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The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Tuesday called on local government units to strictly implement the country’s mask mandate in indoor areas and public transportation.

In a statement, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said this is among the provisions of Executive Order (EO) No. 3 signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. which made the use of face masks in outdoor spaces voluntary.

“The Department is 100 percent behind President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the implementation of EO 3 on voluntary face mask use outdoors. But while the face mask policy has been made optional in the outdoors, the use of face masks in indoor public and private establishments and in public conveyances shall continue to be enforced, especially now that cases are on the uptick,” he added.

Abalos also said LGUs should take the lead in ensuring compliance from the public to the indoor and public transport face mask rule in their respective areas.

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The DILG chief added that he has also directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to help LGUs in making sure that the indoor and public transport face mask rule is observed by the public.

“LGUs and the PNP should coordinate closely in ensuring that the public continues to wear face masks indoors and in public transportation. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and we cannot let our guards down,” he said.

Abalos, however, said high-risk individuals such as senior citizens, immunocompromised individuals, and those who are not fully vaccinated are still strongly encouraged to wear masks and that physical distancing must be observed at all times.

Issue permits to DOT-accredited facilities only

Meanwhile, the DILG reminded LGUs to only issue permits to operate to primary tourism enterprises (PTEs), such as hotels and resorts that have secured the required accreditation from the Department of Tourism (DOT) pursuant to relevant laws and regulations.

Abalos said Section 122 of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009 states that prior accreditation by the DOT is required for the issuance of a license or permit to operate to PTEs by LGUs.

“Despite the evident booming of our tourism sector following the lull due to the pandemic, PTEs must still abide by tourism laws and regulations. Mahalaga po ang sektor ng turismo sa ating ekonomiya ngunit mahalaga rin na tayo ay sumusunod sa polisiya ng pamahalaan (The tourism sector is an important component of our economy but it is also important that we comply with government policies),” he said.

PTEs refer to accommodation establishments such as hotels, resorts, and homestays; travel and tour services such as travel and tour agencies and tour operators; tourist transport operators (e.g. land, water, and air); meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions; adventure/sports and ecotourism facilities; and, tourism frontliners or tour guides, among others.

As people start to travel again, Abalos said PTEs accredited by the DOT will guarantee that protocols enforced by the government for the protection of tourists and the PTEs themselves are implemented.

He added that LGUs must be at the forefront of protecting the welfare and safety of tourists by ensuring that PTEs within their jurisdiction are adhering to government policies.

He said the DOT’s mandate for facilities to obtain accreditation ensures the quality of services offered by PTEs is at par with the standards set for the industry, protecting tourists from unreliable transactions from sketchy service providers.

“With the DOT accreditation, tourists gain a much-needed peace of mind when they travel,” he said.

He echoed the President’s statement that tourism is a vital economic vehicle that creates lots of opportunities on the ground, hence the need for LGUs to ensure that PTEs are complying with existing rules and regulations for the best interest of the people.

Likewise, Abalos encouraged the public to continue observing the minimum public health standards (MPHS) set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) as well as get their vaccine and booster doses to enjoy safe and healthful travels in the country.

“We should all do our part in sustaining the gains we made in improving the country’s pandemic situation. Let us still follow the health and safety protocols from IATF, and get vaccinated and boosted. Let us unite as one so we can all experience a better normal,” he said. (PNA)

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