Cebu archbishop pleads for stop to word war amid COVID-19 crisis in the city

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Stop hurting one another.

This was the appeal of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to Cebuanos amid the word war between people, including local government officials, over the handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis here.

In a pastoral statement released on Tuesday, June 30, the 70-year-old prelate said growing fears have taken its toll on people to the point that many have become perpetually frustrated at the seemingly expanding threats of the virus with no visible solution in sight.

“Our emotions are scarred and we tend to be raw in our reaction to our circumstances and our responses to people around us. This is especially visible in our use of words that are often said without consideration for politeness or respect for the person of the other,” he said.

“I wish to gently remind all of us to refrain from hurting one another any further with unkindness because the virus itself has done enough harm to us,” he added.

Palma appealed to the people to maintain a sense of courtesy and respect to all local government officials from the barangay captains to the mayors, the governor, the appointed bodies of the Office of the President, including the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, the recently instituted COVID Task Force for Central Visayas, the police, and the military.

“I recognize the sincerity and sacrifices of these government servants as they respond with the best intentions and dedication to their duties, responsibilities, and accountabilities to all of us. In the exhortation of Pope Francis: we ‘protect our unity with prayer. Let us pray for one another. Let us pray more and complain less,’” he said.

Many Cebuanos recently called for the resignation of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino over alleged anomalies, including the procurement of COVID-19 test kits for the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu, as well as for acting as the “master” of the three local chief executives of the three cities.

Dino, in a press conference last June 23, denied that his office had anything to do with the purchase of test kits, saying he only provides support to local government units and does not get involved in procurement dealings.

He also dismissed calls for him to resign from his post, saying only supporters of former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeńa, a staunch critic, wanted him to resign.

Dino described his critics as “bogo” (stupid).

His statement prompted many people to retaliate and issue statements against him on social media.

A certain Juan Alfafara last Thursday, June 25, launched an online petition, asking President Duterte to replace Dino. As of 2 p.m. on Tuesday, at least 4,500 individuals signed up on www.change.org, a website created to facilitate petitions by the general public.

Many Cebuanos also called out Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella for its “weak” performance, which they said may have led to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the city.

For Palma, however, it is not the time to quarrel and blame each other.

He urged Cebuanos to focus on one enemy, which is COVID-19, which he said has brought “traces of death and despair” to people.

“We affirm that this COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in recent history and our generation, to the point that no single person today, even in the most advanced countries, can claim to be a real expert in combating this deadly virus in our midst,” Palma said.

“What we know for sure is that our only available defenses are faith-filled prayers that appeal to the mercy of the Lord to intervene in our situation now, and our charitable efforts to continue to do what each of us can to contribute to win this battle,” he added.

The worst of times in Cebu, he said, is the best time to show to the rest of the country the Cebuanos’ sense of personal discipline, solidarity, and tenacity.

“With the Sto. Niño in our midst and with our Blessed Mother, in Christ, we will overcome together as Cebuanos and move forward to a better life ahead of us all,” he said.

As of June 29, Cebu City has 5,915 COVID-19 cases, where 3,374 were active, according to the Department of Health in its latest advisory.

At least 1,628 individuals were admitted to different hospitals, while 1,746 were isolated in the city’s quarantine centers.

The city also recorded 2,375 recoveries and 166 deaths.