Iglesia sets nationwide protests vs DOJ probe

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Members of the Iglesia ni Cristo will gather in major cities across the country, widening the group’s protest activities against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its ongoing investigation of INC leaders.

INC spokesman Edwil Zabala said their members will gather in Cebu and other key cities today to show their united stand on the issue.

“It may involve all regional offices of the DOJ,” Zabala said.

On social media site Facebook, an announcement started circulating Saturday night that INC members in South Cebu district will hold an indignation rally starting at noon today until tomorrow.

“We hold this rally to exercise our constitutional right of assembly with an approved permit from the Cebu City government,” the post, written by a certain Aaron Enriquez, read.

“The assembly will start at INC district office on Gen. Maxilom Avenue, will pass Fuente Osmeña Rotunda, traverse Osmeña Boulevard, enter downtown area and on to the rally venue at Plaza Independencia,” it added.

The post, which has been shared over 700 times as of yesterday afternoon, said INC members from neighboring towns will start arriving at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

“Please pardon the inconvenience,” it added.

Enriquez later said other INC districts in the city failed to secure permits, and would instead join the activity at Plaza Independencia.

The INC said they are pushing through with the protest rally to emphasize the constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state.

They said they will not allow the government to tell them what to do.

Meanwhile, another report said a similar gathering is set to be held in Davao City.

Pressed for information, Zabala said he could not provide additional details as the activities are organized by the local chapters of the religious group.

Authorities in Davao City confirmed the INC had coordinated their planned activity in the city today.

Southern Mindanao regional police director Chief Supt. Wendy Rosario said a coordination meeting was held with the Davao police and the INC representatives.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte reportedly attended the meeting, assuring the public that the rally will not affect the flow of traffic.

Enriquez, on the other hand, said INC members in Luzon will still proceed to EDSA as earlier planned. A delegation from Bicol was reportedly scheduled to arrive last night.

The Mandaluyong City government on Saturday granted INC a permit to rally until yesterday. No extension has been given as of noon yesterday.

INC members from provincial districts joined the rally at EDSA-Shaw in Mandaluyong, where a mini concert was held.

The INC also secured a permit to rally from Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada until Sept. 4.

No application was filed in Quezon City, with the city government initially saying that it will strictly enforce the “no permit, no rally” rule.

An INC official yesterday revealed they will stay at EDSA until midnight.

The official belied the information circulating online that they will transfer to another venue as their permit is only until Sunday.

He said that official announcements would only be coming from the INC.

The INC official added they are now working on extending their permit.

The police, on the other hand, moved in to establish six control points along EDSA in Mandaluyong to contain the rally.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on the other hand, placed its forces in Metro Manila on standby for possible anti-rally duties with the Philippine National Police (PNP).

AFP spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato said the troops are placed on standby alert under the operational control of the AFP-Joint Task Force National Capital Region for possible deployment upon the request of the PNP’s National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO).

The NCRPO deployed plainclothes policemen in the area to help ensure orderly INC assembly.

Earlier reports said some INC members manhandled some members of media who were covering the event.

NCRPO director Chief Superintendent Joel Pagdilao said the INC had coordinated with them as to the groups of people who will be taking part in the rally.

“We set up security control points to watch out for opportunists who might take advantage of the situation. We are coordinating with the INC as to who are legitimate members,” Pagdilao said.

Police estimated the crowd at 1,000 yesterday morning at the corner of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard.

Pagdilao gave assurance that they deployed a sufficient number of policemen to maintain peace and order, to secure the public’s safety and that of INC members.

The NCRPO also deployed anti-riot policemen at the EDSA Shrine, where INC members initially gathered on Friday night, and at the People Power Monument in Quezon City.

“As per instruction of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, we need the whole government approach in this situation. The PNP is also managing traffic and rerouting schemes in coordination with the local authorities and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA),” Pagdilao said.

MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino assured the rallyists that maximum tolerance will be implemented.

He said MMDA and the local government of Mandaluyong are conducting garbage collection in the area while traffic enforcers have been deployed to help direct motorists to alternative routes.

Special attention

Members of the religious group started gathering at the DOJ’s main office along Padre Faura street in Manila on Thursday to protest the alleged special attention that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has given on the serious illegal detention complaint filed against INC leaders.

The complaint was filed by expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr., who claimed that he was detained by some members of the Sanggunian, the religious group’s administrative body.

Aside from the supposed special attention to the case, protesters have accused De Lima of violating the doctrine of separation of church and state.

On Friday, INC members moved their activities to EDSA despite the lack of a permit.

They started gathering early evening on two points – in front of the EDSA shrine near Ortigas Avenue and in front of Megamall near Shaw Boulevard.

The gathering resulted in the closure of EDSA northbound from Shaw to Ortigas, resulting in heavy traffic on a payday Friday, also the start of a long weekend.

Zabala later apologized for the inconvenience and stressed that they merely wanted to exercise their freedom to peacefully gather and air their grievances.

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.

De Lima, with the support of Malacañang, earlier stated that she is only doing her job.

The DOJ – through its state prosecutors – are mandated to conduct preliminary investigations on criminal complaints such as illegal detention to determine if there is probable cause to file a case before a court.

In granting the permit to rally, Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos said the INC told him there was disinformation that resulted in the different gathering locations at EDSA.

He said the permit was granted to contain the INC members in one area.

At one point, police estimated that protesters gathered at Crossing reached 5,000.

Separation of church and state

Online, INC critics and supporters are trading barbs over the EDSA protests that resulted in the heavy traffic that inconvenienced thousands of Metro Manila residents.

Members of the religious group, however, appealed for understanding and invoked their freedom to hold assembly.

Pastor Saycon of the group Konpederastion ng Inang Bayan said they are supporting the INC against the government meddling in their affairs.

Saycon said the INC has welcomed their involvement in the protest action, saying they adhere to the same principle of separation of church and state.

Saycon said the INC exercised the “doctrine of disciplinary role of the church” when it initiated an investigation that led to the ouster of its ministers.

The INC maintained the DOJ has no right to meddle in the church’s internal affairs as there is a doctrine on the separation of church and state, as guaranteed under the Constitution.

But according to Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Chito Gascon, the doctrine of separation of church and state does not apply in this instance.

“This is a matter involving the proper exercise of powers by the justice department involving an investigation of a case that may involve violation of law that exempts no one,” Gascon said.

“The doctrine of separation involves the following: 1. State does not favor any particular religion (non-establishment clause) and 2. Every person is able to believe and practice faith (free exercise clause),” he explained.

Gascon maintained that no individual or organization is exempt from investigations on alleged violations of the laws of the land. –Cecille Suerte Felipe, Perseus Echeminada, Edith Regalado, Robertzon Ramirez, Jaime Laude


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