(Edited April 1 to specify the renovation of Giac Hoa Temple’s roof)
Giac Hoa Temple in 7th Ward, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, is the office the UBCV Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma.
On Sunday, March 25, the police arrived to siege the temple and prepare to execute the decision No. 53 signed by the People’s Committee of 7th Ward on March 24, 2012 to cut off electricity, water, and forcefully demolish the roof of the temple if the temple did not remove it.
On March 1, the temple started to renovate the roof of the temple to prevent rain from leaking into the 2nd floor. Many of the Ward’s building inspectors had come and told the temple “ Minor renovations like this don’t need permits. It is enough for the temple only needs to fill out a form informing the Ward’s People’s Committee.” The temple filled out the printed form and submitted to the Ward’s People’s Committee on the same day.
However, 3 weeks later, on March 22, police suddenly arrived and issued tickets with the reason “workers climbing without helmets or safety ropes.”
The next day, March 23rd, the Building Inspectors of 7th Ward and Binh Thanh Districts arrived at the temple with Ward’s police to issue tickets, stating that the temple “violated construction laws”. The police also invalidated the ticket issued on the day before, March 22.
Mr. Ho Ky Lan, Chairman of the People’s Committee of 7th Ward issued Decision #53 signed on March 24 to inform the temple that the government would cut off the temple’s electricity, water, and forcefully destroy the roof of the temple if the temple would not do it. At the same time, the Decision No. 53 fined the temple for 12 million VND.
The following is the interview between RFA Vietnamese and The Most Senior Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, the President of the UBCV Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma
RFA: Could you tell us the current situation of Giac Hoa temple. Are police still barricading the temple? Has Decision Number 53 that would cut off the temple’s electricity and water along with the destruction of the roof been applied?
Thich Vien Dinh: Giac Hoa Temple belongs to the UBC, therefore is has been regularly barricaded by the police, especially the police has been increased during major Buddhist holidays. There have been times where there were much more police than Buddhists. This has been going on for a long time, so the monks are used to it. However, many Buddhists are too afraid to come to the temple.
Now, the People’s Committee of the 7th Ward issued a Decision to forcefully demolish the temple’s roof, therefore the police are standing guard in front of the temple. Today is the deadline that the Decision set for the temple to undo the renovation of the roof, we do not know what is going to happen to the temple. In the Decision, it is said that the temple would have electricity and water cut off if it did not undo the roof’s renovation.
RFA: Could you briefly describe this police harassment?
Thich Vien Dinh: The renovation of the temple’s roof is really very simple, and no major equipment is required, nor is any concrete or steel. We do not know why the government wants to make a big issue out of it. At first, an inspector said that minor construction like this did not need a permit; it only needed a Report sent to the Ward. This inspector went back to the Ward to get a printed copy of the Report and showed the temple how to fill it out. The temple filled out the Report and submitted to 7th Ward on the same day.
The next day, the same inspector came to the temple and thoroughly asked detailed questions about the construction; he even took pictures of the construction. A few days later, they came back. Every week, inspectors stopped by the temple twice, and they did not have any inputs or objections to the construction. On the 6th time, the inspectors issued a ticket to the construction workers, stating that they “climbed without safety harness or helmet.” The inspectors also said the construction did not violate any law.
Three days later, however, the People’s Committee of 7th Ward turned around 180 degrees and turned a lawful construction into an illegal activity. They issued a ticket demanding the temple to pay a 12 million VND in fine, and that the temple had to undo the renovation of the roof or risk having electricity and water cut off.
The law is in the hand of the government, thus they can do whatever they wish. The government has one explanation for the ones who obey their orders, and it has a different explanation for the ones who don’t agree with it. People living in a totalitarian regime always have to suffer injustice and lawlessness like this.
RFA: What do you think about what happened to Giac Hoa Temple and the current situation of the UBCV?
Thich Vien Dinh: The communist government’s harassment against UBCV member temples is well-documented. We have also experienced hardship, imprisonment, isolation, and harassment. Therefore, monks who follow the UBCV gather around the guidance of the Most Senior Venerable Thich Quang Do, the First Patriarch. Always faithful with the UBCV, as the path of the UBCV is the path of the nation. One should not act against the nation, or his or her religion, just because of the government’s oppression.