A general view of a slum area along the river in Philippine capital Manila. Bishop Broderick Pabillo has warned that a coronavirus lockdown could cause social unrest if it creates hardship for poor people. (Photo: Maria Tan/AFP)
A leading Catholic bishop in Manila has warned of social unrest in the Philippines if the government mismanages a lockdown that President Rodrigo Duterte imposed to check Covid-19.
Duterte on March 16 declared a lockdown in Manila and the whole of Luzon island, where half of the Philippines' 104 million people live, aiming to prevent the coronavirus spreading to communities.The lockdown was imposed unexpectedly and without creating awareness, says Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Manila Archdiocese. It could result in social unrest if the government fails to address the hardship it creates for the poor, he warned.
"Today it is relatively peaceful, but I doubt it will last. When people are idle and do not have enough to eat, there can be problems," Bishop Pabillo told France-based Eglises d' Asie publication on March 26.
Bishop Pabillo is the de facto head of the Catholic Church in the capital city. After Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, left for Rome to take up his job as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila, as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.
"There was much apprehension" even when the lockdown started. It was "new for everyone" and "many people were not convinced of its necessity. There was a lack of awareness. The modalities were not clearly explained," Bishop Pabillo said.
The government's instructions were "sometimes contradictory," the bishop said, referring to incidents like hospital staff finding themselves without any transport overnight and the army helping them travel back to their homes.
The lockdown came as positive cases of Covid-19 were surging. As of March 26, there were 800 Covid-19 cases and 45 deaths in the Philippines, according to official figures. The first death in the country, which was also the first death outside China, was recorded in early February.
However, Bishop Pabillo said the lockdown would hit poor slum people hard.
"It is impossible to impose a lockdown in the capital's many slums. Many live without a roof over their heads. Others are crammed into makeshift shelters where it is very hot. It is difficult to ask them to stay locked up for a long time," the bishop said.
According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, 21 percent of people living in this predominantly Catholic country are poor. Besides, 2.5 million of the capital region's nearly 13 million people live in slums, while 3.1 million are homeless.
"How are we going to contain the spread of the epidemic once it reaches the slums? The coronavirus is even more undetectable in the slums. Moreover, they are primarily concerned with their day-to-day survival, not the virus," Bishop Pabillo said.
He said most poor in Manila are daily wage workers. "They don't have any savings in case of a hard blow. The government has not announced any specific aid to help day laborers and the poor."
He said the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of efforts to help the needy."We use our social networks to disseminate information. Caritas Manila, the social service arm of the Church in the city, has mobilized its volunteers who stay in touch with slum dwellers," the bishop said.
Food and hygiene kits have been distributed to improve prevention, he said.
"Some companies have also made donations to Caritas so that money can be directly distributed to the poorest. However, all these efforts will remain insufficient if the government does not contribute," Bishop Pabillo observed.