Malacañang on Wednesday stood firm on its decision not to allow the opening of churches during the Holy Week as the country grapples with the Covid-19 surge.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said opening churches would encourage mass gathering, which is a driving factor in the spread of Covid-19.

“The IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) has concluded that if you allow 10 percent inside the church, then a crowd will build outside the church because they, too, also want to go inside to hear the next mass),” Roque said during a radio interview.

“Though only 10-percent capacity is allowed inside the church — outside you have a huge crowd waiting for the next mass.”

The IATF has prohibited religious gatherings in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal until April 4 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Only weddings, baptisms and funeral services are allowed with a maximum of 10 people permitted to attend.

The directive was issued ahead of the country’s observance of Holy Week from March 28 to April 3.

Meanwhile, Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo on Tuesday bemoaned that the IATF was violating religious freedom and the principle of separation of Church and State by imposing restrictions without consulting the Church.

“We have religious freedom, and they cannot restrict our religious activities. We have followed the protocols and guidelines during the Feast of the Nazareno and the Simbang Gabi (Yuletide dawn masses), when many people went to church, and nothing bad happened to us,” Pabillo said on Radio Veritas.

Pabillo said the Archdiocese of Manila, which includes Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong and San Juan, would resume its religious services at 10 percent of the church capacity on March 24.

Roque reminded Pabillo that the government can order the churches closed.

“We hope it will not come to that Bishop Pabillo. We cannot achieve any objective if you will defy the IATF’s orders, leaving the government no choice but to close the doors of the church,” Roque said.

He explained there was no violation of the principle of separation between Church and State because the aim of the prohibition was to protect the public.

Roque said Catholics could still observe Holy Week in their homes.

At least 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholic.