De Lima to Iglesia ni Cristo: I’m just doing my job
Is there any way to celebrate a birthday?
The birthday “bashing” was a surprise to the celebrant.
Repeatedly chanting happy birthday while booing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, around 500 members of the religious sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) protested in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) building in Manila on Thursday afternoon. The number grew to 1,000 by 7 p.m., according to the police.
Holding placards, the protesters said De Lima should leave INC alone and divert the department’s attention to more important issues, such as the death of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force members in Mamasapano, including two of their members.
In unison, protesters demanded respect, freedom of religion and separation of church and state, shouting: “’Wag niyong pakialaman ang Iglesia! (Don’t interfere with Iglesia!)”
They said the DOJ should stop meddling in issues of religion, and their way of worship and organizing. “Justice for Mamamasapano,” they said.
“I’m just doing my job,” De Lima said in reply to criticisms from the INC leadership regarding the “extraordinary attention” given to the case of illegal detention filed by an expelled minister.
“All I can say is that like in many other things I do, I’m just doing my job here and my motive always is fealty to my sworn duty. I don’t have any other motive,” De Lima said in an ambush interview during a celebration of her 56th birthday hosted by DOJ employees.
She said the cases on the Mamasapano clash, which the INC leadership accused her of not giving attention to, would be filed “soon.”
She declined to speak further on the religious sect’s criticisms, saying she wanted to “make peace with everyone on this special day.”
No extraordinary attention
The lawyer of expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. defended De Lima, saying the justice secretary was not involved in her client’s filing of a complaint for illegal detention, harassment, threats and coercion against the members of the Sanggunian, the sect’s highest administrative body.
“The secretary was not even present when Mr. Samson filed his complaint. He just swore on the complaint. The DOJ has not yet even acted on it. There’s no preliminary investigation yet. So what ‘extraordinary attention’ are they talking about?” lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
Angeles, legal counsel of Samson, said the rally was not only premature but was clearly intended to influence the officials of the DOJ as they go about their duty to investigate the case.
“They (those behind the rally) are agitating people to act as a shield and pressure point in trying to influence the decisions and duties of DOJ officials,” she said.
It was not only De Lima who was booed.
ABS-CBN reporter Doris Bigornia, facing indignant protesters, was constantly booed and shooed and called “biased” for the network’s previous reports about the INC controversy.
Crisis in INC
The crisis in the INC administration went public on July 22, after a video posted on the Internet showed Cristina “Tenny” Manalo, widow of former INC executive minister Eraño Manalo, and her son Angel calling for help and claiming that their lives were in danger. They have since been expelled from the INC.
The following day, expelled minister Samson also surfaced, saying he and his family had escaped after being placed under house arrest by the INC’s Sanggunian in his own home.
Samson, former editor in chief of INC’s official publication Pasugo (God’s Message), was accused of posting articles against the church council online under the pen name Antonio Ebangelista. He denied the allegation.
Ebangelista said at least 10 INC ministers had been abducted and that church ministers and other members were harboring “resentment” toward the Sanggunian for corrupt and irregular practices.
Besides the alleged abductions of INC ministers, some members reported alleged corruption in INC, particularly in the construction of Philippine Arena, the $200-million cost of which was allegedly padded to give commissions and kickbacks to people close to the executive minister. The INC leadership has claimed that no ministers were abducted.
At the DOJ, INC members also booed the police, asserting they were not causing any commotion.
A woman supporter even lectured policemen, warning them that INC members were unstoppable.
“We are following not the people but God’s orders. We may not know each other but we are united,” she said.
Members of INC started waiting for De Lima around 9 a.m. and started to increase in number by 3 p.m. More members were expected to join the rally after their afternoon worship, a member who asked not to be named said.
No leader, however, assumed responsibility for the rally and spoke about the cause of their protest.
An INC member refused to be quoted as they were instructed by their “leader,” who “was not yet around” as of press time, not to talk to media. The member said they were just following orders.
Another INC member, who talked to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity, said the warrant of arrest issued against two of their leaders led to today’s protest.
“De Lima is completely blind to the issue and has nothing to do with it as it is an internal problem,” he said, citing the secretary’s bias toward their former members Angel Manalo and Samson, who were both given witness protection.
More members were expected Thursday night to continue the protest, he said.
Aquino visit canceled
President Aquino was reportedly planning to attend De Lima’s birthday celebration as several members of the Presidential Security Group began arriving in the DOJ compound.
However, with INC members massing up outside the DOJ, the President’s visit was canceled.
Chanting INC protesters clogged traffic on Padre Faura Street and blocked De Lima’s convoy as it tried to leave the DOJ compound around 5 p.m.
The protesters carried two large banners saying “Mas maraming isyu ang dapat unahin, huwag ang pakikialam sa amin (There are many issues that should be dealth with first. Don’t meddle with us.)” and “Malabo yata kay De Lima ang gobyerno at iglesia.”
After negotiations, the convoy was able to leave after about half an hour. Sources said, however, that De Lima exited via the DOJ gate adjoining the Supreme Court compound accompanied by her security aides and National Bureau of Investigation agents.
No investigation yet
Angeles called on the respondents to answer her client’s allegations in the preliminary investigation, adding that the mere docketing of the case was not proof of selective justice.’
“[T]here is no indication—yet—of bias on the part of the DOJ. The investigation has not begun. No evidence has been adduced and neither side has been heard. The complaint was filed on Aug. 25, and no notices for hearings have been sent out. What are they complaining about?” Angeles added.
She said those behind the rally “believe that a massing of people pressuring officials to rule in their favor is a strategy that gets them off the hook. They fail to see that they look like bullies at the gate demanding that the DOJ rule in a certain way—their way.
“They fail to see that they aren’t demanding justice. They are demanding special privileges. Particularly since their demand is made even before any investigation has commenced,” Angeles said.
“This so-called rally is no different. They do not seek justice. They seek silence, one that is achieved by gagging legitimate concerns,” she added. Jodee A. Agoncillo and Jerome Aning
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