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Opinion

Rational and sensible  

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

On the rationalization of wearing of face masks in open spaces or outdoor settings, it is unfortunate that the issue has become a battle of wits and wills.

We can debate endlessly about local autonomy and the distinction between the power of control and the power of supervision. On many occasions, the Supreme Court has had the chance to distinguish both. In one case the Court emphasized that the Office of the President wielded no more authority than that of checking if a local government performs its duties under the law. “Supervisory power, when contrasted with control, is the power of mere oversight over an inferior body; it does not include any restraining authority over such body,” the Court held.

Outgoing Interior Secretary Eduardo Año may say that his office merely supervises when it sees to it that the IATF rules on pandemic protocols are followed by local governments. Said rules have the authority of law because they are sanctioned by the president’s Executive Order 151 series of 2021.

Año may be right. And he may further assert that all areas in the country must conform to one rule when it comes to public health; that’s because we are fighting a virus that respects no borders and which requires substantial resources.

What is easily missed, however, is that both national and local governments have shared interests in this issue. For sure, both want to protect the health and welfare of the people amid this pandemic. It’s in their differing positions that the current battle of wits and wills has emerged.

If both parties could just work around their respective positions along the lines of their shared interests, then the public would have been spared the current intramurals. Beyond legalistic posturings, the national government could have taken its cue from the more rational initiative of the local government. If only our national government officials can swallow their pride and admit that the local government is on point this time in rationalizing mask-wearing.

For instance, since March 29 this year, Singapore has allowed optional mask-wearing in outdoor settings. People in Singapore are still encouraged to continue to wear their masks especially in crowded outdoor areas. Now, isn’t that exactly the same tenor as Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia’s Executive Order No. 16 (and later the provincial ordinance) that rationalizes the wearing of the face mask?

Who is saying that the mask mandate is being ditched by Cebu Province? People indoors are still required to wear masks subject to limited exceptions. Those who are sick or showing flu-like symptoms are still required to wear masks in any setting.

We laud Año for his dedicated work at the DILG and likewise in this pandemic. In fact, he is considered one of Duterte’s worthy appointments, together with the likes of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

But Año’s adversarial, if not confrontational, position against Cebu provincial officials on the mask mandate rationalization (not relaxation as the DILG would like to put it), is purely arguing over positions. The more he clarifies and justifies his department’s position on the mask mandate based on the powers of the national government over local governments, the more committed he becomes to that position. Where there used to be a shared interest among parties, along which positions can be adjusted, now emerges an interest solely based on face-saving.

For sure, national government officials are just trying to prevent any wrong impression that optional mask-wearing outdoors may give to the public. Maybe they are afraid that the public will misinterpret any rational measure as some form of relaxation of rules. Then our national officials could have addressed that concern without necessarily undermining the local government’s more rational measure on mask-wearing.

Clearly our government officials have yet to learn a thing or two in the art of negotiation and compromise. Here’s Fisher and Ury (1981) on the perils of positional bargaining, in their book Getting to Yes they said: “Positional bargaining becomes a contest of will. Each negotiator asserts what he will and won’t do. The task of jointly devising an acceptable solution tends to become a battle. Each side tries through sheer will power to force the other to change its position.”

Instead of focusing on shared interests, parties harden their respective positions. The result is lack of creativity in generating a variety of possible rational and sensible solutions based on where common interests meet.

FACE MASK

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