Iglesia Ni Cristo protesters occupy Edsa
The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) took its protest to Edsa on Friday night to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop its investigation of the alleged kidnapping of several INC ministers.
At 8:30 Friday night, hundreds of INC members converged outside SM Megamall Fashion Hall in Mandaluyong City and then started to march toward Shaw Boulevard.
The marchers chanted, “Justice! INC! Nobody goes home!”
As of 11:30 p.m., TV5 reported that President Benigno Aquino III’s aunt, Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, and Council of Philippine Affairs (Copa) head Pastor Boy Saycon, were seen at the INC rally on Edsa.
Cojuangco is the wife of Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, brother of Cory Aquino. The Cojuangco couple and Saycon are allies of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
It was apparently a show of force, as at 9 p.m. the crowd spilled over to the southbound lane of Edsa, paralyzing traffic on the opposite lane.
The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) placed the crowd estimate at the corner of Edsa and Ortigas Avenue to be at 1,500 people.
Meanwhile, those gathered at the intersection of Edsa and Shaw Boulevard were estimated to be at 3,000 as of 11 pm Friday.
The protesters cheered as buses gave up on trying to make progress and pulled back to take other routes.
“We are one!” the protesters chanted.
They repeatedly shouted a countdown, then howled, but gave no explanation of what they were trying to accomplish.
But one sign, repeated on many others, indicated the reason for the mass action: “We won’t be on the street now had the Iglesia been left alone!”
The NCRPO went on full alert starting 6 p.m. as the INC protesters gathered on Edsa.
Chief Supt. Joel Pagdilao, NCRPO director, ordered riot police deployed to the People Power Monument on Edsa.
Malacañang said the government was monitoring the INC mass action to ensure public safety.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino did not call an emergency meeting. But a source said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas was called to Malacañang Friday night.
Coloma declined to comment when asked if the President alerted the military and the police as more INC members poured into the stretch of Edsa from Edsa Shrine to Shaw Boulevard.
“The government is taking appropriate action with focus on public safety assurance,” Coloma said when asked if there was reason for the public to worry about the INC mass action turning into a people power uprising.
Pagdilao said Task Force Manila Shield was activated.
Task Force Manila Shield is a complex police security arrangement for securing Metro Manila during massive demonstrations.
The task force was last activated in 2014, during the rallies against the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Roxas, overseer of the Philippine National Police, ordered maximum tolerance as the protesters grew in number.
He said the rule of law must prevail as the protesters press their accusation that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was meddling in INC internal affairs.
In a statement issued Friday night, Roxas said the police was “duty-bound to ensure that the safety and general welfare of the public is maintained, both those protesting and those uninvolved.”
“Let us remember that ours is a rule of law and not of men,” Roxas said. “As in all protest actions, preserving peace and order with maximum tolerance will be practiced by all responding policemen.”
The INC protesters, numbering about 5,000, had yet to hold a program as of 9 Friday night, although they blocked the northbound lane of Edsa, rendering it impassable to all vehicles.
Chanting “De Lima pabebe (trying to be cute),” the protesters massed in front of Edsa Shrine.
Riot police deployed to Edsa Shrine said they were under orders to keep the INC members out of the shrine.
“We want to show this government, especially Injustice Secretary (Leila de Lima) that the INC can muster its own people power,” said an elderly INC member who identified herself as Ka Minda.
Ka Minda said the INC protesters wanted De Lima to stop meddling in the group’s internal affairs.
Earlier Friday, INC members said they would not leave their protest in front of the DOJ building in Manila until they were recalled by the leaders of their church.
The city government was willing to allow them to stay there for one week, with Mayor Joseph Estrada extending their rally permit up to Friday next week, but the Iglesia protesters said they would stay “for as long as the church’s administration wants us to be here.”
Invoking the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state, the INC ordered the protest to pressure De Lima to give up the investigation of the alleged abduction of several INC ministers who had spoken against questionable decisions of the sect’s governing council called Sanggunian.
Afraid of prosecution and aware of their guilt, the INC highest administrative body is using church followers as human shields against the law, lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles said on Friday night, speaking on behalf of her client Isaias Samson Jr., the expelled INC minister whose detention, harassment, threats and coercion charges filed in the DOJ against Sanggunian officials spurred protests against De Lima at her very doorstep.
“The Sanggunian, the people who we filed charges against are running scared, they are very, very afraid,” said Angeles when reached by phone.
“This will present some serious jail time for them,” she told the Inquirer.
She said the charges filed earlier this week were only the initial set of cases that her client is planning to lodge against his former peers in the church.
Samson, former editor in chief of the INC’s official publication Pasugo (God’s Message), has accused Sanggunian members of placing him and his family under “house arrest” in July amid an apparent crackdown against church members critical of certain practices of INC officials.
“First they thought Ka Jun (Samson) would not put his money where his mouth is, so to speak, that he was afraid. They thought they had neutralized him. But with his coming out and filing cases, these are only the first cases. There are more. And they know that,” Angeles said.
“Not only that. They are also aware of their own guilt, that much of the church is aware of their guilt. This is a church divided, as I said,” she said.
The lawyer said Samson continues to wield influence within the church, with his followers “still growing exponentially” albeit secretly to protect the INC.
She said her client already got wind of plans for members to hold protests outside the DOJ even before the first group arrived on Padre Faura. He had also received early information that the members were planning to regroup in Ortigas.
“Mr. Samson is one of the most upright and highly regarded ministers of the church. He held very high positions. His family was there from the start, from the founding of the church. This is not a man you can ignore,” said Angeles.
She said INC members participating in the protests were those who had “no choice.”
“He (Samson) understands that because obedience is a tenet of the church,” said Angeles.
She said the Sanggunian had also deceived its members by saying that Samson’s complaint placed INC Executive Minister Eraño Manalo under threat of arrest. Manalo is not a respondent in Samson’s charges.
“The penalty [for disobedience] is tiwalag (expulsion). If you’re expelled, you can’t talk to anybody in the church,” Angeles said.
The mass action began on Thursday, with hundreds massing in front of the DOJ building on Padre Faura Street.
The crowd had grown to more than 3,000 by yesterday afternoon, city police said.
Jeepney drivers complained about the disruption caused by the INC mass action after city authorities closed the stretch of Taft Avenue from Pedro Gil Street to United Nations Avenue, forcing motorists to make a long and winding detour through Paco district to get to their destinations on the northern side of the Pasig River.
Students and workers whose schools and offices are located in the area complained about the racket made by the protesters, and street cleaners denounced the protesters for urinating on walls and dumping trash on the streets.
Estrada said he extended the protesters’ rally permit because they “gave an assurance that they will hold a peaceful rally and there will be no obstruction of traffic.”
Asked why the INC members were given a rally permit in the first place, Estrada replied: “Why wouldn’t they be allowed? [This is] a free country. It’s a constitutional right. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Estrada said the protest would be allowed only up to the end of the period specified in the permit.
He said he had directed the city police to maintain peace and order in the protest area.
Unaware of the traffic rerouting and the stink caused by the protesters, he said that so far “everything is normal.”
The bloc-voting INC endorsed Estrada when he ran for President in 1998. It also backed him but failed to stop his ouster in 2001.
Yesterday he said the INC members were protesting De Lima’s “one-sided” handling of the alleged abductions.
“But it’s up to the court to decide on that complaint,” Estrada said.
Malacañang urged the protesters to keep their mass action peaceful.
A source from the INC, who requested not to be named because he had no clearance from the group’s leaders to speak to the media, said the mass action was caused by the “extraordinary attention” given by De Lima to the complaint of illegal detention filed on Tuesday by expelled INC minister Samson.
Samson accused members of the INC advisory council of illegal detention, threats and coercion, saying he and his family were placed under house arrest in their own home because the sect’s leadership suspected he was the pseudonymous critic of the group, Antonio Ebangelista, who posted criticisms of the council’s decisions on the Internet.
Samson denied he was Ebangelista. He said he and his family escaped from detention in July.
He also alleged that several INC ministers who had spoken against the council’s questionable financial decisions were also abducted.
The INC protest failed to force De Lima to drop the investigation. She denied interferring in INC internal affairs, saying she was just doing her job.
De Lima did not show up at the DOJ. Many employees of the department were also unable to report for work because the protesters blocked the gates to the building.
The INC source said De Lima should admit that the process for the filing of the complaint was shortened and that the decision to bring the complaint was influenced by politics.
But acknowledging that such an admission would be political suicide for De Lima, who is expected to run for the Senate next year, the source said the justice chief should at the very least say that she would “reexamine” the complaint.
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