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De Lima: I’m not resigning

Edu Punay, Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

DOJ chief unaware of any deal with INC

MANILA, Philippines - If she was made the sacrificial lamb, she’s unaware of it, and Leila de Lima does not intend to quit as secretary of justice, tomorrow or in the next several days, as part of an alleged deal with the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).

Demonized in street protests by the religious sect, De Lima returned to her office yesterday, declaring she is not quitting over accusations that she has given “extraordinary attention” to a criminal complaint filed by an expelled minister against some of the INC’s leaders.

She issued the statement as the INC ended its four-day protest and declared “victory” after reportedly striking a deal with the government.

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also said De Lima would stay in her post and denied a compromise was reached with the INC.

“Nothing has changed in the situation. The rule of law will continue to be enforced. Secretary De Lima has the full trust and confidence of the President,” Coloma said.

“I am not resigning today or in the next few days or several days because there is no reason for me to resign,” De Lima told reporters in Filipino.

“About the supposed deal, as far as I know there is no such deal,” she stressed.

“I will resign in due time and you know when that due time is… I will resign if I have already decided 100 percent to join the senatorial race,” she stressed.

De Lima added she has “lots of work to do.”

The filing of certificates of candidacy is in October.

The INC protest actions stemmed from De Lima’s alleged singling out for investigation complaints of harassment, illegal detention, threats and coercion filed by expelled minister Isaias Samson Jr. and his family against a group of ministers.

De Lima declined to comment on the allegations. “I ask for understanding if I am not issuing any statement (about the INC allegations). I just would like to avoid a situation where I will be misquoted or my statement will be distorted, which may cause another misunderstanding,” she explained.

She also declined to comment when asked if the preliminary investigation into Samson’s complaint would proceed.

The camp of Samson earlier expressed fears of possible whitewash of his complaint following the reported “agreement” between the government and the INC leadership as announced by the church’s general evangelist Bienvenido Santiago.

Samson’s lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles said that with recent developments, the dismissal of Samson’s complaint “is a very real possibility.” She said the government should be transparent and tell the people about any supposed agreement.

Palace officials have already denied the supposed agreement, saying what has transpired was just an understanding to end the protest.

Support for de Lima

As public support for De Lima in social networking sites continued to grow, a 67-year-old engineer went to the DOJ yesterday to personally express support for the embattled Cabinet secretary.

Jose Kwe stood outside the DOJ compound where thousands of INC members held their rally last Thursday and Friday, carrying a placard calling on De Lima not to be cowed by the protest.

“I want her to know that there are people who believe in her,” he explained to reporters.

Kwe said writing his opinions in streamers and tarpaulins is his way of getting his message across.

He recalled being sent to prison during the martial law days for fighting for what was right.

Case to proceed

Coloma told reporters they have given no special accommodation to the INC, adding “we have always been on top of the situation.”

He emphasized that the maximum tolerance given to INC members by the police was not a form of special treatment.

He also said the Palace had never felt hostaged by the INC during its protest activities that clogged traffic in Metro Manila and disrupted services at many establishments.

He said De Lima herself announced that the case filed by Samson would be subjected to legal processes.

“There was an information or complaint, there is a process for that. Those who filed that could freely submit information and evidence and let the truth set us free,” Coloma said.

Asked if there was an investigation into possible destabilization or whether the case filed against INC top ministers could be considered closed, Coloma said there was a permit for the INC street protest and that no law on public order had been violated.

Coloma said there had been many instances when certain groups had been allowed to air their sentiments at rallies even without permits from local governments.

“The government balances the situation in such a way that the paramount significance of public order and safety will be maintained,” Coloma said.

“The government remains effective, it fulfills its duty and addresses the situation,” Coloma added.

He said that in the past days, the government had focused on public order and safety and on ensuring that the INC protest actions would be peaceful and orderly.

“The government just did its duty according to laws, and there is no aspect in the relationship (with the INC) that could have been negatively affected,” Coloma said.

But he said the administration did not have any “crystal ball” to determine whether the INC would no longer hold rallies because citizens – whether as individuals or as legitimate organizations – have the right to express themselves and to assemble publicly.

Asked how it would deal with future rallies and ensure that the rights of the majority would be respected and protected, Coloma said they would balance in every opportunity the rights of the protesters and those of the general public so there would be no chaos or public disturbance that would likely bring more serious repercussions to society and the country.

“We will enforce the law. This is through enforcement of ordinances and regulations related to holding of assemblies,” Coloma said when asked about what could be done in case the rallies would become disruptive again.

Coloma said the rule of law was always enforced, taking into account the “principle of the greatest good for the greatest number,” but he also noted the “spectrum of different opinions and views is wide” and maximum tolerance must be exercised.

The INC rallies started on Padre Faura in Manila on Thursday and moved to the EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong City on Friday before converging on the busy EDSA-Shaw Boulevard intersection, stalling traffic and triggering public outrage.

The Mandaluyong City government gave the protesters permit to hold rallies until Monday morning but they secured another permit from Manila to continue their actions until Sept. 4.

However, the INC leadership decided on Monday to end their rallies.

Interior and Local Government Manuel Roxas II was quoted as saying that some groups wanted to exploit the situation but gave no details.

There were also reports that the INC decided to cut short its protest actions – which reportedly had failed to attract the desired number of members – after being given an ultimatum by the government.

As early as Thursday, there had been talks that INC was not just targeting De Lima but was actually planning to extend their rallies all the way to Malacañang.

Their failure, however, to carry out their plans would need a face-saving move, reports said, and that would be to announce that an understanding had been reached with the government.

Before Aquino met with members of the Cabinet Sunday night, there had been reports that a Palace representative – Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. – managed to discuss with INC officials and members the group’s sentiments against the administration.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda thanked the INC for ending the rallies and said the rule of law prevailed.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte stressed no deal was struck between the government and the INC.

“We did not bow to anyone. What we stood for was the welfare of the Filipino people, we let the rule of law prevail,” Coloma said.

If the INC was claiming victory, Coloma said everyone was free to make any proclamation as long as they were not violating any laws and infringing on the rights of others.

The Palace has been emphasizing that freedom should come with responsibility and that opportunists should not be given the chance to take advantage of situations like the INC rallies.

ABIGAIL VALTE

ACIRC

AT MALACA

COLOMA

DE LIMA

GOVERNMENT

INC

LIMA

MANDALUYONG CITY

PROTEST

RALLIES

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