(File photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to the Roman Catholic Church to suspend the physical masses, including the traditional Traslacion procession and mass for the Black Nazarene amid the spike of Covid-19 cases in the country.

"Kung nakikinig ang Roman Catholic Church (If the Roman Catholic Church is listening), I am now appealing to you to forego and cancel all physical gatherings, including the procession and the celebration of mass sa (in) church because marami yan sila (there are a lot of them)," Duterte said in his Talk to the People on Tuesday night.

With millions of devotees who are expected to flock during "The Feast of the Black Nazarene", Duterte said the government cannot just be complacent about the transmission of the disease.

"The government does not impose the rules now. It does not really, it doesn't have the character of an imposition, but rather a request from the government for everybody to follow the guidelines set to prevent the widespread again, super spreader," he said.

Duterte cited the traslacion might be an important event for the Catholic Church and its devotees, but the government has "to come up with critical decisions to protect public health and public safety."

"Now I have to appeal to them for their understanding and to really look at it in the broader context of our liability also to the people if we do not act correctly or fail to come up with measures to protect the public interest and public health," he said.

Duterte hopes that the Catholic Church would understand his decision.

"You know the ministrant functions of the government are for the government to come up with measures that would protect all kinds of the scope of governance. You have to come up with measures to protect public health, public safety, public order, and the general welfare of the people," he said.

The Department of Health (DOH) reported the Philippines is now at high-risk classification for Covid-19, with an 849 percent increase in seven-day moving daily average cases, 448 percent two-week growth rate, 1.66 average daily attack rate, and 14.1 percent positivity rate.

Duterte reiterated that all gatherings are not allowed.

"Sana maintindihan niyo you have to forgo the procession sa Black Nazarene including sa church kasi maraming devotees (I hope you would understand that you have to forego the Black Nazarene procession because there's a lot of devotees) and if you deprive them [in] procession they might want to go there to just pray to the Black Nazarene," he added. "Nevermind the power of the government. This is just an appeal to the hierarchy of the Church to look at it on a broader understanding that it would really be a super spreader."

He said he would probably ask all those who have connections to Church to discuss the matter.

"We will send somebody to bring a formal letter, but I apologize in advance [that] I have to do it because I have to do it," he added.

The traditional traslacion involves the procession of the Black Nazarene from Quirino Grandstand in Luneta to Quezon Boulevard, Manila usually held every January 9. (PNA)