Gov’t to close down churches that defy ban on religious gatherings

A conflict between the government and the Catholic Church over the ban on religious gatherings is brewing. 


The government is prepared to close down churches that will violate the prohibition on religious gatherings during the two-week bubble in Metro Manila and four neighboring provinces.

According to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, the State has the police power to enforce such closure of the churches breaking the rule to protect people from the coronavirus outbreak.

Roque made the statement after learning that the Archbishop of Manila plans to hold religious worship up to 10 percent venue capacity starting March 24 despite the government's restrictions on mass gatherings. 

The religious worship will be conducted with compliance with health protocols based on a pastoral instruction issued by Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo Tuesday .

Roque frowned on the church’s planned defiance of the restriction imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on mass gatherings as part of tighter movement controls slow down the COVID-19 case spike.

"In the exercise of police power, we can order the churches closed. Huwag sana dumating doon, Bishop Pabillo. Wala tayong makakamit na kahit anong objective (We can order the churches to close. We hope it will not reach this far, 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 during virtual press briefing Tuesday, March 23.

"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.

Pabillo reportedly claimed that the government task force broke the separation of church and State when it banned religious gatherings without consultation. The prelate said religious services were essential services particularly to a person’s well-being.

Roque however appealed to Pabillo not to encourage the public to break the quarantine rules for their own safety and health.

He argued that the "defiance" of the IATF resolution on the restriction on mass gatherings was "not covered by separation of church and State." "What is covered is the freedom to believe and the freedom not to endorse a religion," e said.

He noted that the restriction on large gatherings, including religious gatherings, aimed to ensure the protection of the public health from the rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

"We ask Bishop Pabillo not to encourage 'yung disregard of IATF rules. Ito naman ay para sa kabutihan ng lahat (the disregard of IATF Rules. This is for the good of everyone)," he said.

"We understand that this is Holy Week but as a Christian myself, as a practicing Christian, I have a relationship with God and kasama sa obligation ay sundin sa mga natalaga ng Panginoon na mamuno (and part of the obligation is to follow the leaders assigned by the Lord) so I hope the bishop will not encourage non-compliance with this IATF decision," he said.

In a bid to curb the rising COVID-19 cases, the government has imposed a ban on mass gatherings, including religious gatherings, in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal from March 22 to April 4, 2021.  Only weddings, baptisms, and funeral services are allowed with only a maximum of 10 people could participate.

The additional restrictions in the NCR+ included a common night-time curfew and restrictions on non-essential travel and indoor dinning in restaurants.