August 31, 2015 / 3:30 AM / in 2 years

Philippine Christian group ends protest blocking Manila highway

MANILA (Reuters) - An influential Christian group in the Philippines ended a protest on Monday over the prosecution of its leaders, calling off a blockade by 20,000 members of a main road in the capital after talks with the government.

Protesters belonging to the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) group display placards as they march along EDSA highway in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), or INC, has 2 million members, most in the provinces, who usually vote according to their leaders’ advice, so it is courted by

politicians and has influence on government appointments.

Group members have been protesting since Thursday over what they see as government interference in church affairs. On Friday, they blocked a main highway in Manila with the crowd swelling to 20,000 people early on Monday, police said.

A church leader later said talks with the government had ironed out problems and the protest was over, though he did not go into details.

“The INC and the government have met and in this discussion, the two parties have explained their sides and so it is all peaceful now,” Bienvenido Santiago, INC general evangelist, said in an announcement.

“This peaceful gathering that we started on Thursday afternoon will end also peacefully this Monday morning.”

A former church minister had taken legal action against its leaders, complaining of illegal detention, a criminal case that could lead to the arrest of some INC officials. Santiago did not refer to the case in his statement.

Government spokesmen were not available for comment.

A member of the presidential communications group posted on Twitter a picture of President Benigno Aquino holding an emergency meeting on the protest late on Sunday with some cabinet members, police and military officers.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said the INC was pressuring the government to back off the legal case.

The government has repeatedly said its duty was to take up complaints by any citizen or entity and it was not interfering with internal matters of any organization.

Reporting by Karen Lema, Rosemarie Francisco and Manny Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel

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