MANILA, Philippines – From its humble beginnings in Sta Ana, Manila, the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has grown into a sizable religious force.
The Church now has at least 2.25 million followers, with members comprising at least 110 nationalities in 6 continents.
Known for its influence within Philippine society, the INC counts prominent political leaders, celebrities, and media personalities among its ranks.
Known as the lawyer of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, he has been counsel, too, for celebrities. But it’s not just his willingness to take on high-profile cases that has thrust him into the national spotlight; the lawyer from Cavite has displayed a knack for mastering the art of being quotable.
Who could forget the controversial gamble he made in 2011, when he offered to have his testicles removed in a bid to assure the government that the Arroyos would return to the Philippines?
Passionate and outspoken about topics he feels strongly about, the quotable lawyer has also been known for cracking jokes and belting out jazz songs.
Topacio is no stranger to media attention. But when it comes to his personal life – particularly his role in his church – he prefers to remain a lay member.
Born into the Aglipayan Church, Topacio converted to the INC in 2002. Ironically, it was INC rival group Ang Dating Daan (ADD) that led him to the INC.
To help out a friend who had gotten into trouble with the ADD, Topacio agreed to monitor the group’s programs on television.
As he watched, his attention turned to the INC’s “Ang Tamang Daan,” which was showing on the next channel. His first reaction was amusement.
“I was switching between channels, nagsasagutan sila. Parang nagsasabong sila, so naaaliw ako,” Topacio told Rappler. (They were answering back at each other, so I was amused.)
“After a few months, I realized the INC program was making more sense, so I became curious about the teachings of Iglesia.”
The turning point came when he was invited to take part in the worship services.
“I remember it distinctly. I felt something. Umiyak ako eh. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, so at that time, I decided this was the religion for me,” he said.
Asked what drew him to INC, Topacio launched into an impassioned speech on the group’s Bible-based teachings and sense of kinship.
“By virtue of the fact that members called you ‘brother,’ they treat you like a true sibling,” he said.
This idea of unity drives the INC’s practice of voting as a bloc and bans members from filing cases against fellow INC brothers. But Topacio said he has never been at odds with the INC doctrines and his own beliefs as a lawyer.
Most of the time, he said, a simple apology would suffice between clients who are in conflict with INC members.
But he won’t hesitate to defend the INC, like that time the group was accused of political meddling for the acquittal of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“Hindi naman kami nakikisali sa pulitika except to vote, hindi kami nakikisawsaw sa governance. Nguni’t dala na rin ng aming paniniwala, pagdating sa kapasyahan, isa lamang,” he says. (We only participate in politics during elections, we don’t interfere in governance. But because of our doctines, when it comes to a decision, we are one.)
TV broadcaster and radio commentator
Taberna seems to be on perpetually “on” mode in the ABS-CBN media fold. Audiences wake up to his voice in the daily morning show Umagang Kay Ganda. Radio listeners can catch him on DZMM for the Dos Por Dos show. And before its run ended, the late-night show XXX: Exklusibong, Explosibong, Exposé was also led by the 39-year-old journalist.
The broadcaster from Nueva Ecija has been in journalism for more than two decades now. But his memorable exposés and cutting commentaries peppered with dry wit have gained him his following among viewers.
Since he took to the airwaves, he’s had a string of breakthrough moments in journalism. In 2005, Taberna scored a scoop with his report on the Garci tapes. He also reported on the illegal trips of former Batangas Governor Antonio Leviste outside the New Bilibid Prison. In 2011, Taberna got an exclusive interview with former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol, who revealed the alleged cheating of former President Gloria Arroyo in the 2007 polls.
Taberna considers his INC beliefs as the solid foundation behind his hard-hitting news commentaries. Taberna said the leadership has never dissuaded him from airing his own views, but the line is drawn when it comes to voting.
Bloc voting is considered part of doctrine, and for the journalist who’s been an INC member since birth, respect for his religion reigns supreme.
Taberna admitted there have been candidates supported by the INC that he personally disliked. But he chose to respect the decision of the leadership. “Lagi at lagi nananaig sa akin, bakit pa ako nag-relihiyon kung hindi ko din rerespetuhin yung pasya ng namamahala ng Iglesia? Niloloko ko lang sarili ko kung kunyari sumusunod ako pero hindi naman,” he said in a Star interview. (I always think: why did I become part of a religion if I’ll end up disrespecting the decision of the INC leadership? I’ll only be fooling myself if I pretend to follow but do otherwise.)
Reyes is best known for her antagonist roles in her years in Philippine television and cinema. She became a household name in the 90s hit teleserye Mara Clara, where she played the role of a rich, spoiled teenager against Judy Ann Santos’ good-natured heroine.
Aside from her acting and hosting projects, she is also a board member of the Movie, Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), and is a host and co-producer of talk show, Moments on Net25.
Reyes is one of the most prominent celebrity members of the INC. Married to fellow INC member Christopher Roxas, the couple has been vocal about the role of religion in their lives. Roxas converted to INC in 1996, to be with his then-girlfriend Reyes.
As part of the centennial celebrations, Reyes told Rappler she and her husband will be part of the play, Ang Sugo, which tells the life story of INC founder Felix Manalo. It will be staged at the newly-opened Philippine Arena.
The two have been together for 20 years, and are considered one of the most lasting couples in showbiz. Roxas attributes this to their shared faith.
“Malaking factor na pareho kaming Iglesia. Pareho kaming may takot sa relihiyon,” Roxas said in a 2012 interview with Pep.ph. (It’s a big factor that we’re both in the Iglesia. We are God-fearing.)
Roxas told Rappler the two make time in their busy schedules for their faith.
“Every Thursdays and Sundays sa Church, pinaaalala lang namin ang blessings namin,” he said. (Every Thursdays and Sundays in Church, we are reminded of the blessings in our lives.)
When she first began her foray into the big screen, then 15-year-old Kathryn Bernardo admitted feeling nervous. She was, after all, being hailed as an up-and-coming dramatic actress. She was also about to play plum roles for Star Cinema, the Philippines’ largest film production company.
The former small-screen actress is now one of the most visible teenage personalities today. From the ABS-CBN show, Goin’ Bulilit, Bernardo went on to become a familiar face after starring in the ABS-CBN teleserye, Mara Clara.
But it was her projects with on-screen love interest Daniel Padilla that most defines the young actress’ career so far. It’s this pairing that made #KathNiel trend on Twitter, catapulted into popularity by scores of teenage fans.
Her newest project with Padilla, She’s Dating the Gangster, is the latest in the viable Kathryn-Daniel franchise, following the horror movie Pagpag in 2013 and hit teleserye show, Got to Believe.
Despite her closeness with her onscreen partner, the two cannot have an official relationship because Bernardo is an INC member.
INC members cannot have relationships with non-members of their church.
In interviews before her 18th birthday celebration, Bernardo said she had once invited Padilla to attend an INC service. The two had also talked about the differences in teachings between INC and Padilla’s Catholic beliefs.
Bernardo also said she won’t force Padilla to convert to INC for her sake. But asked if she was willing to sacrifice love for religion, Bernardo said she holds God above all else – but isn’t willing to speak with finality on the issue. – Rappler.com