MANILA, Philippines – Wearing a checkered polo shirt instead of his usual barong, the otherwise mellow Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) spokesman, Brother Edwil Zabala, shouted at the top of his lungs in front of an angry crowd.
Forcefully pointing his index finger upwards, Zabala told INC members in a rally outside the Department of Justice (DOJ): “Inaapi tayo! Papayag ba tayo?” (We’re being persecuted! Will we allow this?)
Raising their fists all at the same time, the INC members replied in a loud cry: “Hindi!” (No!)
Zabala’s message at around 11 pm on Thursday, August 27, summed up the main grievance of INC members as up to 2,000 of them hold a vigil outside the DOJ.
INC members claim that the DOJ, led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, is persecuting their powerful church.
This comes after expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr, former editor-in-chief of their official publication Pasugo, filed an illegal detention case against INC leaders before the DOJ.
Prompted by Samson’s complaint, INC members brought posters and streamers against the alleged DOJ persecution.
“Defend the separation of church and state,” one of the posters read.
A tarpaulin also said: “Mas maraming isyu ang dapat unahin. Huwag ang pakikialam sa amin! (More issues need to be prioritized. Don’t meddle in our affairs!)”
Known for lobbying for gov’t posts
The irony was not lost on Filipinos monitoring the rally through social media.
Many of them pointed out that INC itself interferes in government affairs. (READ: INC: From rag-tag sect to influential wheeler-dealer?)
The INC, for one, is known to lobby for key government positions.
Recently, former Customs Commissioner John Sevilla resigned because of certain Bureau of Customs appointments reportedly influenced, among others, by the INC.
The INC draws its political influence from its practice of bloc voting, or electing only the candidates for public office preferred by church leaders.
Up to 1.37 million of around 52 million Filipino voters, or 2.6% of the voting population, belong to the INC.
President Benigno Aquino III himself was endorsed by the INC in the 2010 presidential race.
Enraging the INC, De Lima is now unlikely to get the church’s endorsement when she runs for senator in 2016. (READ: Iglesia ni Cristo members: ‘Why, why, why, De Lima?) – Rappler.com