Iglesia members feel victorious after 3-day protest
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Thousands of Iglesia ni Cristo members who occupied the streets outside the Hall of Justice and portions of the public bus terminal here roared in celebration after it was announced that the protest action ordered by their church in Manila had been lifted.
“It’s a big victory for us. We have shown the country that our faith is more powerful than politics and the government,” said a 45-year-old member from North Cotabato who refused to be named.
The same member, who was raised by INC parents, said they were told by their ministers to start packing up as early as 9 a.m. on Monday because the protests have been a success.
“Of course, we are very happy because we were able to convey to the government our message. We do not want to cause any disturbance as long as the government will not intervene with our religious freedom,” said INC minister Ronilo Riego who travelled from the town of Alubijid in Misamis Oriental.
Riego said the protest was a reminder to government not to meddle with the internal affairs of their church because they had “the right to address” cases like this based on their own mechanisms.
“Ang religion namin hindi pwede paghimasukan. May sariling kaming court at may sariling disciplinary measures. Hindi yung tulad ng ginagawa ni Samson na sa gobyerno nagsumbong,” Riego said. Riego was referring to Isaias Samson Jr. who filed serious illegal detention, harassment and coercion cases against members of the INC governing council.
Riego assailed the critics of the church, particularly those who filed charges against their leaders, explaining that their leaders told them that those who have alleged corruption within the church were the ones who have committed mistakes.
But Riego and other ministers who requested not to be named said that they were still clueless about what had happened in the meeting between the government and the top leadership of INC in Manila.
“Yan ang hindi namin alam. Basta ang masasabi lang namin ay successful kami (We don’t know anything about that. We just know we are successful),” Riego said.
An elderly couple who travelled from Wao, Lanao del Sur, sat at the back of a truck and were smiling after the announcement that the protest action has been lifted.
Asked what their gains were, the couple just looked at each other and said: “We finally have justice now. That is what we were told.”
Another member from General Santos City was shouting with joy and was waving a flag of the church. He said the government came to know the solidarity of the INC community.
“This is a message that the INC is united as one. We will do whatever our leaders will tell us to do because we believe in them. If they will tell me to die for the Iglesia, I will be more than willing to offer my life,” the member said.
But local residents were not impressed by the more than 10,000 INC members from all over Mindanao converging in the city.
The city’s public terminal, right in front of the Hall of Justice, was almost paralyzed after the protesters occupied the entire block and even parts of the terminal.
An employee of the terminal said that the original plan was to maintain regular operations because the local government had made plans to ensure the undisturbed passage of the buses.
“But as early as Monday dawn, the roads and even two departure gates of the terminal were already filled with people. We had to improvise by using only one gate for both arrival and departure,” an employee said.
All gates at the terminal were re-opened at 9:30 a.m..
During the occupation, several buses were delayed, which also irritated several passengers.
A passenger who flew in from Manila at around 3 a.m. was stuck outside the bus terminal with her big luggage.
“The taxi was not allowed to get near the entrance gate of the terminal. We had to walk through the crowd, tugging our luggage behind us,” the passenger said.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, street sweepers immediately cleaned the streets of the trash left by the protesters. A street sweeper just shook her head as she claimed that the volume of garbage was even bigger than those collected during the Kadayawan Festival and the recent “Run, Duterte, Run” rally.
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