INC ends massive rallies in Philippines
DAVAO CITY – Tens of thousands of members of the Iglesia ni Cristo bracing for a huge protest in Davao City have been recalled by their ministers on Monday following a dialogue between church and government leaders ending 5 days of massive rallies in the Manila and elsewhere.
Church members arrived here late Sunday, some as far as Zamboanga City, to join the rally in protest to alleged meddling by the Department of Justice over INC affairs.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was investigating criminal charges filed by former church minister Isaias Samson against senior INC leaders. Samson accused church leaders of illegal detention and corruption, among other allegations.
Church leaders denied all allegations against them and at the same time accused De Lima – who is said to be eyeing a senatorial seat in next year’s polls – of violating religious freedom and doctrine of separation of church and state.
Bienvenido Santiago, a church spokesman, also issued a statement, saying, the Aquino government has finally come to an amicable settlement with the INC. However, details of the settlement were not made public, but it was that announcement that ended what could have been a political uprising following the show of force of loyal church members.
“’Mga kapatid sa Iglesia Ni Cristo, nais naming ipahatid sa inyong lahat na nagkausap na ang panig ng Iglesia at panig ng pamahalaan. At sa pag-uusap na ito, ay nagkakaliwanagan ang dalawang panig kaya payapa na ang lahat.”
“Ito pong ating isinagawang mapayapang pagtitipon na sinumulan ng Huwebes ng hapon ay natatapos na ng mapayapa rin ngayong Lunes ng umaga. Salamat ng marami sa ating Panginoon, sa kanya ang lahat ng kapurihan. Mabuhay ang Iglesia ni Cristo,” Santiago said.
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is said to be gunning the presidency in the 2016 elections, welcomed church members on Sunday and allowed them to stage the peaceful protest in front of the Justice building in Matina village.
“Welcome to Davao City. Just don’t make trouble and make sure you leave the rally area as clean as when you arrived,” Duterte, who is in Manila, said to INC leaders.
Duterte’s liaison people estimated that as many as 100,000 INC members flocked to Davao for the rally. The politician directed his people by phone to ensure that commuters were not bothered by the protesters.
He also ordered the local authorities to ensure that INC members were protected in exercising their freedom to assemble and to express their grievance. He told policemen to keep a safe distance away from the rallyists and ensure maximum tolerance.
“Exercise maximum tolerance. You don’t need crowd dispersal equipment there. Just talk to the leaders of the Iglesia. Everything will be fine,” Duterte told the police.
Duterte also tapped police and army officers who are members of the INC to act as coordinators to ensure that the rally was orderly and peaceful.
“The issues which brought them to Davao City to rally are none of my concern. They can rally as long as they want for as long as they don’t create trouble,” Duterte said. “Let them come. We’re not worried. I’m sure they will buy something from our stores and our malls will be flooded by clients from the provinces.”
By 9 a.m. many of the rallyists have dispersed and the others were back to their convoy of buses that will bring them back to where they came from. “It was a victory for us. This protest action only shows that we are all united for a common cause and that it to protect our rights, our religious rights, and for the government not to meddle in church affairs. We shall go home victorious because God is with us,” said 41-year old church member Eliseo Dugamo.
INC has millions of members not only in the Philippines, but also around the world and is one of the most influential sects in the country. (With a report from E. Dumaboc)
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