A Philippine government spokesman threatened the country’s Church leaders against defying health protocols that prohibit religious gatherings, warning that authorities may close churches.
“In the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed, I hope we don’t get there,” said Harry Roque, spokesperson of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
He made the warning in response to an announcement made by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Manila, that churches in the archdiocese can hold services at ten percent capacity.
The government has earlier issued strict guidelines prohibiting the mass gatherings of people, including religious services, to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.
On Tuesday, March 23, the Philippines recorded 5,867 new cases of COVID-19 with 620 new recoveries and 20 deaths. The country has a total of 86,200 cases as of Tuesday.
Roque said if the religious leaders would defy the government’s orders, it would be forced to close the doors of churches.
“There is no violation in the separation of Church and State if we do that because it goes beyond the freedom to believe and the prohibition to endorse a religion,” said the government spokesman.
“That will be an enforcement of the police to protect the public good,” he said in a media briefing in Manila on Tuesday, March 23.
The country’s Constitution declares that the separation of Church and State “shall be inviolable,” adding that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Earlier in the day, Bishop Pabillo issued a “pastoral instruction” for the observance of the Holy Week that defies the government’s ban on religious gatherings.
The prelate said the Archdiocese of Manila will continue religious services at 10 percent church capacity starting Wednesday, March 24.
“We will not have any religious activity outside of our churches… but within our churches starting March 24, we will have our religious worship within 10 percent of our maximum church capacity,” he said.
In a statement on Church-run Veritas 846, Bishop Pabillo also slammed the government’s renewed ban on religious gatherings.
“They are wrong, and we should not follow such guidelines that lack consultations,” he said, adding that “it somehow breaks the separation of Church and State.”
On Monday, March 22, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan also questioned the decision of authorities to limit attendance to religious services while allowing fitness centers and spas to operate.
“In spite of our adherence to strict protocol, you lock down our churches during the holiest time of the year and allow 70 percent capacity in fitness centers,” noted Bishop David.
“All right. May God have mercy on your souls!” added the bishop, who is also vice president of the Catholic bishops’ conference of the country, in his post on his personal Facebook account.
He said the order “came as an instant order and with not even a modicum of dialogue.”
Bishop Pabillo, meanwhile, said that the faithful will follow the minimum standards of the health protocols “but we continue to pray and worship the Lord.”
“Let the worshippers be spread apart within our churches, using the health protocols that we have been so consistently implementing,” he said.
He said the Church should speak out “and we believe religious services are essential services,” adding that these “may not be essential economically, but they are very essential to our well-being.”
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