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At Large

Lesson from the INC protest

/ 01:07 AM September 01, 2015

THE QUESTION in most people’s minds is: What kind of compromise(s) was arrived at between the Iglesia ni Cristo and the government that led to the church leaders’ decision to call off their mass action? The protest began Thursday in front of the Department of Justice and then moved to the corner of Edsa and Shaw boulevard, earning the ire of motorists, commuters and the general public for the inconvenience they created, adding to the already heavy congestion due to the rains, the approaching three-day weekend and the huge sale at SM Megamall.

Nobody has come out with the details, although the INC’s spokesperson, in a statement calling on followers to abandon their vigil, said they had reached an “agreement” with the government.

The INC is responsible only for itself and for its members, but the government, through P-Noy, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas or Malacañang spokesmen, owe it to all Filipinos to reveal what compromise they made with INC. Citizens need to know whether public welfare and the rule of law were sacrificed in the face of the INC’s political clout. At the very least, we need to know whether the preliminary investigation into the criminal complaint filed by ousted INC minister Isaias Samson will push through, with investigation bodies and prosecutors following due process.


But even more important, we need to know whether, in light of the alleged “compromise,” an ordinary citizen could still rely on law enforcers and the criminal justice system to protect everyone’s human rights and address legitimate grievances.

If, say, a person is victimized by a religious leader who was perpetuating a scam, or if a woman says she was raped by a Catholic priest, would these victims still be able to rely on government to listen to them and follow the law? Or would the DOJ and the courts fold to pressure from churches determined to protect their own?

* * *

I AM particularly interested in the fate of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who was the target of the protesters’ rage and anger and accused of “meddling” in an allegedly internal matter of the INC.

It had been said that De Lima had the most to lose because, by displeasing the leadership of the INC, she stood to lose their support for her looming Senate candidacy. But it seems we mourned her electoral chances prematurely. As the Inquirer headline proclaimed, De Lima “trended,” and trended positively at that, in social media. A good number of netizens only had praise for the justice secretary for taking a stand on the issue and “doing her duty.” For a potential candidate, it certainly took balls on her part to stand by her decision to let the charges proceed unimpeded. (Unless her position was part of the bargain with INC.)

De Lima’s positive reviews contrast with the majority opinion on the position taken by other candidates, especially the so-called “presidentiables.”

While Binay’s coming to the INC’s defense was to be expected from the “trapo” that he is said to be, many, many more were disappointed with Sen. Grace Poe’s comment that the INC had the right to defend its “faith,” as if doctrinal matters were at the heart of the case filed by Samson.

* * *


OBSERVERS note cynically that Poe’s position must have been influenced (if not crafted wholly) by her putative running mate Sen. Chiz Escudero, who has been described as among the most opportunistic of politicians of his age-group.

But Poe strikes me as intelligent, reasonable and quite articulate. She certainly doesn’t need to have her opinions vetted even by a close adviser like Escudero. It is still possible she truly believed the INC was only defending the tenets of its faith, in which case government has indeed no right to meddle in. Or she could be acting like a typical trapo, too, weighing the potential damage to her purported candidacy by losing INC support, against upholding democratic principles and the vaunted “rule of law.” Well, she seems to have lost more in the process.

Some say we must add Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the administration’s main man, to the mix of those “kowtowing” to the INC. To be fair, Roxas upheld the need to follow the law, and for fairness not just for the INC members but even for ordinary citizens being inconvenienced by the gathering. But in calling for “maximum tolerance,” was he not encouraging many more such protests and revealing the government’s weakness in the face of an influential, loud organization bent on imposing its will on the nation?

* * *

I DON’T know if the INC has learned any lesson from this weekend exercise in political muscle-flexing. Again it all depends on the outcome, still secret so far, of the talks held to settle the INC protest. We will know the full picture if De Lima remains in her post, if the charges are pursued with alacrity, and if the case is finally brought to court.

But what have we the people learned? Edsa is enshrined in national memory as the site of “People Power,” and that may be the reason the INC leaders moved the protest from the relatively obscure (and congested) environs of the DOJ to Edsa, whose iconic status can still evoke powerful emotions and memories.

The INC massing, though, shows us that “People Power” can be so easily abused, with disgruntled groups drawing on the residual memory of those glorious days to stage their own protests, no matter how wrong-headed and how questionable their motives are.

We said after Edsa Dos that “never again” should we be forced to march in the millions simply to make our voices heard. The INC vigil at Edsa was a desecration, as well, of “People Power.”

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