INC protests: Potential 2016 bets take sides

Jovan Cerda (Philstar.com) - August 28, 2015 - 11:53pm

MANILA, Philippines - As thousands of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) followers took to the streets of Manila to protest the alleged overreach of the Department of Justice into their religion's internal affairs, three potential contenders in the 2016 presidential race took the opportunity to take sides and have their say on what is turning out to be a divisive issue among the public.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe and outgoing Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II - potential presidential candidates in 2016 - sent out their statements over the weekend as the public witnessed a religious show of force that has so far blocked traffic along Padre Faura in Manila and EDSA in Mandaluyong. INC, the third largest religion in the Philippines, is known for endorsing election candidates among its members through bloc voting.

In a statement, Binay said the Aquino administration "chose to trample on (the) sacred right" of INC members to religious freedom.

"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," Binay said on Friday, adding that religious right is protected by the Constitution.

Poe, the current frontrunner in presidential preference surveys, said the INC members on the streets are just defending their belief.

"Nirerespeto natin 'yan at kailangan pangalagaan din ang kanilang karapatan," Poe said.

Poe added that it would be best for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to explain the situation to the INC members.

On the other hand, Roxas invoked the rule of law, saying while the INC has the right to protest, they should consider other people as well who will be affected.

"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. Lalo na yung mga kababayan nating pauwi sa kanilang mga tahanan para magpahinga at makasama ang kanilang mga pamilya," Roxas said.

Roxas, whose department oversees the Philippine National Police (PNP), said the PNP is duty-bound to ensure that the safety and general welfare of the public is maintained. 

"This includes making sure opportunists do not try to take advantage of the situation for personal ends. Let us remember that ours is a Rule of Law and not of men," he said in a statement.

De Lima initiated the National Bureau of Investigation's probe on the alleged illegal detention of expelled INC officials following a fallout between Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo and members of his family. Former INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. filed illegal detention raps against INC executives after claiming that his family was placed by the religion's officials under house arrest after speaking against the alleged abuses in the church.

Protesters accused the Justice secretary of violating the principle of separation of the church and the state, and using selective justice in running after suspects.

In a statement read by INC General Evangelist Bienvenido Santiago on Wednesday, the religious group said De Lima egged on Samson to file the complaint.

"Ang pagsulong ng reklamong inihain ni Samson ay napag-alaman naming nagawa sa ilalim ng patnubay ni Sec. Leila de Lima, sapagkat labis at di-pangkaraniwan ang atensyon na iniukol niya - Ano kaya ang motibo niya? - siya pa mismo ang personal na nag-asikaso sa nasabing reklamo," the statement read.

The Palace backed De Lima's decision to investigate the case, insisting that the Justice secretary is only doing her job.

BINAY DE LIMA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE EXECUTIVE MINISTER EDUARDO MANALO GENERAL EVANGELIST BIENVENIDO SANTIAGO GRACE POE INC INTERIOR SECRETARY MAR ROXAS ISAIAS SAMSON JR. QUOT ROXAS
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