MANILA – Church leaders should coordinate with officials of local government units (LGUs) to come up with a plan if they want to implement a resumption of religious gatherings in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), Malacañang said on Monday.
In a virtual presser, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after Apostolic Administrator of Manila, Bishop Broderick Pabillo called on the government to allow church services stressing that “religious services are also essential services” during this time of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Roque bared that while the majority of the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) are supportive of church leaders’ calls to reopen churches, they are simply heeding to local officials’ call to prohibit the resumption of religious gatherings.
“I’m sure po na karamihan naman ng mga miyembro sa IATF ay sang-ayon na ipatuloy ang mga religious gatherings. Pero ang sabi ko nga po noong binawi iyan ng IATF, ang mga nagreklamo ay mga mga local na opisyales din natin (I’m sure majority of the IATF members agree that religious gatherings should be allowed. But as I said, the IATF had to retract it after local officials complained),” Roque said.
In its initial guidelines on the GCQ released April 30, the IATF said mass gatherings are still prohibited but essential work and religious gatherings may be allowed as long as strict social distancing is observed.
The local officials warned that resuming religious gatherings could lead to more transmissions of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), prompting IATF to review its guidelines on religious assemblies in GCQ areas.
On May 1, the IATF considered the local officials’ recommendation and decided that essential work and religious gatherings should remain prohibited in places under GCQ.
Roque said church leaders and local officials should meet and discuss ways to compromise.
“Kinakailangan po talaga magkaroon ng (There should really be) close coordination between the different churches and their local government units at sila po mismo (and they themselves), they have to present a plan to the local government units,” he said.
Roque emphasized the need to observe strict social distancing and good hygiene, reminding of how the spread of the Covid-19 in South Korea was linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
“Supposing na itutuloy nga po ang (we resume) religious gatherings, how sure are we po na magkakaroon ng (that there will be) social distancing kasi may mga lugar po kagaya ng South Korea kung saan kumalat nga po iyang Covid-19 dahil sa mga (because there are places like in South Korea where Covid-19 was further spread because of) religious gatherings),” he said.
In a May 4 statement released on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ website, Pabillo said religion is very important to many Filipinos for it gives them strength, especially in difficulties.
“Allowing people to go back to Church to thank the Lord, to ask for his protection and implore his help, are deemed very important by the people,” he said, stressing that allowing public masses “will uplift their spirits to a great extent”.
Fr. Elias Ayuban, superior of the Claretian congregation in the Philippines, also called for the reopening of churches, particularly in dioceses where there are no Covid-19 cases.
He said that if going to the market is allowed, he saw no reason why an organized Sunday gathering in a cathedral or spacious parish church, where physical separation can easily be executed, is not permitted.
“It is about time to reopen the doors of our churches for people to pray. While it is true that we can pray anywhere, there is no place like the church and no celebration like the mass,” Ayuban said.
Last week, the Archdiocese of Manila prepared guidelines for religious services, including the holding of masses once the government allows the conduct of these activities.
Among the protocols to be followed by the clergy and the faithful is the wearing of face masks, no holding of hands during Our fathers, and having their body temperature checked using a thermal body scanner.
Churches are also encouraged to hold masses on weekdays, but live streaming will continue for the benefit of those unable to participate in the community celebrations.
Metro Manila; Central Luzon, except Aurora; Calabarzon; Benguet; Pangasinan; Iloilo province; Cebu province; Bacolod City; Davao City, Zamboanga City, and Albay province are still under ECQ which is expected to end on May 15.
The GCQ, with relaxed quarantine measures, is currently being implemented in all low-risk and moderate-risk areas nationwide since May 1. (IA/PNA)