DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 August) — Thousands of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) members from various parts of Mindanao will converge in front of the Hall of Justice here starting midnight to express their solidarity with INC members holding protests in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila and the EDSA Shrine.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is presently in Manila, told reporters in a teleconference Sunday night that he ordered the police and the military to exercise maximum tolerance, “to find a happy compromise” and said that as the INC members exercise their right to peaceably assemble, they should also ensure that the public is given equal right to gain access into the courts, the prosecutors’ offices, and the bus terminal.
The Benigno S. Aquino Hall of Justice, named after President Aquino’s assassinated father, is located along Candelaria Street, fronting the busy Davao City Overland Terminal along Ecoland in Matina.
As of 11:30 p.m., INC members from Nasipit, Agusan del Norte: Madrid in Surigao del Sur; Pikit in North Cotabato, General Santos City, Tacurong in Sultan Kudarat province, had arrived and occupied the sidewalk fronting the Hall of Justice, where they would spend the night or nights. An aluminum portable stage was mounted on the side of the entrance to the Hall of Justice.
Ellen Reformado of Pikit, North Cotabato said, they left Pikit in a convoy of five Forwarders (cargo trucks) at 6 p.m. but another batch was arriving Monday morning.
Reformado said they were informed on Saturday that the INC’s 21 districts in Mindanao would gather here in Davao City the next day to “show our unity.” Asked until when they are staying, she said they do not know.
A “ministro” from Sultan Kudarat province who identified himself as Gary but would not give his family name, said they cannot talk about the activity but claimed 10,000 INC members from the province were coming. Another “ministro” from Butuan City declined to be interviewed while a mother from General Santos City who was carrying an infant declined to give her name. “Bawal po” (not allowed), she told MindaNews.
The INC, known for its bloc voting and endorsement of candidates during national elections, has been staging rallies in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila since Thursday, and later at the EDSA Shrine area, alleging religious persecution by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The protest actions came shortly after expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr filed before the DOJ an illegal detention case against INC leaders.
The Manila city government has given the INC until September 4 while Mandaluyong City gave the INC only until midnight Sunday.
Senior Inspector Milgrace Driz, spokesperson of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) told MindaNews that the rally of the INC members will begin at 7 a.m. Monday.
Some 100,000 members are estimated to participate in the mass action around the Davao Region, but Driz said she has yet to determine how many of them will participate in the city.
She said the INC was able to secure a four-day permit from the City Mayor’s Office.
“DCPO will provide security, mobile and beat patrol at the area and traffic group will be deployed to manage traffic congestions,” she added.
DCPO will also dispatch the Civil Disturbance Management Team for any eventuality.
“Definitely, DCPO will always be ready,” she said.
Duterte, a city prosecutor before he was named OIC Vice Mayor in 1986, said the Constitution guarantees the citizens’ right peaceably to assemble and does not limit the number to 5,000 or 10,000 or 50,000.
He said he does not even have to issue a permit because “no mayor can be higher than the Constitution,” adding he has been allowing various sectors to stage rallies, even without permits, provided they do so with least disturbance to the public.
“Obey the police,” he said, adding police and military would know what to do.
“I don’t have to worry, I do not have to fly tomorrow,” said the mayor who is being egged to run for President in 2016.
Duterte said the regional director of the DOJ “should not be afraid” to tell the INC members in a dialogue, that what they air will be brought to the attention of the Central office.
Duterte said no anti-riot police should be deployed there. “No anti-riot police. Just ordinary police… but they should maintain a healthy distance.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Antonio L. Colina / MindaNews)