MALACAÑANG on Wednesday stood pat on the government’s decision not to allow religious gatherings during the Holy Week and warned that it would use its “police powers” and have the churches closed if found violating any of the health protocols enforced against the spread the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) initially considered allowing churches to operate at 10 percent capacity but eventually decided against it to curb the surge in Covid-19 infections, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said. .
“Naging conclusion ng IATF, kung ia-allow mo yung 10 percent, mas maraming magkukumpulan sa labas na nag-aantay ng susunod na misa dahil nga napaka kaunti ng 10 percent (The IATF concluded that if you will allow 10 percent inside the church, then many people will wait outside for the next mass because only a few are allowed inside),” Roque said during an interview with dzMM radio.
“Kapag 10 percent ka nga sa loob pero sa labas naman kumpul-kumpulan sila, eh ‘di pareho rin ang suma-tutal (If you have 10 percent inside but you have the rest outside, then it’s as if you have the same number of people),” he added.
Roque, also the IATF spokesman, expressed hope that the public could understand why the task force had to make such a decision to close churches during Holy Week.
He noted that the restriction on large gatherings, including religious gatherings, is aimed to protect the public health from the rapid rise in coronavirus cases.
“Pero alam naman po natin na with 8,000 cases a day, siguro maintindihan ng tao naman (With 8,000 cases a day, perhaps the people can understand),” the Palace official said.
“Kung normal na pagkakataon, siguro pwede pa nating i-allow yung 10 percent (If we’re not in this situation, perhaps we could allow even 10 percent),” he added.
The IATF has been forced to prohibit religious gatherings in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, and Rizal until April 4 to stop the further transmission of Covid-19.
Only weddings, baptisms, and funeral services are allowed with only a maximum of 10 people.
The latest directive came ahead of the country’s observance of Holy Week from March 28 to April 3.
On Tuesday, Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo announced that the Archdiocese of Manila would resume on March 24 its religious services at “10 percent” of the church capacity.
The Archdiocese of Manila covers the cities of Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong, and San Juan.
Pabillo said the IATF violated religious freedom and the principle of separation of Church and State by imposing restrictions without even consulting the Church.
“Mayroon po tayong religious freedom. Hindi nila pwede tayong pagbawalan sa ating religious activities within the church. Sumusunod naman tayo sa patakaran. Nakita naman na ang ating Simbang Gabi ang daming tao, sa ating Nazareno na ang daming tao, mga piyesta ang dami ring tao, wala namang nangyayari sa atin (We have religious freedom, and they cannot restrict our religious activities. We have followed the protocols and guidelines which were manifested during the Feast of the Nazareno and the Simbang Gabi, when many people went to the Church, and nothing bad happened to us),” Pabillo said on Radio Veritas.
But Roque insisted that the planned opening of churches “would be contrary to the decision of the IATF.”
“We ask Bishop Pabillo not to encourage disregard of IATF rules. Ito naman po ay para sa kabutihan ng lahat (This is for our own good),” the Palace official said.
If churches push through with their opening, Roque said, “in the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed.”
“Huwag sana pong dumating doon, Bishop Pabillo. Wala po tayong makakamit na kahit anong objective if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church (We hope it will not come to that Bishop Pabillo. We cannot achieve any objective if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church),” Roque said.
“Walang paglabag sa church and State (there is no violation of the principle of) sa separation between church and State if we do that because that goes beyond the freedom of belief and the prohibition to endorse a religion. That will be an enforcement of police power to protect the public good,” he added.
Roque said the faithful could still observe Holy Week in the comforts of their homes.
At least 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholic.