Thousands jam Metro streets telling de Lima to back off
THOUSANDS of members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) on Friday night marched out of Padre Faura Street in Manila and were believed to be heading for the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City to hold a bigger demonstration to press Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to back off from a criminal complaint filed against certain leaders of the church.
Radio station dzBB said a long column of INC members started filing out of Padre Faura where the offices of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is located and were believed to be heading for the Our Lady of EDSA Shrine as of 9 p.m. Friday.
The shrine was built to mark what the Catholic Church said was a “miracle” at EDSA during the 1986 People Power revolution. It was also in the same spot where people massed up in January 2001 that led to the ouster of then-President Joseph Estrada.
An estimated 4,000-5,000 members of the INC have jammed Padre Faura since Thursday afternoon, protesting de Lima’s supposed prioritization of an illegal detention case filed by dismissed INC minister Isaias Samson.
During their protest, INC members chanted “Justice for Mamasapano” and “Huwag niyong pakialaman ang Iglesia [Don’t mess with the Iglesia]!”
Mamasapano is a town in Maguindanao province in Mindanao where 44 police commandos on a mission to get an international terrorist and his Filipino protégé were attacked and killed in January this year.
Another group of INC members also started gathering near the Our Lady of EDSA Shrine in Quezon City and were believed to be poised to hold a massive rally there.
Radio reports said groups of church members bused from the provinces have been converging at the SM Megamall area and Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City awaiting instructions from church leaders.
The massing up of people in the two areas further worsened the “pay-day” traffic in the National Capital Region (Metro Manila).
Rally created traffic mess
Traffic along Taft Avenue and adjoining streets, particularly United Nations Avenue and the roads in Malate and Ermita districts became tight and messy, slowing the commute, and congesting the area as INC rallyists held a program along Padre Faura.
Malacañang also on Friday clarified that it does not intend to meddle in the case of the INC.
“Government’s duty is to ensure that the laws of the land are complied with and does not
wish to interfere in the internal affairs of any legitimate organization,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
“Government is not taking an adversarial position against the INC whose contributions to national development and demonstration of civic consciousness are duly acknowledged,” he added.
Coloma said the government hopes that “expressions of dissent will continue to be peaceful, orderly and not in any way disruptive of normal activities of our citizenry.”
De Lima did not to show up at the DOJ on Friday after INC members remained massed up along Padre Faura since Thursday.
Security was tight inside the DOJ as the second floor of the main building was declared off limits to journalists.
An INC leader, who asked not to be named, said their protest will continue “as long as they want”.
Chief Supt. Rolando Nana, director of the Manila Police District, told The Manila Times that the INC was able to secure a rally permit from City Hall.
He said the permit stated that the rally will commence on Thursday morning and will last “onward,” meaning there was no time limit.
The protesters are demanding that de Lima come out and face them. They wanted her to explain why she placed the entire INC Sanggunian (Council of Leaders) under investigation.
At the height of INC crisis where the mother and brother of INC Minister Eduardo Manalo were expelled from the church, Isaias Samson, editor of Pasugo, a premier doctrinal journal of the church, lodged a complaint against Glicerio Santos Jr., Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago Sr., Mathusalem Pareja, Rolando Esguerra, Eraño Codera, Rodelio Cabrerra and Maximo Bularan, all members of the INC Sanggunian. Samson filed charges of harassment, illegal detention, threats and coercion against them.
What purportedly angered the INC members was the act of de Lima placing Samson under the Witness Protection Program and enticing more witnesses, all expelled members of the church, to come out.
According to some INC members, who spoke to The Manila Times on condition of anonymity, de Lima must now resign from her position for her bias in the case filed by the expelled INC ministers.
“DOJ does not stand anymore for Department of Justice but “Delima of Justice,” a member said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay issued a statement urging the Aquino administration to stop meddling in the affairs of the INC.
Binay said the INC was only exercising its freedom to assembly and religious freedom.
“We cannot fault the INC for resorting to mass action to protect the independence of their church from a clear act of harassment and interference from the administration,” the Vice President added.
“Religious freedom is guaranteed by our Constitution. Yet the administration chose to trample on this sacred right. What we are seeing are people fighting for their faith,” he said.
Netizens weigh in
University of the Philippines political science professor Clarita Carlos was perplexed with the way the INC is handling the crisis within the church.
“One wonders why a religious group ostensibly being able to deliver some command votes can decide which actions should be or not be investigated by our DOJ! Have they become so powerful that now they decide what government officials should do or not do? Those government functionaries who kowtow to them or any group who promises some votes may soon discover that these acts of impunity may mark the beginning of the slippery slope that signals the failure of the Rule of Law, which soon leads to a Failed State….very very worrisome,” she posted on her Facebook account.
Kimboy Uy, posting on Facebook, said it is outrageous that some members of the INC community rally to implement the separation of the church and state and yet vote as a block during elections defeating the very idea of rational, democratic vote made out of free will.
“Sadly to admit… this seems to be the trajectory our government is taking … Always extra careful not to offend this supposedly powerful group… impunity all around…They can close major roads and cause huge traffic gridlocks for their activities… they can designate in front of their building along Commonwealth Avenue their parking space with taxes paid by all of us… when parking along this artery is not allowed…that our government officials have tolerated them is part of the problem,” he added.
In a statement, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said,
“The INC certainly has the right to stage a peaceful mass action to express their sentiments in defense of their faith.”
According to Marcos, the DOJ’s handling of the case “leaves much to be desired.”
Instead of letting the legal process to take its course, he said, de Lima immediately held a news conference to discuss the merits of the case.
“This created the impression, rightly or wrongly, of [her]undue interest in the case.”
“For justice to triumph, the DOJ must not only be impartial in its procedure and ruling; like Caesar’s wife, it must also be seen as being fair to all.”