CONGRESSMEN on Wednesday backed President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s plan to do away with the mask mandate indoors, saying this would help boost the country’s tourism sector amid a coronavirus pandemic.

“The president’s issuance soon of an executive order on the removal of the strict COVID-related requirements on masking and inbound travel would attract more tourists and boost Philippine tourism,” Camariñes Sur Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, Jr. said in a statement.

Attracting foreign tourists is integral to the country’s economic recovery, he said.

Tourism Secretary Ma. Esperanza Christina Codilla Frasco on Tuesday said mask-wearing indoors would soon become optional. Pre-departure RT-PCR testing for inbound travelers would also be removed.

Last month, Mr. Marcos signed an order that ended mandatory use of face masks outdoors.

Mr. Villafuerte said the president’s order would be “a message to the world that we are back after going through the pandemic’s wringer, that we have started to normalize the coronavirus situation, and that it’s time for us to put the economy back on its high growth path.” 

He said Philippine tourism could overtake its neighbors in the region once the mask mandate is scrapped.

Party-list Rep. Elizaldy S. Co said the lifting of some mask mandates indoors was justified.

“A further calibrated lifting of COVID restrictions plus the economic impact of the 2022 and 2023 national budgets will result in more economic growth,” Mr. Co, who heads the House of Representatives committee on appropriations, said in a separate statement on Tuesday.

Transitioning to voluntary mask-wearing would help people get ready for the new normal, Manila Rep. Joel R. Chua said in a separate statement.

“Health authorities seem to be unnecessarily overly cautious and have needlessly delayed further relaxing of Alert Level One public health safety protocols,” he said.

“They should instead make more of the bivalent booster vaccines available and readily accessible now and more so in the coming weeks. The boosters are the better alternative to mask-wearing.”

Meanwhile, the Kabataan Party-list urged Filipinos to wear masks in most indoor spaces.

“Amid poor COVID-19 response by the National Government, let us work together to promote the safety and overall health of our communities,” it said in a statement.

The Philippines posted 11,995 coronavirus cases in the past week, with a daily average of 1,714 cases. The country has detected its first cases of the Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant. — Matthew Carl L. Montecillo