MEMBERS of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) flocked to the Edsa Shrine in Quezon City Friday to press their call for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to resign over her decision to investigate charges filed by an ousted minister against church leaders.
The number of INC protesters around the Justice Department’s main office on Padre Faura Street in Ermita, Manila, swelled from 1,000 Thursday evening to about 4,000 on Friday, after church leaders said they felt they were being oppressed by De Lima, whom they accused of trampling on their religious freedom.
On Friday afternoon, about 600 INC members gathered at the Catholic Edsa Shrine, site of the 1986 and 2001 People Power uprisings that topped two presidents, Senior Insp. Rey Barcasio of the Mandaluyong City police said.
But a larger group of more than a thousand people, were also gathering at parking lots around the nearby SM Megamall. Another group of undetermined number were also waiting at the Star Mall at Edsa and Shaw Boulevard, Barcasio said.
INC sources who asked not to be identified said the thousands of people gathering in the cities of Pasig and Mandaluyong are the first to arrive from other protesters from the INC’s 29 ecclesiastical districts.
Members from the neighboring provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan and Pampanga were expected to arrive on Friday evening to join the protest, the source added.
Around 8 p.m., the source said the group at the Justice Department were told to proceed to the Star Mall gathering area where they were to join and march to the Edsa Shrine.
Eastern Police District deputy director for operations Supt. Gregorio Lim said that they are not expecting members of the church to cause any violence, but they were concerned at the traffic congestion that they would cause.
Aside from De Lima’s resignation, the INC is demanding a resolution to the Mamasapano clash where two church members were killed, and the misuse of the Development Assistance Program or DAP.
The Eastern Police District estimates a conservative number of around 300 to 500 members, spread around major malls and establishments in Ortigas.
Administrators of the Edsa Shrine, generally considered a no-rally zone, said INC members have not coordinated with them. Top officials of the EPD added that no rally permits had been granted to the INC.
De Lima, who was not at the Justice Department office Friday, said she did not report to work there because she was in Malacañang to attend a meeting.
Police around the Justice Department said the area was generally peaceful, with no incidents reported.
At press time, a program was going on at the makeshift stage in front of the department office, urging De Lima to stop meddling in the INC’s internal affairs.
They said De Lima should observe and respect the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state, and urged her to focus on more important issues, such as the massacre of 44 police commandos—two of them church members—in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January.
The Center for International Law (Centerlaw) advised the Justice Department against violating the principle of separation of the church and state in investigating the complaint against officials of the INC.
“The freedom of expression and of religion occupy the highest rungs of our constitutional values,” the group said in a statement.
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