MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The religious organization Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) is preparing to replicate in key cities in the Visayas and Mindanao the mass action that its members have been staging in Metro Manila, Rappler learned.
According to organizers and police intelligence reports, the INC directive to local church members is to mass in the busy portions of Cebu City and Davao City by Sunday night, August 30, going into Monday, August 31, a nationwide holiday.
Intelligence reports from regional offices of the Philippine National Police also indicated that INC locals in Luzon provinces would start transporting members to Metro Manila via buses. This was expected on Saturday evening to reinforce the crowd currently gathered on EDSA corner Shaw in Mandaluyong City.
Several intelligence sources claimed the INC is planning to highlight the rallies with calls for President Benigno Aquino III to step down. On Friday, INC radio stations were playing anti-government jingles, while on Saturday, speakers repeatedly called for justice in the name of the 44 slain elite cops in Mamasapano in Maguindanao. On Sunday, they said they will be talking about the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program, parts of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
However, a directive issued on Thursday by the Iglesia national leadership – a copy of which was obtained by Rappler – directed members to avoid chanting anti-government slogans.
INC members started their rally in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila Thursday afternoon to demand that government keep its hands off the illegal detention complaint filed by expelled minister Isaias Samson against the Iglesia leadership.
They are particularly targeting DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima, who set aside the decision of the National Bureau of Investigation to declare the case closed supposedly for lack of evidence. Three of the ministers earlier reported to be missing appeared on the INC-owned television channel to deny they were abducted or detained. De Lima, however, said the probe would continue since the department has secured signed affidavits from witnesses.
By Friday evening, after office and school hours, the demonstrators transferred to EDSA, outside Megamall, and occupied the busy and congested intersection of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard. The INC has permits to stage rallies in Manila until September 4, and in Mandaluyong, specifically the EDSA-Shaw area, until August 30.
It doesn’t have a permit for a public gathering in Quezon City, under whose jurisdiction fall Robinson’s Galleria and the historic EDSA Shrine, site of the People Power 1 and 2 mass actions that toppled two presidents.
As of 9:30 pm Sunday, program hosts at the rally in Mandaluyong announced that members from Tarlac, Pangasinan, and the Bicol provinces were expected to arrive.
Police reports said there was a first batch of INC members from Tarlac who were expected to arrive too the same evening, when the President’s uncle Jose “Peping” Cojuangco and aunt-in-law Margarita – former congressman and governor of Tarlac, respectively – spoke at the vigil.
Intelligence reports said more members were preparing to come on Sunday from Ilocos Sur, Cagayan, and Tarlac – all north of Manila – via private vehicles. It appeared the target contingent from each province was 5,000.
In Cebu City, regional police officials were in an emergency meeting as of posting, to determine how to steer the Iglesia crowd away from activities related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, and to ensure that the protest action would be peaceful. Local INC leaders had coordinated with the authorities to ensure an orderly gathering, expecting members to come from Bacolod and other cities in the Visayas.
In Davao City, authorities, also in coordination with local INC leaders, were expecting the contingents from other Mindanao cities to start arriving Sunday morning. They will be coming from Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, General Santos, and Cotabato.
The Davao rally will be held in front of the city’s Hall of Justice, at the city’s Ecoland district. Organizers said that local INC churches had been soliciting from local politicians some provisions – like food and water – for their members who will be attending the protest vigils. – Rappler.com