IGLESIA ni Cristo members who gathered in the thousands at EDSA and Shaw Boulevard to protest a Justice Department investigation of church officials showed no sign of leaving Sunday night despite a midnight deadline on their permit to rally.
Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos said he was certain the INC would honor the deadline but at 7 p.m., there were no instructions for the demonstrators to disperse.
“I think the Iglesia ni Cristo will abide by their word. I believe they will follow the parameters we have set in their permit,” Abalos said in a phone interview with The Standard.
As this issue went to press, the Office of the City Mayor had not received any request for an extension of the rally permit.
“I will personally go myself to check that they will abide by our parameters by midnight,” he said.
Police at the scene estimated the number of protesters at 13,000, most of them at EDSA and Shaw. After 5 p.m., however, some dispersed to points along EDSA, including SM Megamall and Robinson’s Galleria.
As on the previous day, the protests tied up traffic on the busy highway.
Dozens of policemen from the Eastern Police District surrounded the EDSA Shrine to prevent INC protesters from occupying the Catholic landmark.
“Tuloy tuloy kami dito hanggang bukas. Yun ang dumating sa amin galing sa Sanggunian [‘‘We will be here until tomorrow. That’s what we have heard from the Sanggunian the church’s highest governing body”], one protester who requested anonymity said.
Among those who dropped in on the INC protest Saturday night were President Benigno Aquino III’s uncle, Jose Cojuangco Jr., his wife former Tarlac congresswoman Margarita Cojuangco, and his long-time associate Pastor Saycon, and former Moro Islamic Liberation Front spokesman Eid Kabalu.
Mrs. Cojuangco, addressing the crowd, chided the Aquino administration for the death of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, two of whom were members of the church.
Kabalu said Muslims were sympathetic to the INC members because they can relate to the persecution they face.
“If your enemy is injustice, if your enemy is the DOJ [Department of Justice]… they are also our enemy,” Kabalu said.
At a briefing, Saycon slammed the Aquino administration for failing to act on the Mamasapano massacre, as well as scandals involving the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
He said the government should address these concerns before “zeroing in on the INC’s internal affairs.”
While most politicians sided publicly with the INC, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the serious detention charge filed by a dismissed minister of the church against eight executives was under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department.
“It is a private crime so it is part of the job of the DOJ,” said Pimentel in an interview on radio dzBB.
The complainant, Isaias Samson, said he and his family were allegedly treated as prisoners in their own house for nine days.
He said they were not allowed to go out of their own house, their lines of telephones and Internet were cut off, and the health of his wife was endangered because she had just undergone a heart operation when they were placed under “house arrest” in their townhouse in Tierre Bella, Quezon City. They were even guarded by armed men, the complaint said.
Pimentel acknowledged the constitutional right of the INC to hold a rally in consonance with the right to the freedom of assembly, but said the proper permits should be obtained.
At the same time, he called on De Lima to hasten the investigation of all cases pending with her department such as the pork barrel cases, saying they had enough staff and prosecutors.
Also on Sunday, Samson’s lawyer, Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Senator Grace Poe could be held criminally liable for expressing her support for the INC protest against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
“It is an act of graft if someone asks the DOJ not to act on a criminal complaint, just as what Senator Poe did,” Angeles said.
Church members said the INC would also stage a four-day rally in Davao province to voice out their objections to what they said was the Justice Department’s meddling in their religious affairs. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rey E. Requejo
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