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Deal or No Deal?

INC ends rally after ‘agreement’; Palace denies report

THE Iglesia ni Cristo ended five days of protest in which thousands of its members clogged portions of Edsa and surrounded the Justice Department, following a meeting between the INC and the government, a high-ranking church official said Monday.

“We’d like to inform all our brethren that both the Iglesia and the government have talked already and clarified things between us. All is well,” said INC General Evangelist Bienvenido Santiago in a video message shown to protesters at Edsa Shaw at 9 a.m.

End of the rally.  Members of the Iglesia ni Cristo cheer as they prepare to leave Shaw and Edsa, which they barricaded for four days to demand the ouster of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Lino Santos
INC spokesman Edwin Zabala, in announcing the end of the protests, added that “the INC and the government have already reached an understanding” and that the directive came from Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo.

After an emergency meeting Sunday night, the Palace denied that an agreement was reached to end the protests that began Thursday over a Justice Department decision to investigate harassment and illegal detention charges filed by an ousted minister against church leaders.

“There was no deal struck as some insinuate,” presidential deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte said shortly after the end of the protest. “The talks gave both sides an opportunity to clarify issues and concerns.”

But the lawyer of expelled minister Isaias Samson appealed to the Palace to disclose what it had conceded to get the protests to end.

“The fear now is that given the so-called agreement, a finding of ‘no probable cause’ to make this nightmare go away for the INC’s Sanggunian is a very real possibility,” said lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, in a statement.

“Their leaders have cited an agreement with government. What is the nature of this agreement? What are its conditions and terms? It is our client who had unintentionally set off these events by filing his case, yet somehow we have not been included in this so-called agreement. Assuming of course there is one,” she said.

“It is not accidental that the leaders [who are also respondents in Samson’s case for illegal detention] have been very vocal about this so-called agreement. The idea is to make the public feel that they had flexed their muscles and the government has responded in a manner favorable to them. The idea is to make us feel that in relation to whatever it is they were rallying for [or against], the government has capitulated. And sadly that capitulation may involve trampling on the rights of our client,” Angeles said.

Former Akbayan party-list lawmaker Walden Bello, who broke with the administration in March, also urged the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to reveal the details of its arrangement with the INC.

“What has the government said to the INC to be able to convince the latter to end its protestations?” Bello asked at a press conference.

Bello also blasted the government’s handling of the INC protest.

“Is the national government so weak that they cannot ensure public interest and safety?” Bello told The Standard. “I think there’s a very bad precedent where the INC expressed their intention of paralyzing traffic [and]… create public disorder, but the state did not move because it was afraid of them.”

Bello also tore into the Liberal Party candidate for president next year, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, for showing “no integrity.”

“Despite his being on top of law enforcement… he allowed Edsa to be paralyzed for four days,” Bello said, noting that Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senator Grace Poe—who are all likely to run for president next year—all did the same thing, claiming religious freedom.

“These people on top will lead our country to chaos. The political elite are all bowing to the INC leadership. Roxas allowed the petulant action of a minority to override the rights of the vast majority.”

Bello said for the religious group to invoke the separation of church and state was a “misrepresentation” and that the INC was in effect getting special treatment.

“The INC leadership has the country by the throat,” he said.

Angeles urged Aquino and Roxas to be transparent.

“Tell us whether or not you’ve sold our client down the river or tell us if you haven’t. But you need to disclose this to us. A criminal case is not a political pawn. The law provides that it cannot be compromised. The President can grant pardons and issue clemency and amnesty.  But you do not have the power to refuse prosecution,” she said.

Angeles also urged the government to guarantee her client a fair hearing at the preliminary investigation at the Justice Department.

She said the reported meeting between the two sides, hidden from the public eye, aroused suspicion.

Samson’s complaint named as respondents members of the Sanggunian, the INC’s highest administrative council—Glicero Santos Jr., Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago Sr., Mathusalem Pareja, Rolando Esguerra, Eraño Codera, Rodelio Cabrerra and Maximo Bularan.

Samson and his family alleged that they were prohibited from leaving their house in Quezon City last July after he was accused of being “Antonio Ebanghelista,” the blogger who had been writing against INC.

Samson Jr., former editor-in-chief of INC’s official publication Pasugo, denied the allegation.

Samson also claimed that their relatives were prohibited from visiting them, and that they were not allowed to go to a doctor so his wife, who is suffering from high blood pressure and has a pacemaker, could get a checkup.

He recalled that guards along with other men armed with high-caliber rifles, had constantly prohibited his wife and son from buying groceries or even leaving our house.

He said they escaped after they pretended to attend worship service.

On Monday morning, soon after the decision by the INC leadership was reached, crowds reaching from Edsa Crossing at Shaw all the way to Robinsons Galleria in Quezon City quickly disappeared—leaving heaps of trash collected by wards from the Mandaluyong City government and SCAN, the INC security force.

Traffic returned to normal at 11 a.m.

Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos had granted the INC an extension of its permit to rally Sunday night, citing “humanitarian reasons.”

While Valte denied that a deal had been struck, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the end of the four-day protest showed the importance of diplomacy “in avoiding unintended consequences.”

Through good will and the convergence of efforts, the rule of law has been upheld, Lacierda said.

“We appreciate the INC leadership’s directives for the withdrawal of their members from their gathering sites,” Lacierda said.

On Sunday night, President Aquino held a crisis meeting with his Cabinet to discuss the INC protest.

Presidential Communications Undersecretary  Manuel L. Quezon III posted several pictures of the meeting on his Twitter account Sunday night.

The meeting with the President last night started around 8:30  p.m. and ended a little past midnight Monday morning.

At the meeting were Roxas, Budget Secretary  Florencio Abad,  Defense Secretary  Voltaire  Gazmin, Justice Secretary  Leila de Lima, Lacierda,  Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Political Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas, Communications Secretary Herminio  Coloma Jr, Quezon, Valte, Philippine National Police Chief Ricardo Marquez, and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri.

Roxas explained in his Twitter account that they discussed the INC protest during the meeting but did not offer any details.

The government has come under fire for allowing the INC to paralyze a large portion of Edsa for four days.

At least 4,000 INC members trooped to the DoJ complex on Thursday to demand De Lima’s resignation over her decision to investigate Samson’s complaint against church officials.

Protesters then moved to the Edsa Shrine on Ortigas Avenue, bringing northbound and southbound traffic on Edsa to a standstill. With Sara Susanne D. Fabunan

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