” he added.
Garcia ended the meeting with the message: “Let the message ring out throughout the entire country - Cebu is moving on and moving forward.” (Kathy Navarro with reports from Eleanor Valeros)