MANILA, Philippines – Since news of the Luzon-wide lockdown broke, Fr. Flavie Villanueva and volunteers at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga (Kain at Ligo nang Ayos, or “eat and bathe properly”) Center in Manila have been even more dedicated to caring for the homeless in the capital region.
“All we want is to provide the homeless with what they deserve and what others have failed to give,” Fr. Villanueva said in an earlier Facebook post.
Villanueva is the founder of the center, an institution established in Tayuman, Manila to provide “dignified care and service” to the homeless and the marginalized. (READ: Shelters kept unlocked for the homeless during coronavirus outbreak)
The center has been providing the homeless with food and a place where they can take a bath every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Following the strict measures of the lockdown, the center has been implementing social distancing in the process of feeding the homeless. They also make sure the homeless wash their hands thoroughly before entering the center.
According to Fr. Flavie, the center can normally accommodate up to 40 individuals at a time. However, since they practiced social distancing, this number has been limited to 12 at a time.
Once a homeless person enters their center, they are automatically ushered to the bathroom so they can practice hygiene and take a bath. Before the spread of the coronavirus, the homeless are normally ushered to the kitchen first so they can eat a proper meal.
However, in order to swiftly finish the process, the center just prepares a pack filled with a face mask, vitamin C, rice, two kinds of viand, and an orange.
Fr. Flavie said in an interview with Rappler that their services have been interrupted at least twice – first on Thursday, March 19 and then again on Saturday, March 21. (READ: Filipinos find ways to improvise safety in the time of coronavirus)
“We were asked to stop our ‘kain-ligo‘ for our homeless. Barangay Captain Allan Yamson of Brgy. 344 of Manila again intervened [in] what was an orderly 1.5-meter distance and flow,” Fr. Flavie said.
On Saturday, the center was able to cater to at least 160 homeless individuals before the local barangay officials gathered there and interrupted their service. Around 200 other homeless individuals were waiting in line at that time.
“I am trying to absorb how the coronavirus can be outweighed by a far [more] threatening virus that is indifference, greed. I don’t understand how local officials could interpret the law according to their own standards even if the law prescribes that you serve first and formeost the lost, last, and least,” he added.
Because of the interruptions, Fr. Flavie decided that he would discontinue his operations at the center. Instead, he would go around and personally deliver food packs to the homeless.
PNP Chief Archie Gamboa already said during a virtual press conference by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Managing Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) in Malacañang that the center’s members should not have been stopped by authorities.
“Generally what we should observe is a prohibition on mass gatherings. But if it’s feeding program, especially if it’s for the less fortunate, I think what should be observed is social distancing. This should not be prohibited especially if they are feeding the less fortunate of our society,” Gamboa said in mixed Filipino and English.
According to Manila Police District spokesman Lt. Col. Carlo Magno Manuel, there is nothing wrong with conducting such initiatives as long as the the center coordinates with the barangay prior to the event.
“Okay lang po mga ganoon basta pumunta muna sa office sa barangay para maabisuhan sila. Na-a-alarma ang barangay sa mga ganyan lalo na kung di nila alam. Lalo na at pwede maging carrier ang mga homeless at pakalat-kalat pa sila,” Manuel said in a phone interview with Rappler.
(Such initiatives are okay as long as they coordinate with the barangay. The officials get alarmed over events like these if they have no prior knowledge. This is especially because the homeless, who wander around the city, can become carriers of the virus.)
Under the lockdown, which started Tuesday, March 17, the Philippine government has implemented strict quarantine procedures, suspension of transportation services, and regulation of food and essential health services, among others. – Rappler.com