Stand on Iglesia ni Cristo protests: Poe’s faux pas?
Since she topped the senatorial race in 2013 up until the months leading to her expected announcement of a presidential bid, it is safe to say that poll frontrunner Sen. Grace Poe has enjoyed a generally positive perception from the public.
Enjoying a kick-start through the popularity of her father, the late movie actor and 2004 presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., Poe’s entry into the arena of public service was regarded by many as a breath of fresh of air in a political system characterized by patronage politics, dynasties, and corruption-tainted officials.
The lady senator topping the recent preference polls for both presidential and vice presidential candidates in 2016 despite competition with more veteran politicians like Vice President Jejomar Binay and Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas was a concrete proof of the public’s favorable opinion on Poe.
Having led the Senate probe on the botched Mamasapano operation, Poe has been both sharp and careful in giving her two cents on issues of public interest.
The INC brouhaha
But just recently, at the height of the Iglesia Ni Cristo’s (INC) four-day mass action at Padre Faura in Manila, which culminated on Edsa, Poe got her first major taste of public backlash for a taking a stand on a political issue.
On the second day of the INC’s protest against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s supposed meddling with “internal” church affairs, Poe issued a statement which seemingly favors the influential religious sect, saying that its members were just “defending their faith” and “protecting their rights.”
“For me, those people are defending their faith. We respect that and they also have to protect their rights,” Poe told reporters in Nueva Ecija on Aug. 28, noting that people should not belittle the importance of religion.
“After all, those of us in [the] government have the responsibility to explain well to the people the reason for the steps we have taken,” she added.
Calling for a separation of church and state, INC members criticized De Lima for allegedly prioritizing the illegal detention case filed expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. against the Sanggunian, the religious group’s highest administrative council.
Samson, who was also the editor in chief of INC’s official publication, was being accused by the church leadership of proliferating corruption issues against the sect.
Asked if the Department of Justice should handle the case filed by Samson, Poe said the agency already had a lot of more important issues to turn focus on.
Citing the Mamasapano clash, Poe noted that nobody had been placed under the witness protection program despite an ongoing investigation.
Becoming a ‘trapo’?
Poe was heavily criticized by the public, particularly in social media, for her pro-INC statement.
In fact, in an online poll conducted by INQUIRER.net which garnered more than a million votes, majority of respondents or equivalent to 47.79 percent said “politicians like Poe, Binay, and [Sen. Francis] Escudero” were the biggest losers in the “test of wills” that was the INC protest.
Even Sen. Serge Osmeña, Poe’s mentor in 2013, called the lady senator’s comments supportive of the INC as a “mistake,” saying that it made her appear to be a traditional politician (trapo).
“She was wrong there, she appeared to be a trapo,” Osmeña said.
A lawyer also said that Poe might have violated the anti-graft law when she supposedly implied that De Lima should not act on the case filed by Samson against the INC leadership.
‘Defending everyone’s rights’
But despite criticisms from the public, who was further enraged when the INC protest paralyzed traffic on Edsa, Poe stood by her defense of the religious sect.
Saying that she was saddened that many people took her comments “differently,” Poe stressed that she was just defending the rights of everyone to air grievances.
“This is not about the strength of just one group. This is the right of anyone who wants to speak about what they have in mind, as long as it’s done peacefully and in the framework of the law,” Poe said on Sept. 1, a day after the protest action culminated following a “mutual understanding” between INC and the government.
“I was just encouraging transparency and dialog,” she added.
The influential INC is known for voting as bloc during elections, which cause politicians to woo for the sect’s support and endorsement.
Poe is expected to announce her bid for the presidency at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ang Bahay ng Alumni on the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
The question is: Will her stand during the INC protests bring her closer to Malacañang? Or will it cost her the presidency? The answer remains to be seen. Yuji Vincent Gonzales/IDL
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