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SLIDESHOW: A Catholic priest's battle for 'KALINGA' amid coronavirus threat

Photos by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 21 2020 11:43 PM | Updated as of Mar 22 2020 12:07 PM

KALINGA, acronym for Kain-Aral-LIgo-naNG-umAyos, reopened on Saturday morning amid the Luzon lockdown to provide food and medicine to the homeless of Metro Manila. However, it was ordered closed again around noontime.

This came two days after the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Barangay 344, Sta. Cruz, Manila was ordered closed by barangay officials and members of the Philippine National Police for violating guidelines of the enhanced community quarantine.

The center, headed by Fr. Flavie Villanueva of the Societas Verbi Divini, has been implementing the feeding and care program for the homeless since 2016. The center provides meals and shower facilities to at least 100 homeless people.

On March 19, officials from Barangay 344 reprimanded and prohibited the Kalinga Center from continuing its operation, citing concerns on the possible spread of COVID-19. The officials believe that the homeless people might spread the disease to the neighborhood.

Barangay Tanod Ronaldo Yumul said they had nothing against the feeding program but were simply implementing the rule against mass gatherings under the enhanced community quarantine ordered by President Duterte.

“Hindi naman tayo against sa pinamimigay ng pari, alam naman natin na maraming nagugutom, kaya lang ang inaaddress natin ay ang pagkalat ng virus. Unang-una, hindi sila taga rito. Pangalawa, hindi nasusunod ang social distancing. Pag pinagsabihan mo, galit pa. Noong nakaraang linggo, pinayagan namin sila, pero wala, matitigas talaga ang ulo," Yumul said.

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He said they are calling for everyone’s cooperation to help prevent the rising cases of COVID-19 in Metro Manila. According to him, the barangay heads already decided to disperse the homeless people lined up outside the Kalinga Center.

“Unawain nila kami, uunawain namin sila. Yun lang ang sa amin. Di kami against na pinapakain sila, kaya lang bawal po talaga. Bawal sa labas ang tao. Marahil sa mga susunod na araw 'di na mangyayari ito, talagang ipagbabawal na namin.”
 
Fr. Flavie, on the other hand, remains committed to providing food and care to the homeless. “Ako ay mananatiling magpapakain, magpapaligo, susunod sa distansiya dahil ginagalang ko ang batas, lalong higit kung ito'y batas na matuwid.”

However, he raised concerns on the rigid implementation of the law as this would mean leaving the homeless and the poor without nourishment and access to clean themselves given the threat of virus infection.

“Ngunit kung ang batas na ito ay lalabag at yuyurak at patuloy na mangmamaliit sa maliit na, mahihirapan akong ipatupad ito at sundin.”
 
He recognizes the fact that a number of residents have been complaining that the homeless might bring the virus into the community. However, he asked for their understanding and assured that those who go to the center are checked and given vitamins and nutritious meals to strengthen their immunity.

“Hindi natin pinagkakaila iyong possibility na may mahawa, ngunit bago sila pumasok, may thermometer check, meron tayong binibigay na bitamina, malusog na pagkain, orange at tubig," the priest said.
 
However, he wants to highlight a “virus” more dangerous than COVID-19: the indifference as well as failure to empathize and provide for the needy.

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“Sa tingin ko sa panahon ngayon, may mas malaking virus, sa kabila ng virus ng COVID-19, yung virus ng puso na nagiging malamig. Pangalawa, yung virus ng puso na ginagamit ang batas or the law in a very rigid manner na hindi binibigyan ng kaukulang pansin na ang batas ay para bumuhay.”

Given these challenges, Kalinga Center is exploring ways of continuing their program for the poor and homeless around Metro Manila through the help of different institutions and donors. This is to ensure that they are provided with nutritious food, a venue to practice proper hygiene and possibly a refuge while the quarantine is imposed.
 
“Ang pangangailangan ay pangalagaan ang sarili laban sa virus, pero tignan din nating ang ating mga puso. Unang-una, ang pusong makatao, pusong maka-Diyos at pusong makabayan. Ang pagtataboy ba sa mga nangangailangan ng pagkain, sa mga nagugutom, kahit maayos ang pila ay tama o mali?”

Fr. Flavie Villanueva monitors the queue across the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Barangay Tanod Ronaldo Yumul asks homeless people lined up to disperse across the Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fr. Flavie Villanueva negotiates with members of the Philippine National Police to allow them to continue their feeding and care program at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Homeless people wait for their turn for a bath and claim their food packs outside the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fr. Flavie Villanueva gives instructions to homeless people queued across the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Homeless people wait for their turn for a bath and claim their food packs outside the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fr. Flavie Villanueva helps a homeless person outside the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Homeless people wait for their turn for a bath at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Cups of shampoo are prepared for the homeless as they clean up at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A homeless woman receives food packs at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Volunteers prepare food packs to give away to the homeless at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A homeless man wipes his head with a towel after cleaning up at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Volunteers care for the homeless at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Homeless people get a bath before the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila was ordered closed on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Homeless children groom themselves after a bath at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A homeless person walks away with bags of food she received at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fr. Flavie Villanueva, head of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, negotiates with police to allow the center to receive beggars and the homeless for their feeding and care program on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fr. Flavie Villanueva, head of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz, Manila, monitors the situation before the center was ordered closed on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News.

Fr. Flavie Villanueva speaks with volunteers at the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Sta. Cruz Manila is cleaned up before its closure during the enhanced community quarantine period, on March 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News