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Expelled minister fears probe whitewash

Expelled Iglesia ni Cristo minister Isaias Samson Jr., his wife Myrna Dionela and son Isaias filed charges of serious illegal detention, harassment, grave threats and coercion against leaders of the INC last week. Screen grab from www.youtube.com

MANILA, Philippines - The camp of expelled Iglesia ni Cristo minister Isaias Samson Jr. has expressed fears on the outcome of the criminal charges he and his family filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against several leaders of the INC.

This came after the public pronouncement of INC general evangelist Bienvenido Santiago that the religious sect had arrived at an “agreement” with the government and decided to end a four-day protest rally from the DOJ main office on Padre Faura street in Manila to EDSA Shaw in Mandaluyong.

Samson, his wife Myrna Dionela and son Isaias filed charges of serious illegal detention, harassment, grave threats and coercion against leaders of the INC last week.

“The fear now is that given the so-called agreement, a finding of ‘no probable cause’ to make this nightmare go away for the INC’s Sanggunian is a very real possibility,” Samson’s lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a statement yesterday.

Angeles said there is a need for the government to clarify the supposed agreement.

“Their leaders have cited an ‘agreement’ with government. What is the nature of this agreement? What are its conditions and terms? It is our client who had unintentionally set off these events by filing his case, yet somehow we have not been included in this so-called agreement. Assuming of course there is one,” she said.

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The sect had reportedly demanded the resignation of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the dismissal of the case filed against its leaders.

 “It is not accidental that the leaders (who are also respondents in Samson’s case for illegal detention) have been very vocal about this so-called agreement. The idea is to make the public feel that they had flexed their muscle and the government has responded in a manner favorable to them. The idea is to make us feel that in relation to whatever it is they were rallying for, the government has capitulated. And sadly that capitulation may involve trampling on the rights of our client,” the lawyer added.

With this, Angeles appealed to President Aquino and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to be transparent.

“Tell us whether or not you’ve sold our client down the river or tell us if you haven’t. But you need to disclose this to us. A criminal case is not a political pawn. The law provides that it cannot be compromised. The President can grant pardons and issue clemency and amnesty. But you do not have the power to refuse prosecution,” Angeles stressed.

Angeles also urged the government to guarantee Samson a fair hearing at the preliminary investigation in the Department of Justice. She believes that the reported meeting between the government and the DOJ, being hidden from the public eye, could inevitably be “subject to a very real, very reasonable suspicion.”

The DOJ has not formally started the preliminary investigation on the complaint for serious illegal detention, harassment, grave threats and coercion filed by Samson.

“The case has not yet been assigned to investigating prosecutors,” Prosecutor General Claro Arellano said in a text message, citing the non-working holiday yesterday.

The complaint of the Samson family named as respondents the members of the Sanggunian, INC’s highest administrative council. They are lawyer Glicero Santos Jr., Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago, Mathusalem Pareja, Rolando Esguerra, Eraño Codera, Rodelio Cabrera and Maximo Bularan.

The complainants alleged that they were prohibited from leaving their house in Quezon City last July after he was accused of being “Antonio Ebanghelista,” the blogger who had been writing against the INC.

Samson, former editor in chief of INC’s official publication Pasugo, denied the allegation.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is being targeted by the INC protest over the supposed “shortcut” and unfair handling of the charges, has remained mum on the issue.

A separate complaint against Santos and other INC officials was filed earlier by expelled INC member Jose Fruto, the 50-year-old Filipino-American doctor who was arrested last month for a rape case in Caloocan City after admitting that he was one of the bloggers who have been attacking the INC leadership that led to his expulsion from the religious sect.

Fruto alleged that there are powerful people behind INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo who are actually running the affairs of the INC. Manalo was not impleaded in both cases.

‘INC crisis a test for presidential aspirants’

The protest action of INC has elicited a strong backlash from the public in the social and mainstream media. Critics of the four-day protest staged by INC members said the religious sect’s leaders should have answered the complaint and followed the requirements of due process instead of sending their loyalists to the streets.

Even politicians who defended the religious sect were not spared of the people’s anger.

Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez of Akbayan party-list said the recent INC “crisis” served as a test for the leadership qualities of presidential aspirants. Voters should have discerned who stood up for the rule of law and who tried to placate the “tyranny of organized numbers.”

“I likewise firmly insist on the duty of every responsible citizen, especially those occupying public office, to take a stand when the freedom of speech and assembly is used to derail legitimate government processes and bully the officials lawfully tasked to see them through,” he said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, a declared presidential candidate; Sen. Grace Poe, who has yet to make a declaration; and Sens. Francis Escudero and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have defended the INC protest.

Binay had justified the INC action, saying the religious sect was just protecting itself from “a clear act of harassment and interference from the administration.”

But Roxas, another declared presidential candidate, said while INC members have a right to protest, it should be exercised in a manner that it does not cause inconvenience on the public.

“While all citizens have the right to be heard and to peaceful assembly, the exercise of these rights cannot impinge on the rights of others or cause inconvenience to anyone. Especially our citizens who are going home to be with their families,” Roxas explained.

“Rights must be respected, yes, but the abuse of those same rights must be called out and condemned. And what about when that abuse of right also leads to massive inconvenience to thousands of fellow citizens, angering and alienating many of them? Well, that’s plain insensitivity. Not to mention bad messaging,” Gutierrez added.

Administration lawmakers, meanwhile, yesterday called for continued dialogue between Malacañang and the INC leadership to resolve their differences as soon as possible.

“We can achieve public order without compromising justice in the negotiating table,” Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said.

House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said De Lima was correct in acting on the complaints of certain former INC leaders against the head of the sect.

Bello, however, said De Lima’s plan to run for senator may have colored things.

“Don’t think of the possible effects on your (De Lima) candidacy, just do your job,” he said. – With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero

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