MORE than 1,000 members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo gathered in front of the Justice Department Thursday to demand the resignation of Secretary Leila de Lima over her “inordinate interest” in a case filed by an ousted minister, Isaias Samson Jr., against church leaders.
Police said the number of protesters gathered before the department’s office on Padre Faura Street in Manila’s Ermita district swelled from a few hundred in the afternoon to more than 1,000 at around 8 p.m., most of them students from the church’s New Era University.
By the early evening, no ranking INC official could be seen on the makeshift stage that the group had set up on the street beside a giant LED screen, but the protesters were in a festive mood, chanting “Huwag pabebe” and “Kalayaan ng Iglesia, huwag gipitin [Don’t quell the freedom of religion].”
Church officials backstage declined to comment if the rally had been ordered by church leaders, but one of them said the protest was scheduled to last until Friday afternoon.
INC officials on Wednesday assailed the “extraordinary attention” given by De Lima to the case filed by ousted minister Isaias Samson Jr., when she has not given the same attention to the case of the 44 police commandos killed in the Mamasapano massacre in January.
Sought for comment, De Lima said she was just doing her job.
An INC member, who requested anonymity, told The Standard that they would be holding a vigil at the Justice Department to demand De Lima’s resignation. The vigil protest will likely continue until Saturday, the source added.
“We want De Lima to step down immediately due to her clear bias against the INC leadership,” the source said, adding that the Justice secretary has shown undue interest in the case.
“We are apprehensive that it might be used for political purposes,” the INC member said, but declined to elaborate.
Police Supt. Albert Barot said 50 policemen were deployed in the area to secure the safety of the INC members gathered there.
He said the protesters had a permit from the Manila city hall.
“We will provide security in the area to ensure that no untoward incident will happen during the vigil. We already deployed 50 policemen, and we will ask for more if the crowd of INC members grows,” Barot said.
At about 5 p.m., the INC members tried to block vehicles leaving the Justice Department compound, changing “bias” against De Lima.
Others shouted for justice for the 44 police commandos who died in Mamasapano.
Sources said De Lima slipped out of the Justice Department building by passing through a door connected to the Supreme Court, where she was escorted out by members of the National Bureau of Investigation.
The stretch of Padre Faura in front of the Justice Department was closed to traffic.
The Palace defended De Lima’s decision to investigate the INC case.
“Cabinet members serve for as long as they enjoy the President’s trust and confidence. Has the Justice secretary committed any action that would seriously undermine such trust and confidence?” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a text message to The Standard.
On Wednesday, an INC evangelist Bienvenido C. Santiago questioned De Lima’s real motive after they learned that the secretary was personally attending to the filing of cases by the Samson.
Moreover, he said that the INC had also learned that the DOJ has placed under its custody some of those dismissed by the INC who have been responsible for sowing intrigues and divisiveness in the organization.
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