Philippine sect members block off main highway in Manila

Thousands of members of a Christian sect in the Philippines on Sunday brought traffic along the capital’s main highway to a standstill, demanding a halt to an investigation of their leaders on charges of detaining a dismissed pastor.

An estimated 15 000 members of the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) sect occupied sections of the highway to force Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to stop the investigation, which was launched after a pastor said INC leaders prevented him from leaving his house.

The pastor was dismissed after INC leaders accused him of exposing on a blog alleged financial irregularities in the sect.

Church leaders said the case, resulting from infighting over the use of church funds, was an internal matter and the government should not interfere.

It was the fourth day of protests by the INC, which is demanding that De Lima respects the doctrine of separation of the Church and the state and stops harassing its senior leaders.

The INC insisted that the criminal complaint filed by one of the sect ministers before the justice department could be resolved internally within the church.

“This is sickening, these people [INC members] are holding hostage the government and our officials are not doing anything about this” said Martin Abueva an irate motorist stuck in the massive traffic jam in EDSA.

“These people think that they are above the law, just because they have command vote during elections,” he added.

The INC sect members occupied the EDSA highway, in violation of a rally permit issued to them by the mayor of the Manila suburban city of Mandaluyong.

Senior Superintendent Elmer Jamias, a police district director, said he would continue to negotiate for a “peaceful dispersal” of the INC members, while Abalos said he is still thinking whether or not to extend the rally permit.

Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Union of Philippine Workers), a leftist labour group, denounced the political accommodation given to the INC members.

“When we take to the streets to air our grievances, police forcefully disperse us because we block the traffic, but when these INC members occupy EDSA, the police and our officials are not doing anything,” said Leody De Guzman, the group’s chairperson. ?

Written by PH

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