In the spirit of ‘bayanihan’, let the people serve!

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” – Proverbs 3:27 (NLT)

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines is concerned over the illegal detention and harassment of Anakpawis relief volunteers on April 19 in Norzagaray, Bulacan. We are deeply distressed that in a time of public health crisis, provision of relief to impoverished communities is being withheld and those doing humanitarian volunteer work are being red-tagged. How does this promote the “bayanihan” spirit that the Filipino people need in the midst of suffering?

Days after President Rodrigo Duterte warned the public of a “martial law-like” lockdown, on April 19 at around 10am, six volunteers from Tulong Anakpawis and Sagip Kanayunan – groups who aim to deliver humanitarian relief to farming and fishing communities – and later on, former Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao were held at Norzagaray police station without any offense nor formal complaint. This is despite having an accredited food pass from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and a letter from the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran to support the legitimacy of their humanitarian mission.

We are very alarmed over the government’s militaristic approach to this medical crisis and its obsession on arrests and imprisonment. Arresting so-called “mga pasaway” does not only defeat the purpose of physical distancing specially if they are detained in crammed prisons and detention facilities, but also seriously misses what should have been the focus of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), which is to flatten the curve through scientific, medical solutions.

As a Christian Council that has been engaged in humanitarian work for decades, we uphold God’s gift of human dignity and the need to protect it, thus, we must address human suffering wherever it is found. Unfortunately, this response from the government to the humanitarian volunteers of Anakpawis undermines this principle by disallowing relief and detaining the group. We would also like to remind the authorities, especially the Philippine National Police, that withholding humanitarian assistance is a violation to the people’s right to aid.

We find this unnecessary incident discouraging and frightening to groups with intentions to conduct humanitarian assistance to our least fortunate sisters and brothers. This incident also brings out a grave concern over the security of churches and other service-oriented groups whose only aim is to deliver aid to those in need. The Philippine authorities should instead encourage and support civic humanitarian action to effectively reach heavily affected communities, since the aid that is supposed to be coming from the government is simply not enough.

As we endure this pandemic, we call for a genuine “bayanihan” among us. We call for an end to the government’s restrictions to the delivery of aid, in order to encourage and maximize coordination among humanitarian groups. We also demand the immediate release of the volunteers of Anakpawis and former representative Casilao. Lastly, we urge our churches and the Filipino people to persevere in expressing compassion to the poor and the hungry without fear. Only through unity could we triumph over this global crisis.


NCCP Vice – Chairperson

NCCP Vice – Chairperson

NCCP Vice – Chairperson

NCCP General Secretary