WHILE various interested parties were praying the four-day Iglesia ni Cristo protest rally on EDSA/Shaw Boulevard would further build up, and more INC members were on their way from the peripheries, it was abruptly called off on Monday, prompting a spiral of speculations that a secret deal had been struck between Malacañang and the INC.
This was the talk even in Davao, where I flew on Monday, and thousands had been picketing the Hall of Justice from Saturday. Both sides have denied the suggestion, but no one believes the denial. Some sources claiming to have a direct line to the INC said the organizers had miscalculated the cost of their mobilization, and had run out of money. But I can’t say even those saying this believed their own story.
The more persistent theory is that a deal was struck when Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa met with the INC top leadership behind closed doors in Quezon City on Saturday. No announcement of any kind was made about that meeting, but the rumor spread like wildfire, and it apparently became the meat of the discussion during Aquino’s emergency meeting with select members of the Cabinet at the Pangarap presidential residence on Sunday.
Malacañang has confirmed the Pangarap meeting and identified the participants to include Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., presidential political affairs consultant Ronald Llamas, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hernando Iriberri, PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez, among others.
The INC protest march had been prompted by the allegedly extraordinary interest and attention given by De Lima to a complaint of serious illegal detention, harassment, grave threats and coercion filed by “expelled” INC minister Isaias Samson, his wife Myrna Dionela and son Isaias Jr. against the members of Sanggunian, the INC’s all-powerful administrative body.
Last July, Samson, a former editor-in-chief of Pasugo, INC’s official publication, was accused by his adversaries of running an anti-INC blog under the name of “Antonio Ebangelista.” He denied the accusation, but came under “disciplinary action” from his accusers. He and his family, according to himself, were prevented from ever leaving their residence. They were finally able to escape by pretending to attend an INC religious service and finding their way from there to a safer place. Unconfirmed reports said they got some friendly foreign help to relocate.
After the INC Executive Minister, the Sanggunian members are said to be the most powerful INC personalities. The Samsons’ charges against them have yet to be investigated, and there is as yet no finding of probable cause. But serious illegal detention alone is a non-bailable offense; Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged “pork barrel queen,” has been recently convicted of it, even before she could be tried on her alleged role in the so-called “P10-billion pork barrel scam,” which had preoccupied the Senate and the media for months on end. Therefore those charged with it had every reason to be worried.
Many who had expressed support for the INC march from the sidelines had no real understanding of the real issues involved. They had no suspicion that it was all internal to the INC, and limited to De Lima’s handling of a complaint filed by one “expelled” INC minister against the leaders of his church.
This, they thought, was something that could shake the Aquino government to its roots. But upon closer scrutiny, nothing in the placards borne by the marchers nor in the statements coming from their spokesmen said anything about B. S. Aquino 3rd’s tyranny or incompetence, or his rotten government.
Despite their angry criticisms against De Lima, they took great care, in their placards and speeches, not to ask her to step down. And they took even greater care not to ask PNoy to fire her from her position. They accused her of violating the constitutional separation of Church and State for paying attention to the complaint of the Samsons. But it seemed to have no bearing whatsoever on the case, which alleged certain crimes committed by some INC leaders against their own fellow members. Many who had never thought much of De Lima found themselves cheering her for standing her ground. The INC backlash was real.
Of course, there were some personalities who had come to the site to ride on the INC carousel; their opportunism shone like long-dead mackerel on a moonlit night. Eager to use the anti-De Lima show to rouse the rabble against the blundering PNoy, one eager-beaver character mounted the stage to execute the equivalent of a clumsy knife-throwing act, only to be told by a high INC personality as soon as he was off stage that the march was not meant to offend or oust the tyrant. We all misread the signs.
So what was the deal? Against the continuing denial of such a deal by both the INC and Malacañang, qualified sources insist that the parties had agreed to take De Lima off the case, by allowing her to resign soon, along with the other Cabinet members who would be running for the Senate in the May 2016 elections. Whether or not this has any basis at all should become clear in the next few days. So we wait.
What is clear though is that the “agreement” to end the march on Monday, as announced by INC general evangelist Bienvenido Santiago has prompted the legal counsel for the Samsons to express fear of a possible whitewash. Lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles was quoted as saying that unless the details of the “agreement” were revealed to the public, the Samsons would have every reason to fear that justice would be sacrificed.
Would a whitewash not provoke a more massive general protest march, led perhaps by the Samsons, whose group is said to include a number of former INC ministers supportive of Ka Eduardo’s mother and brother who were earlier expelled from their church? It is possible the end of one INC march could be the beginning of another?
One question that seems foremost on the minds of the public and our politicians is this: What would be the immediate and long-term effect of these developments upon the INC’s ability to impose political discipline among its members in the next elections? The usual practice has been for the INC leadership to provide a list of preferred candidates whom the INC members are asked to vote for as one community and one church. This has accounted for the INC’s tremendous political power all these years.
But given everything that has happened, will that discipline still hold? Will the leadership be able to continue to impose it upon its members, after invoking the “constitutional separation of Church and State” in the Samson case?
And for PNoy, will his ability to disband the INC march through clever deal-making prevent the greater population from staging a bigger march—- not necessarily to get rid of any of his Cabinet members, but to oust the entire regime?