TOLD their protest was over before they could start, members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) in Cebu decided to share picnics, stroll around the park or simply head home yesterday morning.
[READ: Iglesia Ni Cristo ends 5-day protest]
An order from INC’s national leadership averted a rally that would have filled some of Cebu City’s busiest streets, as well as Plaza Independencia.
INC followers, as well as the police and traffic enforcers assigned to watch over the protest, were relieved.
[READ: Iglesia protest in Cebu City today]
“Malipayon mi nga natapos na ang among gipakigbatok og pakigbisog. Mabuhi ang Iglesia ni Cristo (We are happy that our struggle is over. Long live Iglesia ni Cristo),” said Rommel Panares, a minister of INC’s Cebu South District.
The group in Cebu welcomed the news with shouts of praise. Some of them chanted “EVM! EVM! The initials belong to Executive Minister Eduardo V. Manalo.
Panares said that leaders in Cebu immediately contacted their followers who were still arriving and informed them that the rally was called off.
For five days in Mandaluyong, thousands of INC members had caused traffic while holding a protest and vigil against Secretary Leila de Lima and the justice department. They believe their freedom to practice their religion was violated because the justice department is investigating a former minister’s complaint that he and his family had been illegally detained, on suspicion that he leaked complaints about the INC’s governing body.
Around 20,000 INC members from Cebu, Bohol, Negros Island, Leyte and Samar were expected to converge at Plaza Independencia in Cebu City yesterday until noon today.
But early yesterday morning, INC spokesman Bienvenido Santiago announced INC-TV and Net 25 that the religious group was ending its protest.
INC followers were already gathered at their church on Gen. Maxilom Ave. in Cebu City when they heard about the decision.
Benjamin Llorente, 55, said he headed to Cebu from Tubigon, Bohol and was ready as early as 9 a.m. to participate in the peaceful rally.
With the rally cancelled, he and other INC followers from Bohol decided to take the boat home. But they are ready if the INC leadership orders them to defend their faith.
“Mosunod gyud mi sa Pagdumala, pero sa peaceful nga pamaagi (We will peacefully follow our leaders),” Llorente said.
Another INC member said that she was glad the protest was over.
“Medyo apektado na ang mga miyembro sa Iglesia sa nahitabo karon sa Manila. Bisan pa kon ang Pagdumala ang mosulti nga kailangan mo-alsa mi, dili tanan uyon ana kay dili man na ang tarung nga pamaagi (The Iglesia’s members are affected by what’s happening in Manila. Even if our leaders tell us to protest, not everyone will agree that that is the right thing to do),” she said. (She requested that her name be withheld in this story.)
The Cebu City Government had issued a permit, valid for 24 hours, for the activity.
“As of early this morning (Monday), I revoked the permit already,” said Vice Mayor Edgar Labella.
“I’m glad that I had a call this morning (Monday) from Minister Panares that the government has agreed to sit down with them, that is why the scheduled prayer vigil has been called off,” Labella said.
Panares and other ministers of INC wrote and met with Labella last Friday to ask for permission for the protest rally.
Their request was approved, Labella said, given that they promised to keep it peaceful.
Enough numbers had gathered near the INC church on Gen. Maxilom Ave., so that traffic was affected despite the cancellation.
Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) operations chief Jonathan Tumulak said there was a build-up of vehicles in front of the church but traffic was still moving and manageable. Traffic was back to normal around 10 a.m.
Followers of the INC began arriving as early as 6 a.m.
The traffic group pulled out some of their traffic enforcers assigned to the rally route, in order to supervise traffic in some intersections on Gen. Maxilom Ave.
At least 50 enforcers were assigned to the rally.
“Our enforcers are ensuring that there will be no parking in front of the church, and all of their vehicles including those that came from the other provinces were parked at the property across the INC church,” Tumulak said.
Labella said he requested the Parks and Playground Commission to allow some of the INC members who were already at Plaza Independencia yesterday to stay and have picnics there.
Police officers were happy when they heard about the rally getting cancelled.
They were worried that the protest, no matter how peaceful, would affect all their preparations to keep the city orderly and safe, especially while the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings are ongoing, said Supt. Romeo Santander of the Cebu City Police Office.
He said the CCPO had conducted several security planning meetings a day before the planned rally and that a civil disturbance management platoon was supposed to be deployed from Gen. Maxilom Ave. to Plaza Independencia.
Station commanders and intelligence officers were also tasked to monitor the event for the whole day.
Despite the cancellation, the deployed officers remained in their assigned areas until early afternoon.
“It’s a good sign, a good thing nga wala nadayon gyod (that it was averted),” he said. (Sunnex)