Gov’t tries to restore road sanity
The Philippine National Police starts to restore Monday government control of key streets in Metro Manila following the withdrawal last Monday of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) fanatical followers who paralyzed the capital for four days with their tumultuous occupation of Edsa, the foremost highway of the country where massive people power uprisings toppled two regimes in 1986 and 2001.
Pushed to the edge by the unruly mobs of a minority religious sect, the INC, the evidently traumatized administration of President Aquino dispatched the well-armed crack troops of the national police—the PNP Highway Patrol Group (HPG)—to take the lead role in reasserting the state’s presence and authority in the streets.
Acting on orders of the President, PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez sent HPG patrols prowling the choke points of Edsa, with instructions to “restore some level of sanity” in the streets, where the police were hardly visible while INC mobs went on a rampage to terrorize hapless inhabitants of the metropolis.
To make up for the invisibility of the government during the INC’s reign of terror, HPG patrols started showing up in the streets to demonstrate that it was again in charge after the INC announced the end of its siege of Edsa, ordering its mobs to pull out from Edsa and return to the neighboring provinces.
Starting Monday, Marquez announced, HPG patrols would be seen in usually congested sections of Edsa to lead “a traffic law enforcement operations solving the perennial problem in the metropolis.”
Edsa’s glorious days
He said he received instructions from the President at an emergency meeting at the height of the INC siege to bring back the “glorious days of Edsa” when cops were the “king of Edsa,” meaning that the mere presence of the constables was enough to bring order in the streets.
Marquez downgraded the intervention of the PNP-HPG to just a traffic management issue, involving solving traffic jams, getting rid of illegal terminals and apprehending undisciplined motorists.
HPG officials said up to 100 police officers armed with handguns would be deployed at six choke points on Edsa—Balintawak in Quezon City, Cubao also in Quezon City, Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City, Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City, Guadalupe in Makati City, and Taft Avenue in Pasay City.
Marquez has acknowledged that the deployment of the HPG as the lead agency in traffic control operations at Edsa was in response to widespread public clamor to ease the traffic bottlenecks on the strategic highway, saying that “we could only level to the expectation of the public. We cannot fail. Traffic has impacted the lives of people already and we owe it to them. So we expect the HPG will do its best to make sure that we restore some level of sanity at Edsa.”
But we are afraid that showing off the HPG patrols will not achieve this objective because the PNP is understating the gravity of the occupation of the streets by INC mobs, discounting it as an ordinary traffic management issue.
The monstrous gridlock at Edsa during the siege was more than that. It was aggravated by the INC protest actions, which started on Padre Faura Street in Manila, where INC mobs stormed the premises of the Department of Justice. They demanded the resignation of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for opening a preliminary investigation of criminal charges lodged by an expelled INC minister against eight senior officials of the INC’s governing council in connection with the alleged corruption in the sect’s financial affairs exposed by the minister.
They also demanded the quashing of De Lima’s investigation.
In refocusing public attention to the deployment of the HPG patrols, the Aquino administration and PNP leadership took the heat off the INC for the disruption of public order and economic havoc wrought by the INC’s destructive protest actions.
Slap on wrist
Administration officials did nothing more stern to discipline the INC and instill in it respect for the law of the land beyond giving it a slap on the wrist.
Despite the fact that the INC’s defiance in the occupation of the streets escalated the confrontation between the government and the sect into an issue involving national security—not merely an issue of traffic management enforcement in bottleneck areas.
The administration, including De Lima, has insisted there is no agreement between it and the INC that led to the abrupt end of the five-day protests on the morning of Aug. 31. All that we know is there was a meeting between senior Cabinet secretaries and INC representatives, which, according Malacañang spokespersons, heard both sides clarifying “developments on the status of the INC rally and postexpiration permit scenarios.”
INC leaders have claimed an “agreement” between them and the administration. Whether there was a deal and what tradeoffs took place, or which side capitulated, will remain secret for sometime, but there are verifiable results to make some conjectures.
First, De Lima stays as secretary of justice. Second, she will proceed with the preliminary investigation of INC ex-minister Isaias Samson Jr.’s complaint against ranking INC officials.
Not credible force
Third, the INC beat a hasty retreat and dismantled its mobs after it apparently became clear in the meeting that the administration cannot be blackmailed into bowing to INC demands without risking a powerful public backlash, fueled by public outrage over the disruptive rampage in Metro Manila.
Fourth, it was clear to all that the INC failed to mobilize mass support for a people power demonstration capable of toppling the administration.
Fifth, the INC is not a credible political force as a rallying point of another Edsa because it was not part of the Edsa I movement that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship. It boycotted the Edsa popular movement.
Sixth, the outrage from the streets reduced INC’s clout in using its block-voting potential to influence election results in 2016.
There’s an important lesson highlighted by the INC’s siege of Edsa. It is that the Filipino people loathe weak administrations that capitulate to bullying or blackmail by minority pressure groups, especially religious sects. Such spineless administrations earn the contempt of the people and lose their legitimacy to govern.
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