Authorities arrested an evangelical pastor in Cagayan de Oro for continuing to hold worship service attended by 500 people amid the COVID-19 threat.
Pastor Alfred Caslam, the founder of Word of God Spirit and Life Ministries, was arrested at the church in Capistrano Street, Cagayan de Oro City, after holding its Sunday worship service despite the prohibition of mass gathering and warnings from police.
Regulatory Compliance Board (RCB) spokesperson Antonio Resma said the pastor had been warned twice for holding the worship service. The church members include senior citizens and children who are most at risk of acquiring the virus.
However, Police Station 1 chief Captain Sebastian Chua said that Caslam continued to disobey despite the warnings.
Caslam will face charges for violation of the executive order on social distancing measures, violation of Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code or disobedience to authorities, and Section 9 (d) of Republic Act 11332 or the Act on policies in the event of an epidemic.
“This is the second time that he violated the rule, we warned him already,” said Antonio Resma of the Regulatory Compliance Board. He also said the list of churchgoers had been sent to the city health department for monitoring.
The pastor argued that they needed to hold the worship services because “the doctors in this city [have] already given up on the treatment of coronavirus.”
Cagayan de Oro pastor arrested
He apologized at the police station but claimed he did not expect the number of church attendees would reach 500.
“We have complied with social distancing policy mandated by the government and arranged their seats with space in between,” Caslam said.
The pastor said that he has no control as to how many would attend the church service and could not do anything about it. He asked for forgiveness, but police would still file an appropriate case against him.
It was remembered that in the virus outbreak in Daegu, South Korea was traced to a church that was conducting secret services.
In the Philippines, most of the churches opt to conduct online masses and worship services to help the government fight the pandemic.
As of this writing, the Philippines has 3,246 confirmed cases, 152 deaths, and 64 recoveries.