Iglesia presses call for religious freedom

IGLESIA ni Cristo protesters who gathered at the Edsa Shrine in Quezon City moved overnight to the intersection of Shaw Boulevard and Epifanio delos Santos Avenue after Mandaluyong City issued the church a permit to stage a rally for religious freedom until Sunday.

While the number of protesters had thinned by dawn Saturday, the number of protesters at the Shaw intersection is estimated to have reached about 20,000 around midnight Friday although Mandaluyong police chief Senior Superintendent Tyrone Masigon estimated the crowd at 4,500.

The crowd included the more than 4,000 who started the protest in front of the Department of Justice in Ermita, Manila on Thursday, 2,000 at the Edsa Shrine, 2,500 at the SM Megamall and the 2,500 at the Starmall plus new arrivals from the INC’s 29 ecclesiastical districts.

President Benigno Aquino III instructed Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II to work with the police and local government units affected by the ongoing protest to ensure public safety and order, according to Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.

Mobile protest. From the Department of Justice to the Edsa Shrine, members of the Iglesia ni Cristo again moved their protest for religious freedom to the intersection of Shaw Boulevard and Epifanio delos Santos Avenue after Mandaluyong City granted them a permit to rally. The protesters said they should not be blamed for traffic congestion because it was already a problem even before their rally. EY ACASIO
“The President’s instructions were to ensure the safety of the public including… Not just those who were involved in the protest, but more importantly, those who are uninvolved in the protest,” Valte said, amid public complaints of the inconvenience the protest has been causing others.

But church leaders went on INC-owned television and radio stations to explain why members are demonstrating in the streets and exhorted their brethren who joined the protest to display to the public the faith and discipline of the church.

“It is unfair to blame the Iglesia for the traffic caused by the peaceful assembly because people have already been complaining about the government’s neglect of public transportation months before the protest,” said Serafin Cuevas Jr., dean of the New Era University College of Law.

“It is also not right to call it ‘bullying’ because that is a constitutional right,” said Cuevas, son of former Supreme Court magistrate Serafin Cuevas, who also served as justice secretary from 1998 to 2000.

Cuevas was referring to complaints on social media that the INC is bullying the government over the decision of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to investigate the illegal detention charges expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. filed against the 12 members of the INC’s advisory council.

Cuevas said the protest was not really against the complaint of Samson, but against the official actions of De Lima who betrayed prejudice, partiality and bias.

The protesters watched Cuevas on at least seven giant television screens put up at strategic places around the Shaw intersection.

They responded with repeated chants of “Hustisya, hustisya [Justice, justice]” and “Respeto, respeto [Respect, respect] alluding to what they claim to be De Lima’s selective administration of justice and disrespect for their faith.

The protesters also carried placards saying in Tagalog: “We would not be here if not for the intrusion,” “Respect our freedom of religion” and “Separation of church and state,” among others.

The crowd at the Shaw intersection remained thin after dawn, but INC marshals said their members only went home to attend to chores and join the regular Saturday worship service. Most of them, however, are expected to return later in the day along with members from nearby provinces.

Radio communications among marshals indicated that INC ministers were constantly meeting at the “Shangri-La,” but The Standard could not establish whether they were referring to the Shangri-La Plaza Mall of the Edsa Shangri-La hotel, which are both near the Shaw intersection.

Members from distant provinces also expressed support for their brethren and vowed to join protest rallies that are scheduled to be held in the cities of Davao and Puerto Princesa beginning Monday.

The protest started on Thursday after church leaders issued a “tagubilin” [advisory] canceling a scheduled activity on Monday and urging members to gather at the DOJ to protest the “intrusion of the government.”

The advisory said brethren from Metro Manila and Rizal province should show up at Edsa beginning Sunday and all ecclesiastical districts should get together at Edsa on Monday.

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