Muddle at the forum
CANBERRA—In a wide-ranging forum on Tuesday, President Aquino engaged the editors and reporters of the Inquirer in a hair-splitting exercise over the secret talks between the government and the Iglesia ni Cristo that led to the pullout last week of INC protesters from Edsa and a stop to other INC mass actions elsewhere.
The President told the forum that lasted for more than an hour that an “understanding” was reached in the talks, contradicting the INC’s earlier claim that there was an “agreement” between the representatives of the sect and the government. The meeting was marked by a lack of transparency, fueling public suspicion that the parties had struck a deal that ended the standoff in the streets.
In response to a public demand for disclosure of details, the President said: “‘Nagkaunawaan’ I think represents clearly what was achieved.” He said that while he had not been able to talk with INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo, emissaries allowed them to communicate with each other. He further revealed that he had directed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa “to share with the INC the government’s position, and to assure that everybody’s rights will be protected.”
The government and the INC sought to “clarify each other’s position” about “groups out to create divisions” and “exploit the protest,” the President said. We are reproducing a summary of the full text of his remarks at the forum based on the official transcript (which I read completely), for the purpose of informing the public of what took place behind closed doors at the meeting, to enable the public to determine whether it was shortchanged by a secret deal, whether in the form of an innocuous “understanding” or “agreement.”
Mr. Aquino was asked about the supposed groups that were exploiting the INC. He said there were a number of personalities who were not members of the sect but were “identified with various groups that are opposed” to him even before he took office as president.
He was asked: How was the impasse actually resolved? Was there indeed an agreement? And have you been in touch with INC executive minister Manalo?
The President said: “I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to Ka Eduardo personally. We have liaisons that go back and forth between us. I did send the Executive Secretary to clearly state that the government’s position was that everybody’s rights will be protected… There were two points … but in gist, … ‘nagkaunawaan’ I think represents clearly what was achieved. There were groups out to create divisions, trying to create fears, etc. And we were able to clarify each other’s positions… So, we came to that agreement and they recalled all their followers afterwards.”
The President was asked: Can you elaborate more on what you meant about groups that were “trying to divide the INC”?
He said: “It was clear from Edsa that there were people there who didn’t appear to be members of the INC and making speeches. … There are intelligence reports that these people are identified with various groups that have been opposed to us even before I started office, who were participants in this particular event, trying to exploit it for their own and separate agendas.”
He was asked: So, was it the assurance of the government that it would be handling fairly the case lodged against the INC that made them call off their protest, and is there truth to reports that there was an agreement about the case being eventually dropped by the Department of Justice?
He said: “The case [filed by an expelled INC minister for illegal detention against eight senior ministers in the INC’s highest administrative council] will stand or fall on its merits. Look at the affidavits and see whether or not it proves the accusation. In our system of laws, the accuser has the burden of proof. So, if you accuse someone of doing something, you have to prove it. Does it exist in this affidavit of complaints or does it not?”
The case is “under evaluation” by the Department of Justice’s National Prosecution Service. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who has been accused by the INC of bias and of showing extraordinary interest in giving priority to the case, is on the spot and is under test.
De Lima has said she would continue to monitor the complaint filed by former INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. because it is “a high-profile case.”
She earlier told reporters: “I do that—certain cases, high-profile cases, I monitor. This is a high-profile case and—I’m talking in general—in high-profile sensitive cases, public interest is very high. So, I monitor [them]. I consider [it] part of my job to monitor these cases.” She pointed out that the monitoring of cases should not be interpreted as “special attention” or intervention. However, she added, while she regarded the complaint against the INC Sanggunian members as “high-profile,” it would be up to the National Prosecution Service to decide if it should be elevated to the courts.
In fact, according to De Lima, the complaint is still in the stage of preliminary investigation because no prosecutor has yet been assigned to handle it. Under the DOJ process, once the preliminary investigation starts, her office cannot interfere, she said.
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