MANILA, Philippines – The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) apologized for the heavy traffic caused by their rally along the Philippines’ iconic EDSA highway, and said the public should blame the INC’s enemies for this.
“Doon po sa mga commuters, humihingi po kami ng dispensa. Alam po namin ang pakiramdam ng nata-traffic, natatagalan sa paglalakbay. Alam po namin ‘yon. Ayaw po naming mangyari ‘yon sana,” INC spokesman Brother Edwil Zabala told reporters in an interview around 11 pm Saturday, August 29.
(To the commuters, we’d like to ask your forgiveness. We know the feeling of being stuck in traffic or being on the road for so long. We know that. We didn’t want that to happen.)
“Pero nakikiusap po kami sa inyo: Sana po, unawain na lang po ninyo, hindi kami permanenteng titira rito. Matatapos din po ito,” he added. (But we’d like to appeal to you: Please, understand that we will not live here permanently. This will also end.)
The INC, a 101-year-old church known for its political influence, is holding a days-long vigil along EDSA because the Department of Justice (DOJ) is allegedly persecuting their church.
They began on Thursday, August 27, with a protest-vigil in front of the DOJ in Padre Faura, Manila, and moved to EDSA on Friday, August 28.
Their rally on payday Friday caused monstrous traffic along EDSA, the site of the historic People Power Revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Critics sabotaging vigil
Zabala explained that INC protestors moved to EDSA, from their earlier protest site in Padre Faura, because their enemies tried to sabogate their DOJ vigil.
He said “infiltrators,” for one, had been sent to Padre Faura. He added that their critics, too, propagated false information on social media that the INC had cancelled the DOJ vigil and the members should all go home.
He said this is why groups of INC members decided to troop to EDSA: They wrongly thought the INC had canceled the vigil at Padre Faura.
He stressed that the DOJ vigil was unplanned.
“Ang plano lang namin, nasa Faura lang kami. Pero dahil tinrabaho kami, sabi nga kanina ng isang nagsalita, napabuti pa tayo. Sapagkat pinilit nilang guluhin ‘yung pagtitipon – meron silang nailigaw, napapunta rito – mas maluwag pala ‘to. Mas masarap palang nandito, kahit umulan, ” Zabala said.
(Our initial plan was to remain in Faura. But because we had been sabotaged, as the earlier speaker said, we ended up reaping benefits. Because they wanted to sabotage the gathering – they misled some and brought them here – this ended up to be a more spacious site. It seems better to be here, even if it rains.)
‘Marunong po kami makisama’
He added that, in the first place, INC members wouldn’t hold the rally if the government heeded their request for fairness in implementing legal processes.
INC leaders claim that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is railroading a case against them. (READ: Why De Lima is target of Iglesia ni Cristo’s anger)
This comes after an expelled INC minister, Isaias Samson Jr, filed an illegal detention case against INC leaders before the DOJ.
“Naramdaman po namin, ginigipit po kami. Natulak tuloy kami rito,” he said. (We felt we’re being persecuted. That pushed us to go here.)
Still, he stressed that the INC is sensitive to the needs of millions of Filipinos who don’t belong to their church.
“Marunong po kaming gumalang sa karapatan ng iba. Marunong po kaming makisama,” he said. “Ang hinihiling lang po namin, konting pang-unawa, konting tiyaga. Magwawakas din po ito. Matatapos din po ito.”
(We know how to respect the rights of others. We know how to live well with others…Our only request is a little bit of understanding, a little bit of patience. This will also end. This will also be over.)
‘Hustisya para sa SAF 44!’
On Saturday, other critics of President Benigno Aquino III joined the INC’s rally along EDSA. Leading them was Aquino’s uncle, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, who earlier called on his nephew to quit.
Cojuangco’s wife, Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, also attended the rally and delivered the speech. Before an angry crowd, Mrs Cojuangco brought up the issue that trigged the Aquino administration’s worst crisis: the death of 44 members of the police Special Action Force, or the SAF 44, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Mrs Cojuangco told the INC members: “Hustisya! Hustisya para sa SAF 44!” (Justice! Justice for the SAF 44!)
To this the INC members responded with a chant: “Hustisya! Hustisya! Hustisya!” (Justice! Justice! Justice!)
During the rally on Saturday, former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) spokesman Eid Kabalu also delivered a message.
In his speech, Kabalu said Muslims in Mindanao send their sympathies to INC members because they can relate to persecution.
To a cheering crowd, Kabalu said, "Kung ang kalaban 'nyo ay injustice, kung ang kalaban 'nyo ay DOJ...kalaban din namin!" (If your enemy is injustice, if your enemy is the DOJ...that is also our enemy!)
"Uulitin ko po," he said. "'Yun pong kalaban ninyo ay kalaban namin!" (Let me repeat: Your enemy is our enemy!) – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.