THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE FACE OF COVID-19 (3) – Battling with resilience and helping hands

– Fr Leonard Dollentas

Filipinos are known to remain resilient to different calamities and disasters. They have learned how to face a heavy burden happily and bear its weight more lightly.  Consequently, an Irish international speaker and best-selling author Mike Grogan wrote: “When super typhoons hit the nation, do not be surprised, within a matter of hours after the storm, to discover sidewalk vendors with their makeshift stands smiling and singing Beyoncé’s ‘I’m a Survivor’. As regards the spirit of the Filipinos, he adds: “This perseverance and determination to have fun, to be happy no matter what exemplifies the tenacity and resilience of the Filipino. It is the “Hindi natitinag ang pusong Pilipino [‘The Filipino Heart is unshakable’].” The idea that something good could be found in the most challenging of circumstances is a hallmark characteristic of the Filipinos.” Thus, when the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life in almost every corner of the world today, Filipinos are frightened but seemed to be ready with their coping mechanisms to survive its threat.

Coronavirus was reported to have started spreading in the Philippines on January 30, 2020 with Metro Manila as the epicenter of the pandemic. The first cases involved individuals who traveled into the country from China. Consequently, there was a reported case of a local who acquired the virus without travel history abroad. This raised suspicions that a community transmission of COVID-19 was already in the country.

Alarmed with the situation, Philippine President Duterte declared on March 12 a partial lockdown on Metro Manila to prevent a nationwide spread of the feared virus. The lockdown was expanded on March 16, placing the entirety of Luzon under an “enhanced community quarantine” or a total lockdown. In recent news, this enhanced community quarantine was further extended until May 15 in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON.

This situation forebodes devastating health and economic consequences. Undoubtedly, this will have a crushing effect on the vulnerable individuals and communities, primarily the urban poor, the homeless, and the jobless. The government is doing its best, with the various frontliners including health workers, drivers, police and soldiers, to contain the coronavirus. A social amelioration program was implemented to support the needs of low-income families affected by the crisis. It is noteworthy to mention as well that in these bleak and uncertain times, Filipinos are comforted by the many helping hands coming from private Philippine corporations who are losing revenues but decided to offer sustenance to the frontline health workers and the suffering poor families.

Along with the many helping hands, the Church’s commitment to the poor amid the crisis is shown by Caritas Manila with its creative gestures of helping the vulnerable and the poor. 

The sacramental and spiritual comforts are among the priority support offered by the Philippine church to the people.  In Metro Manila, a number of schools, church centers, and even religious houses have been turned into COVID-19 care facilities and shelter for the homeless amid the lockdown period.

Caritas Manila provided “Ligtas COVID-19” (be safe from COVID-19) health kits to poor families in Metro Manila to protect them from coronavirus disease. The health kit includes alcohol, face masks, antibacterial liquid soap, Vitamin C, reusable gloves, liquid bleach, cleaning cloth, among other items. Food bags were also provided by the Caritas to poor families affected by the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon.

Caritas Manila Executive Director Fr. Anton C. Pascual stated that: “We aim to distribute P1,000 gift certificates to over four million households in the poor communities of the greater Manila area.” This Caritas program called “Project Ugnayan” (Project connecting with people) raised over Php 1.5 billion (around 236,008,189.20 in MOP) intended to help poor families who are economically displaced by the ongoing enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila. Fr. Pascual explained the mechanics of the gift certificate distribution to the households: “In compliance with social distancing guidelines, gift certificates will be delivered door-to-door, redeemable for food items from accessible groceries and supermarkets. Distribution is being done in close coordination with the Philippine National Police and the local barangay captains.”. He further added that the program is intended for all people: “We have started in four pilot areas and are scaling up distribution to the most vulnerable communities regardless of religion.” Other dioceses in the Philippines maintain its own Caritas social action program to help the poor amid the COVID-19 pandemic.