Rules on reopening Philippine churches questioned

Evacuated families take shelter at Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Pilar, in Sorsogon, after being forced out of their homes by Typhoon Vongfong. Photo: UCAN/ courtesy of Father Treb Futol
Evacuated families take shelter at Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Pilar, in Sorsogon, after being forced out of their homes by Typhoon Vongfong. Photo: UCAN/ courtesy of Father Treb Futol

MANILA (UCAN): The Philippine government’s Inter-Agency Task Force against Covid-19 (IATF) released guidelines on May 15 for the lifting of strict quarantine protocols in Metro Manila and nearby provinces on the island of Luzon.

It allowed the resumption of religious gatherings from May 16 but restricted attendance inside churches to between 5 and 10 people; the measure has come under fire.

“I believe this is just an option. It is impractical to reopen churches for only five to 10 people. The faithful can still maintain hearing online Masses instead of going physically to their parish. Why would we reopen for that number given all the preparations needed?” Father Ed Molina of the Diocese of Novaliches asked.

Arlene Ocaya, a regular churchgoer, said the government must not only consider the economy but also the spiritual well-being of its people.

“How come malls and private corporations can open but churches can only accommodate five to 10 people? I think the number is unreasonable,” she said.

This is the first time the government has allowed religious gatherings since the enhanced community quarantine began in March.

Churches are also required to place hand sanitisers at entrances and exits as well as footbaths on church steps. Facemasks shall also be distributed to worshipers.

Private offices and malls are also allowed to open with only a 50 per cent workforce, while companies are advised to arrange employees’ transport as public transport is suspended in the capital.

Government agencies resumed operations on May 18 with only the smallest number of employees to maintain basic functions.

Meanwhile, churches in Samar province and southern Luzon have become evacuation centres for victims of Typhoon Vongfong (called Ambo in the Philippines).

The typhoon made landfall in Samar on May 14, forcing 141,000 people out of their homes. More than 1,000 evacuated families are occupying churches and classrooms in the province.

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