Virulent and disruptive
The Iglesia ni Cristo ended its five-day protest nationwide on Monday, with exuberant claims that it won a “victory” against the Philippine government in a show of force that paralyzed economic life in Metro Manila with monstrous traffic gridlocks stemming from the seizure of key streets by INC fanatical followers.
For nearly a week, a minority religious sect held the national capital hostage to the terror of mob rule unleashed by the INC leadership in protest actions demanding the abortion of a Department of Justice investigation into charges of detention, threats and harassment filed by a former INC minister Isaias Samson Jr., against eight members of the sect’s highest administrative body, the Sanggunian, after it allegedly held him and his family under “house arrest” in July amid suspicion that he was behind accusations of corruption and wrongdoing against the church’s leadership, published online.
The decision of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to conduct a preliminary investigation of the complaint triggered the mass protests, with the INC demanding that the DOJ drop its investigation on the grounds that the inquiry violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and the state. The INC asserted that the government should not meddle in its internal affairs; it should be the one to take punitive actions against church members accused of irregularities. The standoff between the Aquino Government and the INC leadership over this issue has led to the escalation by the INC—which controls a significant bloc of votes considered by politicians as crucial to winning elections from presidential, down to provincial and municipal level—of its protest actions to put pressure on the national administration to scrap Samson’s complaint.
After five days of protests, the Cabinet, alarmed that the impasse appeared to be leading up to an explosive people power insurrection, held an emergency meeting on Sunday evening. On Monday, the INC announced that the protests had ended after it had “entered into talks with the government” “both sides have been enlightened, so everything is peaceful.” The showdown reached a critical point Saturday when the protesters occupied Edsa (where huge people power demonstrations toppled the Marcos regime in 1986 and the Joseph Estrada government in 2001).
The INC exacerbated the crisis by celebrating the pullout of mobs from Edsa and other cities as a “big victory for us.” As some of its members gloated, “We have shown the country that our faith is more powerful than politics and the government.” This triumphal outburst was echoed in celebrations in other cities, as the INC told its minions to pack up their gear and return to their localities. This claim of victory put the Aquino government on the spot. It raised questions among citizens, who suffered dislocations from the occupation of the streets by the INC protesters.
It raised questions of who won or lost in this showdown in the streets and who capitulated in this “agreement” to disengage from the impasse on the streets. The other disturbing question is where the government was when the INC mobs were seizing the streets. The government cannot leave these questions unanswered without compromising its legitimacy to govern the country. There is the question of, has the government capitulated to the browbeating by an abusive unelected force, the INC, which appears to have made its will prevail through its mob rule actions in its protests.
Amid claims of victory by INC, it is disturbing that all that the government said was, “There was no deal struck, as some insinuate…. The talks gave both sides an opportunity, to clarify issues and concerns.” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was not any more reassuring that the government was in charge in the face of the defiance of the INC mobs when he said, “Ï am not privy to the discussions between the INC and the government.”
The INC leadership has claimed “an agreement” with the government. Putting a blackout on the contents of the so-called agreement helps the INC more than the government. Neither was Secretary De Lima reassuring in refusing to revealing the contents of the agreement.
All she said to reporters when asked for the details was, “Thank you.” De Lima has undergone a harrowing experience from harassment and mob abuse. The INC started the protest in front of the Justice Department on Padre Faura last Thursday, before the protests moved up Edsa on Friday.
Last Thursday, protesters camped outside her office on Padre Faura demanded her resignation and forced her to work elsewhere. The INC has the effrontery to question the focus of De Lima on the investigation of Samson’s complaint with the Justice Department instead of focusing on the Mamasapano anti-terrorist raid by the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, that resulted in the massacre 44 SAF troopers. This issue on the priorities of De Lima is clearly irrelevant and an interference in the performance of her duties.
The disruptions caused by the protest actions were the most virulent and disruptive street unrest encountered by the government since the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986.
An important issue left unanswered by the government’s deal with the INC is: Will De Lima stop her preliminary investigation into the criminal cases filed against the eight top INC officials? Or will it sideline De Lima to capitulate to INC demands? Finally, who runs this country—the INC?
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