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Philippine police break up soup kitchen amid Covid-19 crisis

Homeless accused of not keeping social distancing rules when seeking food in lockdown city

Philippine police break up soup kitchen amid Covid-19 crisis

City workers in protective suits disinfect a street as a preventative measure against Covid-19 in Manila on March 19. (Photo: AFP)

Philippine police and local authorities prevented beggars and street children from attending a feeding program at a Catholic foundation in Manila for not observing social distancing protocols under enhanced community quarantine regulations.

The incident on March 19 came as fears grow over how the poor and homeless will survive while the country’s main island Luzon remains in lockdown.

Around 100 homeless people fell in line to get food and medicine packs from the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Santa Cruz, Manila, before police declared the event a mass gathering that risked spreading the Covid-19 disease.

Father Flavie Villanueva told reporters that they had been “compliant” with the social distancing measures. “We made sure there were only 12 to 15 people inside the center and those who were waiting outside were told to stand more than a meter apart,” he said.

Local authorities claimed the priest violated quarantine rules, saying the event was a mass gathering.

They then tried to force people to go inside the center, which Father Villanueva objected to as that would have constituted a mass gathering, he said. The authorities then stopped the event taking place, he added.

“There was no mass gathering. The poor fell in line and kept their distance. We were simply giving them food and medicine,” the priest later said in a social media post.

In a daily Mass livestreamed by the Jesuit Communications Foundation, Father Albert Alejo criticized what he said was a lack of support for the destitute. “Where will you quarantine homeless people if the streets are their homes?” he asked in his homily.

Government logistical support remains scarce. Local authorities were seeking help from the central government to fund their feeding programs.

“We have 6,700 households here. The state of calamity declared by the government is for six months. Where will we get the funds to give food to our people?” asked mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla of Bacoor in Cavite province.

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Public transport is still suspended, preventing many low-income workers from getting to work.

“I have five children and this is my only income. I have to work or we will starve to death,” Brandon Mesipa, a jeepney driver, told UCA news.

In Pasig City, residents are forced to walk to the market to buy food and groceries, while in Las Pinas City people on March 19 flocked to grab relief goods intended for health workers.

“People are getting hungry. Hunger poses a greater threat than the virus itself,” said one out-of-work factory worker.

Life in the capital has become so hard it prompted eight desperate construction workers to walk 105 kilometers  back to their home province this week.

As of March 19, the Philippines had recorded 217 Covid-19 cases with 17 deaths, according to government figures.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has appointed a new auxiliary bishop for Zamboanga in the southern Philippines.

The new bishop-elect, Father Moises Cuevas, 46, currently serves as parish priest at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Zamboanga City. 

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