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INC show of force

versus force of law


  (First published in The Philippine Star of  August 30, 2015)

UNTIL NOON yesterday, Malacañang has not blinked in the face of a defiant show of force by the Iglesia ni Cristo protesting what it calls government meddling in its internal affairs.

For its part, the government contends that the religious group must respect the rule of law. As chief executive, will President Noynoy Aquino pass this test of his political will and skill in asserting the majesty of the law?

Our monitoring indicates that the Iglesia is not winning public sympathy -- except from its followers and political patrons vying for its votes -- as it occupies critical public areas to the annoyance and prejudice of motorists, pedestrians, shop owners and the wider community.

Political lines are emerging. President Noynoy Aquino and his anointed presidential candidate Secretary Mar Roxas are standing against INC moves, while opposition Vice President Jojo Binay and Manila Mayor Erap Estrada are playing it on the side of the Iglesia.

The INC rally in Manila last Thursday and Friday caused the rerouting of Padre Faura traffic, the disruption of classes and official transactions in nearby establishments. The protesters left trash and the stench of urine in the area.

Armed with a rally permit from City Hall, INC members blocked the entrance of the Department of Justice premises for two days before getting instructions to march to EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Ave.) to occupy that historic site of anti-government protests.

The Iglesia then secured a permit from Mandaluyong to use the EDSA-Shaw intersection until today for its escalating protest against the DOJ’s investigating complaints of some INC ministers claiming to have been illegally detained by their superiors.

The obstruction on EDSA, the main artery cutting through the midsection of Metro Manila, bears watching. How Malacañang and the INC play the power game will impact on the national elections in May 2016.

■ ‘Separation’ principle does not apply

THE IGLESIA is making a big case of the constitutionally guaranteed separation of Church and State and the people’s right to peaceably assemble to air their grievances.

The principle of Church-State separation, however, does not place INC members beyond the pale of the law and due process which apply to everybody regardless of religious affiliation or lack of it.

When a citizen complains of having been illegally detained or abused, the authorities have no choice – it is in fact their duty -- but to investigate. That the parties happen to be INC members is beside the point.


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If a Catholic priest, for instance, is accused of assaulting his bishop, he cannot invoke separation of Church and State to evade investigation. The act complained of, much like illegal detention, warrants action from the authorities.

No wonder President Aquino agreed with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s ordering an investigation of the INC ministers’ claim of having been illegally detained. She correctly pointed out that she was just doing her job.

On such a sensitive matter, we would not be surprised if the justice secretary, a declared senatorial aspirant, actually cleared her actions with the President. Note how she acted and talked with confidence.

■ Iglesia better seek middle ground

THIS IS one instance when the legendary obstinacy of President Aquino can be put to good use in the name of law and order.

Amplifying on the Palace attitude, Press Secretary Sonny Coloma said: “Government’s duty is to ensure that the laws are complied with. It does not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of any legitimate organization.

“Government is not taking an adversarial position against the INC, whose contributions to national development and demonstration of civic consciousness are duly acknowledged.

“The DOJ has been performing its duties in accordance with its mandate of ensuring every person equal access to justice, of faithfully safeguarding constitutional rights and ensuring that no one is deprived of due process of law.

“There are mechanisms and processes under the law that are available to anyone who seek to question the actions of the Department of Justice.”

The Iglesia has political clout, but it would be wise for its leaders to clean house first, relax their bullying -- and explore the possibilities of a compromise with Malacañang.

Also, for transparency, it should be clear who are giving the orders to their flock gathered in the streets. Someone has to take responsibility.

■ Tagle to lead Day of Prayer program

LUIS Antonio Cardinal Tagle, meanwhile, will preside over the Philippines’ celebration on Tuesday of the World Day of Prayer for creation, as Pope Francis leads the program in St. Peter’s.

The occasion coincides with the opening of the “Season of Creation,” a six-week period in which there are initiatives, celebrations and exhibitions on the theme of the environment in parishes, schools and Catholic associations.

The starting point of reflection and of the activities will be Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’. Filipino Catholics are collecting signatures for a petition to be presented to the world leaders who will gather in Paris in November to discuss climate change.

The petition asks for keeping the global temperature rise below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius and calls for broader assistance for the poor who bear the brunt of climate change.

Launched in the Philippines last July, the campaign was initiated and promoted by the “Global Climate Catholic Movement,” which brings together more than 100 Catholic organizations worldwide dedicated to “climate justice”.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called on everybody to undertake a mission to save the planet, their relationship with God and the human family.

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