Abalos: Rally permit granted to ‘contain’ Iglesia ni Cristo protesters
Even Mandaluyong Mayor Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. admitted that “all hell broke [loose]” on the stretch of Edsa under his city’s jurisdiction on Friday night, with a sea of Iglesia ni Cristo members pouring into the Edsa-Shaw intersection, paralyzing traffic on both lanes.
But far from clearing the disruption, Abalos, first thing on Saturday, gave his permission for the religious sect to continue conducting the rally at the busy crossing over the weekend. Why?
In a phone interview with the Inquirer on Saturday noon, Abalos explained that his move was an attempt to gather to one area, and thereby, “contain,” the thousands of Iglesia ni Cristo members otherwise dispersed along various Edsa intersections.
As early as 4 p.m. on Friday, Iglesia members started to amass on at least two points on Edsa where malls were located: At the corner of Ortigas Avenue, and near the corner of Shaw Boulevard.
The hell broke out at 8 p.m., when the Edsa ralliers were joined by peers earlier at Padre Faura Avenue in Manila.
The religious sect was protesting the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) probe into criminal complaints filed against the religious sect’s leaders by expelled members.
Illegal, controversial rally
Abalos admitted to being caught off guard by the sudden assembly of the thousands-strong force in his city, saying the city gave no permit for the controversial rally’s first night on the Edsa-Shaw intersection.
Abalos said at 1 a.m. on Saturday, he met with Erano “Erds” Codera, a member of the Iglesia ni Cristo Sanggunian (council). “Ka Erds” claimed the Iglesia only meant to assemble at the Edsa-Shaw crossing, but “saboteurs” supposedly gave out the wrong venues, dispersing the crowds on various Edsa intersections and causing the traffic jams.
Codera is one of eight INC leaders being accused of illegal detention by expelled minister Isaias Samson. The complaints are being heard at the DOJ.
Abalos, who said he was unaware of Ka Erds’ position in the INC, decided to issue the rally permit just for the Edsa-Shaw crossing, “so the groupings in other areas would disappear.”
Abalos also noted that even if the crossing were closed, an underpass provided an alternate route going north to south Metro Manila, while an overpass provided a way east to west.
Both southbound and northbound lanes of the Edsa-Shaw intersection had been closed off to traffic. Alternate routes have been set by the Philippine National Police and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Granting the rally permit “solves the traffic [jams]. At the same time, [there’s] no violence,” Abalos pointed out.
The permit, issued to Iglesia administrator (“tagapangasiwa”) Eliseo Valle on Saturday morning, cites the “recognition of [the] constitutional right” to peaceful assembly.
Abalos, in the permit, set certain conditions. For one, the rally permit is only valid from 1 a.m. on Aug. 29, Saturday, until the end of Sunday, Aug. 30, though the Iglesia originally requested for use of the crossing until Monday, Aug. 31, 3 p.m.
The Iglesia assembly is only allowed on the ground level of the crossing, is required to “maintain cleanliness and orderliness” throughout, and to only use “reasonable banners, streamers or placards” that are “not against public morals and public policy.”
They were also tasked to coordinate with the Mandaluyong city traffic and parking management office for the rerouting scheme around Edsa-Shaw.
“There will be no extension of your assembly unless granted in writing by this office,” the permit read.
Abalos appealed for public understanding for granting the rally permit. “If there was a [forcible] dispersal, it might have gotten violent,” he said.
On Saturday morning, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II held a two-hour meeting with Abalos, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez, Metro Manila police director Chief Supt. Joel Pagdilao, and MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino, at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame to discuss the government’s plan of action regarding the INC rally.
In a press briefing following the meeting, Roxas said they tackled preparations to address the traffic congestion expected because of the Edsa rally. He assured that traffic would remain open on Edsa.
“The public can expect that the whole of government will ensure the efficient flow of traffic, and the safety of our countrymen,” Roxas said, in Filipino. He added that a “full deployment” of police and Quezon City and Mandaluyong City personnel would be on site.
Traffic ‘unavoidable’ due to other factors
Roxas downplayed the congestion caused by the INC rally on Friday night, saying the traffic was “unavoidable” due to other factors. “It was payday, there were sales, it was raining, so it would really cause traffic,” Roxas pointed out. “But the MMDA and the police were able to … keep one lane open, at least. And the underpass remained open,” he added.
Roxas said talks were ongoing with the INC “on various levels,” and that the government would “do everything for everyone’s welfare.”
“We respect the rights of our countrymen to express their sentiments. Nevertheless, we need to address the welfare of the majority,” Roxas said. “Every day, more than 2.5 million people use [Edsa] … and it is part of the government’s duty to ensure their safety and their efficient commute,” Roxas said.
Pagdilao said the National Capital Region Police Office would remain “on full alert until needed.”
He declared the full alert status at 6 p.m. on Friday, as the INC assembly started to gather steam. On Friday night, asked if the PNP had any plans to disperse the then illegal assembly, PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor only said: “We adhere to the principle of maximum tolerance and observance of freedom of expression.”
‘Law not applied equally’
Meanwhile, sought for comment, Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of leftist coalition Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), and a regular in street protests, hiked a brow at the granting of the rally permit to the INC.
“As a matter of principle, we respect the right of any group to air their grievances and to peaceably assemble, even it involves public inconvenience. Such rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. The problem is when the law is not applied equally insofar as such rights are concerned. It’s no secret how this regime treats other public assemblies and protests,” Reyes said in an SMS message.
During the Edsa revolution anniversary in February, Bayan had attempted to hold a street protest on a closed-off section on Edsa-Ortigas, but were quickly blockaded by police.
Bayan’s assemblies without permits, such as the annual march on Commonwealth Avenue during the President’s State of the Nation Address, are also, without fail, met with police barricades.
In contrast, on Friday, the police contingent was only deployed to guard the Edsa shrine on Edsa-Ortigas. There were little to no police personnel deployed along Edsa, especially at the Edsa-Shaw intersection, where the rally’s program was held. The INC’s own security personnel took the lead in diverting foot and vehicular traffic.
“Things are different once electoral considerations enter the picture. In the end, it seems that the ruling politicians want to take advantage of the situation for their own political agendas in 2016,” Reyes said. Jaymee T. Gamil/RC
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.