INC leaders appeal for understanding
(The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2015 - 10:00am

Rallyists get flak over EDSA traffic jams

MANILA, Philippines - Amid chaos on the road and frayed nerves, the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) appealed yesterday for understanding as heavier traffic is expected tomorrow along EDSA where more of the sect’s members are expected to converge as part of their continuing protest against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s alleged partiality in dealing with cases involving leaders of the religious group.

Expressions of indignation and outrage flooded social media yesterday, the third day of the INC’s protest action which began last Thursday outside the Department of Justice complex on Padre Faura street in Ermita, Manila.

INC spokesman Edwil Zabala said it was not their intention to cause inconvenience to the public, as they merely wanted to exercise their freedom to peacefully gather and air their grievances.

His appeal for understanding came amid reports of ABS-CBN cameraman Melchor Pinlac being beaten up by an unidentified INC protester while he was taking footage of rallyists near the EDSA shrine last Friday.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ricardo Marquez urged Pinlac to file a complaint against his assailant.

Zabala said the protests may have initially been noisy and left heaps of trash in many places, but the group is ready to clean up their mess after the protest activities.

He said the INC was able to secure yesterday a permit to rally at EDSA-Shaw in Mandaluyong City from Mayor Benjamin Abalos Jr. until today.

There would be no extension of the rally permit “unless granted in writing,” the mayor’s office stated.

Zabala said they couldn’t tell yet how long they intend to protest. He said if the permit expires, they can apply again as “permit is being issued day-by-day.”

He said he personally believes De Lima should speak with the INC and provide written and “concrete” assurance that she would correct the “shortcut steps” she had undertaken against its leaders.

He was referring to De Lima’s allegedly prioritizing the illegal detention case filed by expelled minister Isaias Samson Jr. against some top ministers of the INC.

Samson was expelled from the INC for allegedly causing division. He was expelled along with executive minister Eduardo Manalo’s brother Angel and his mother Tenny.

An advisory from the INC leadership obtained by The STAR stated that the original schedule of activities for tomorrow’s National Heroes’ Day has been scrapped and members have been instructed instead to proceed to EDSA.

More than 5,000 INC members have already assembled along the stretch of Metro Manila’s premier highway between the EDSA Shrine on Ortigas Avenue and Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City. Their presence has severely worsened traffic in the area.

Abalos told The STAR his office issued the permit after consultation with Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista.

“They (INC) wrote me and asked that they be given a permit. They said that they have been sabotaged and too much disinformation went around. That is why some of them gathered at the EDSA Shrine while others gathered at the White Plains area,” Abalos said.

Abalos said that based on the permit, the Shaw Crossing square was selected as point of gathering, with the Shaw flyover and underpass open to traffic to minimize congestion.

Abalos said the INC members have been permitted to occupy the Crossing square today.

Abalos said INC leaders in the area have assured him that protesters would not block the ramps of the flyover and the access to the EDSA-Shaw underpass.

He said there would be no more protest activities in the vicinity of the EDSA Shrine. “Traffic is light on Saturdays and Sundays anyway,” he said.

Mar’s reminder

Roxas reminded the INC that issues between some of its members and the DOJ should be resolved peacefully and not through violence or fomenting disorder.

“Let us remember that ours is a rule of law and not of men…As in all protest actions, preserving peace and order with maximum tolerance will be practiced by all responding policemen,” Roxas said.

“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,” he said.

The DILG chief said the Philippine National Police (PNP) is duty-bound to ensure the safety and general welfare of the public.

Roxas said the PNP is also on guard against opportunists who might try to take advantage of the situation for vested intrest.

The DILG chief presided over a meeting with Abalos, Quezon City Mayor Bautista, PNP’s Marquez, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino and several other PNP officials.

“We respect the right of every individual to express his grievances. However, we need to ensure the welfare of the majority is protected. Every day, we have 2.5 million Filipinos using EDSA and the government has the responsibility to ensure their safety and welfare on their way to work and on their way back home,” Roxas explained.

“We have 17 million residents in Metro Manila, and these arteries should be kept open,” he said.

National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) Chief Supt. Joel Pagdilao has raised to full alert status the entire Metro Manila police force to ensure their readiness to respond to any untoward incident.

Angry netizens

Social media was abuzz over the past few days with rants from angry and frustrated motorists and commuters in Metro Manila who had to endure being stuck in traffic for several hours due to the INC gathering.

From Padre Faura, the INC protesters proceeded to EDSA near Ortigas Avenue then to Shaw Boulevard Friday night to continue their protest.

With traffic already heavy along EDSA, as it always is on Fridays, the gathering of the INC members along the highway only made the situation worse.

Angry motorists and commuters heading home after a long day’s work took to social media to air their sentiments about the actions of the members of the INC, which they said was inconsiderate to the thousands who just wanted to go home and get some rest.

Inevitably, frustrated netizens demanded answers from the government.

TV-5 journalist Jove Francisco, in his Facebook page Friday night, noted that the newsroom was “bombarded with questions” before the network’s evening newscast, specifically asking the stand of politicians on the protest action that was taking place along EDSA.

Vice President Jejomar Binay earlier said “we cannot fault the INC for resorting to mass action to protect the independence of their church from a clear act of harassment and interference from the administration.”

He also called the gathering “an exercise of their right to assembly and free speech, which are also guaranteed under the Constitution.”

For Sen. Grace Poe, De Lima should clearly explain her side to the protesters.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. noted the right of the INC to stage a peaceful mass action to express their sentiments.

“The DOJ’s handling of the case leaves much to be desired. Instead of allowing the legal process to take its course, DOJ secretary Leila de Lima immediately held a press con to discuss the merits of the case,” he said. “This created the impression, rightly or wrongly, of undue interest in the case.”

Sen. Francis Escudero said “it may be prudent to first let the leadership of the INC resolve what appears to be a purely internal matter.”

Hashtag #DeLimaBringTheTruth on twitter supporting De Lima also trended worldwide.

“SOJ De Lima deserves our support & respect for pursuing the INCM human rights violators #,” said user Rigor Cruz with twitter handle @rigor.

Many of the users tweeted that the subject of the investigation are “crimes,” not INC’s faith.

Rome Travallo_@iRome19 said, “When I grow up, I want to be today’s DOJ secretary. Brave _#DeLimaBringTheTruth”

One of tweeters, Aileen Mesias, said: “Di nman faith ine-imbistigahan, kundi ang DI UMANO’Y ILLEGAL DETENTION done to a FORMER INC na di lang basta member _#DeLimaBringTheTruth.”

Charize Joy Longboen (@bread_charize) also criticized the protest for disrupting classes at the University of the Philippines: “Kung alam nyo lang po ang perwisyong inabot naming UP Manila students. Nag-cancel po ng pasok dahil sa sobrang ingay. _#DeLimaBringTheTruth”

The words EDSA Shrine also trended in the Philippines, with users reminding INC that the shrine is a prayer place for Catholics or those who believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

INC preaches against Catholic saints, including the Blessed Mother.

“INC gathering at EDSA shrine might be a wrong place to assemble, why not assemble at the central temple at Commonwealth it’s their temple,” said Rene S. Lazo (@RENESLAZO)

Gang Badoy, for her part, said: “INC members demand separation of church & state – flock to EDSA shrine – where there’s a bronze Virgin Mary statue by Virginia Ty Navarro.”

The shrine is under the “jurisdiction” of the Archdiocese of Manila. Anyone who wishes to protest there needs a permit, according to Peachy Yamsuan of archdiocese’s public information office. With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Aie Balagtas-See, Mike Frialde, Janvic Mateo

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