MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman is warning that the government will forcibly close Catholic churches in the capital if priests proceed with a plan to hold Masses. That plan is in defiance of new restrictions against public meetings, including religious gatherings, to ease an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday that such exercise of the state’s police powers would not violate the constitutional principle on the separation of church and state and religious freedom, amid the pandemic in Asia’s largest Catholic nation.
“In the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed and I hope it will not come to that,” Roque said in response to a question during a televised news conference. “We won’t achieve anything … if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church.”
The administrator of the Catholic church in Manila and nearby suburbs said in a pastoral instruction that no processions and motorcades and other street activities would be held during the Lenten period and Easter but added religious worship would be organized inside churches starting Wednesday for a limited number of churchgoers.
’It is sad that we will again be physically limited during the holiest days of the year for us,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.
The Philippines has reported more than 677,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with nearly 13,000 deaths, the highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.