Malacañang on Tuesday said the government could close down churches if they defied protocols on mass gatherings set by the country’s pandemic task force.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said it was the government’s task to protect its citizens and ordering churches to shut would not breach the clause in the Constitution that declares the separation of church and state as “inviolable.”

Roque made the statement after the Archdiocese of Manila said it would allow churchgoers to occupy up to 10 percent of churches’ maximum capacity.

“That will be contrary po to the decision of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) and we ask (Manila Apostolic Administrator Broderick Pabillo) not to encourage, iyong disregard of IATF rules,” the spokesman said.

“Ang defiance po ng IATF resolution is not covered by separation of church and state. What is covered is the freedom to believe and the freedom not to endorse a religion,” he added.

Roque said the government could order state forces to shut churches down if necessary.

“Pero in the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed, huwag sana pong dumating doon, Bishop Pabillo.”

“Wala po tayong makakamit na kahit anong objective if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church… That will be an enforcement of police powers po to protect the public good.”

Violation of religious freedom

In an interview over Veritas846, Pabillo said the ban on religious gatherings within the “NCR-Plus” bubble was a violation of religious freedom.

He also said the government did not consult the Church before implementing the restrictions.

Several bishops have slammed the ban on religious gatherings, saying it was implemented unilaterally and unfairly, while “staycations” and spa visits were allowed.

Metro Manila has recorded more than 280,000 Covid-19 cases as of March 22. John Ezekiel J. Hirro