A year ago, the whole of Luzon was placed in one of the longest and most brutal lockdowns in the world to contain a fast-spreading deadly virus with the rest of the country following later. A year has passed, yet Filipinos continue to struggle against the hardships brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) expresses grave disappointment on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic since the lockdown last March 2020. The government failed miserably to not only contain the spread of the virus but also in softening the socio-economic impacts to the people.
The groundswell of cries for free testing, contact tracing, economic and humanitarian support, and essentially, compassion and accountability were met instead with a militaristic response. Until now, the calls of the health sector for reinforcement in terms of budget, health facilities, support to the medical frontline workers, and solutions based on sound scientific analysis continue to fall on deaf ears. Thus, we find ourselves in a crisis that is worse than a year ago.
The poorest Filipinos are the most affected, as the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) plummeted by 9.5%. The crisis resulted in massive unemployment, with economists projecting that the number of unemployed Filipinos could still reach 10 million. Worse, the national debt grew to P10.33 trillion at the beginning of the year. However, the said amount is unfelt by ordinary Filipinos forced to deal with the impacts of the health and socioeconomic crisis. At this rate, with the lack of adequate economic support, sustainable livelihood for the poor, and trifling support to the health sector, more Filipinos will be plunged deeper into poverty and uncertainty.
We also take issue with how the masses were carelessly branded as “pasaway” and repeatedly blamed for the transmission of the coronavirus. Consequent to this false narrative were arbitrary penalties and impulsive arrests of protocol violators. Worse, violators experienced unjust treatment over petty, and most of the time reasonable, violations they committed as they struggled to survive the hard lockdown. Meanwhile, government officials who publicly flouted health protocols were absolved by the President.
Furthermore, in the middle of the crisis, we find it alarming that the administration was also able to constrict our democratic spaces in different ways, such as with the ABS-CBN shutdown and the passing of the Anti-Terror Act. Everyday, we hear how activists, rights defenders, and even humanitarian workers are repeatedly red-tagged, harassed, imprisoned and even killed by State forces.
Even now that vaccines have finally arrived, the rollout is still the slowest in Southeast Asia and with the government unbelievably favoring a vaccine with a lower efficacy. With the snail-paced vaccine roll-out and more than 600,000 total cases this week, with a new COVID-19 variant to boot, the prospects for our nation’s healing remains bleak.
Thankfully, there are sprinkles of compassion and hope. We find compassion in the face of ordinary Filipinos helping out one another from acts of charity to the giving of humanitarian support in communities. We find hope when Filipinos brave the streets to register their calls and demands for accountability and justice.
The NCCP believes that the “…healing ministry is the cornerstone of Jesus Christ’s public ministry. The strategy of Jesus Christ in his ministry provides priority to the people in the periphery of society… He provided sick people with his gift of power and presence that brought about the wholeness of life.”. Thus, we enjoin the government to heed the calls of the people to utilize public funds to ensure access to free and quality COVID-19 treatment and vaccination. We also call for higher wages and stronger support for medical health workers, and improved health facilities. We reiterate our call for the relevant stakeholders to provide social safety nets and mitigation measures, such as economic relief and livelihood support for the most vulnerable.
We commit to remain vigilant in monitoring the implementation of the national vaccination plan. We urge the national government to ensure access to free, safe, and effective vaccines for the most vulnerable sectors. We also see the importance of massive education on vaccines to dispel fear and misinformation, and encourage them to get inoculated with effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines.
The NCCP strongly urges its member churches, associate members, and ecumenical partners to join the call for a scientific and people-centered response to the pandemic. Let us share the healing ministry of Christ who “…went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4: 23, NIV)17 March 2021
REV. FELIPE B. EHICAN, JR.
RT. REV. JOEL O. PORLARES
DRA. GAY B. MANODON
MS. CATHERINE KAY F. ALMARIO
BISHOP REUEL NORMAN O. MARIGZA
 According to the World Bank, an additional 2.7 million Filipinos fell into poverty in 2020, based on the $3.2 poverty line per day. Meanwhile, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) projects the country’s poverty rate to average up to 17.5% by 2022, far from their pre-pandemic projection of 14%. This is based on the poverty threshold of PHP 10,481 per month or PHP 69.87 per day.
 From the NCCP Statement on the Healing Ministry of Jesus and the Medical Mission Today, December 3, 1998.