‘Unjust, inconsistent’: Protestant churches hit ‘NCR Plus’ religious gathering ban

Robbin M. Dagle
'It is grossly unfair that without due consultation with the churches, religious gatherings during this holy season for Christians are prohibited,' says Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP general secretary

The nation’s largest group of Protestant churches joined two Catholic bishops in decrying the government’s decision to ban religious gatherings until Easter in the “NCR Plus” bubble.

“I fully share the sentiments of my brother bishops from the Roman Catholic Church. It is grossly unfair that without due consultation with the churches, religious gatherings during this holy season for Christians are prohibited,” said Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) general secretary, in a statement on Wednesday, March 24.

Religious gatherings are banned until April 4, including the Christian holiday of Holy Week. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals, however, are still allowed for up to 10 attendees.

“In these anxious times, more than the strict, unjust, and inconsistent imposition of orders, the spiritual succor that the churches bring are much needed by the people. Churches and the religious services they provide help people by providing spiritual support system, morale-boosting, [helping reduce] psychological stress, and [promoting] good mental health,” Marigza said.

On March 23, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, temporary head of the Archdiocese of Manila, defied the government’s ban by allowing churches to continue religious gatherings at 10% capacity, albeit enforcing strict health protocols within churches and encouraging the faithful to follow these services online. He said that churches were not consulted on the new rules, and that such measures were a violation of religious freedom.  

Earlier, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David also criticized the government for allowing spas and gyms to operate at a limited capacity while banning religious gatherings.

In response, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque warned that police powers may be used to close churches if they continue to hold religious gatherings.

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will review the churches’ request to accommodate 10% capacity for services during the Paschal Triduum days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday – the holiest days of Holy Week.

The NCCP is an organization of 10 Protestant and non-Roman Catholic churches in the Philippines, including the Philippine Independent Church, the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), and the United Methodist Church (UMC). As the group is conciliar, it cannot impose its stances on its member churches.

Some member churches, such as UCCP Manila and the UMC, have instructed the suspension of on-site religious services and have reverted to online services. Marigza also noted that their churches “have been strictly observing the health protocols imposed by the Department of Health and the IATF.” –