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Pastor arrested for holding mass worship despite ban on gatherings

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A pastor is now facing charges for holding a worship service attended by about 500 of his church members on Sunday (April 5), in defiance of the prohibition of mass gatherings and observance of physical distancing during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health crisis.

Arrested by officers from Police Station 1 here was Pastor Alfred Caslam, 58, married, a resident of Zone 6, Barangay Cugman, this city.

Capt. Sebastian Chua, station commander, said Caslam was caught conducting service at the Word of God Spirit and Life Ministries, Inc., a church the pastor founded, located at Capistrano Street here.

Chua said Caslam will be facing charges for violation of section 9 (d) of Republic Act 11332 otherwise known as the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act”.

Said section of the law prohibits “non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern.”

Violation of RA 11332 is punishable by one to six months of imprisonment and fine not exceeding PHP50,000.

Chua said the church leader has defied government order prohibiting mass gatherings in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and disobedience to an agent of person in authority.

“We warned him last Sunday (March 29) about policies on social distancing and mass gathering due to the coronavirus, but it seems he did not heed our warning,” he said in a phone interview.

He said among the church goers were children, old people, and persons with disability.

In an interview, Caslam said he did not realize that church attendees would reach hundreds, adding that he was mindful of the city government directive on mass gathering and social distancing.

“We were told to observe social distancing, which we complied. In fact, we have arranged the seats to ensure that there is spacing between church goers,” he said.

Caslam said it just happened that there was an overwhelming attendance of church members adding that he was not able to control the number of service attendees.

“I could not bring myself to tell them not to go to church and to drive them away. If I have done that, then my members would no longer attend worship services,” he said.

Caslam said he was in the middle of giving a sermon when he realized that there were more people than what he expected inside the church.

“It was my fault and I take full responsibility for it. I would like to ask for forgiveness. If they can forgive me, I promise that it will not happen again,” he added.

Antonio Resma, head of the city’s Regulatory Compliance Board, said he has already endorsed the copy of church members in attendance to the city health office to determine if anyone among them is a person under monitoring or patient under investigation.

“It is now the call of the city health office to trace those church members, through the barangay health emergency response team,” Resma said.

Chua said Caslam is now under their custody and he will undergo medical examination before being brought to the city detention facility on Monday (April 6).

In South Korea, a religious congregation was reported by international media to be responsible for the spike of Covid-19 cases in February. (PNA)

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