By Genalyn Kabiling
Mass gatherings for religious services work conferences are now allowed in areas under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), Malacañang announced Thursday.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has agreed to allow these mass gatherings under MGCQ but only at 50 percent seating capacity to ensure safe distancing.
“Good news to people who want to go to church. In areas under MGCQ, mass gatherings for religious purposes will be allowed up to 50 percent seating capacity. Many will be pleased with this news,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in Pilipino during a press briefing aired on state television.
Roque explained that allowing limited gatherings for religious activities and work conferences in MGCQ areas was reached after the government “balanced the risks” of the coronavirus threat and the health data.
With the churches allowed to open at half capacity, Roque said they expect the public to observe the safe distancing rule to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. “The rule is applicable to mass gathering in general not just for religious gatherings. Sa MGCQ lamang po,” he added.
At present, the country is largely under the less stringent MGCQ, except for Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, Calabarzon, Central Visayas, Pangasinan, Zamboanga City and Davao City which have been placed under GCQ until June 15.
Under GCQ, only 10 people are allowed to attend a religious gathering.
Father Jerome Cecillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Public Affairs Committee, welcomed the move.
“It’s better than not being allowed at all,” he said.
“It’s quite complicated though to determine the required 50% attendance,” he said in an interview.
“It would have been easier to simply follow the Department of Health (DOH) protocol of maintaining a one meter physical distance inside the church,” added Secillano.
With this development, parishes under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese in Manila will each be setting up a health ministry.
In a pastoral instruction, Manila archdiocese Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo instructed parish churches to set up a health ministry to ensure the safety and well-being of churchgoers.
Bishop Pabillo said those working in the health ministry “may be tasked to extend services to the elderly as they will as, among others, identify the parishioners who want to receive communion outside the church. They may also be assigned to screen churchgoers with thermal scanners and to attend to those who may be found to have an illness,” he added.
“Little by little, each parish and each church organization have to undergo planning on how to do their activities and programs in this new situation. This is part of our stewardship of the gift of health – our health and the health of those around us,” Pabillo stressed. (With reports from Leslie Ann Aquino and Christina Hermoso)