MANILA, Philippines – They are called “handog (an offering)” in the century-old homegrown religious organization Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) – men and women who were born into the faith.
INC members since birth, many of them are present in the group’s ongoing vigil, which started Thursday night, August 27. It marked the first time they gathered on the streets to air a collective sentiment.
They said they had never been in any such actions, as INC members were neither allowed to join street demonstrations nor labor unions.
“Wala ah. Hindi naman nagra-rally ang Iglesia eh. Hindi kami nagra-rally. Hindi kami sumasali ng union,” said one handog, who said she had been with INC in her 39 years of existence. (None. Iglesia believers do not join rallies. We don’t join rallies. We don’t join unions.)
“Ngayon lang nangyari ito sa buhay namin, kasi pinapakialaman nila ang religion,” said another handog. (This is the first time this happened in our lives, because the government is interfering with religion.)
The influential religious denomination is pressuring the justice department to keep its hands off an illegal detention complaint against INC leaders filed by an expelled INC member, citing secularism.
Still, members consider the action which continued Friday, August 28, a vigil and not a street protest. The vigil along Padre Faura in downtown Manila reached a crowd of 3,000.
The area which houses Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Supreme Court experienced a slight drizzle at around 2 pm on Friday, but the crowd stayed.
While the Friday action was linked to the illegal detention complaint before the DOJ against INC leaders, one handog said it is ultimately for their salvation.
“Ang ‘pinaglalaban namin ‘yung kaligtasan ng aming kaluluwa pagdating sa langit,” she said. (What we’re fighting for is the salvation of our souls in heaven.)
Many of the INC members in the vigil said there was a directive from INC leaders to give the media a template answer that they joined the vigil because “’pinaglalaban po naming ang aming pananampalataya (we are fighting for our faith).”
A breakaway of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, the INC is known to be a relatively secretive religious organization.
Known for supposedly rigid rules, the INC even expels some members and ministers as punishment for violating INC doctrine.
Recently, an apparent church division allegedly driven by corruption within the century-old INC saw the expulsion of the mother and brother of the church’s head.
As a video of elaborately designed INC churches worldwide streams in a screen near the stage during the INC vigil, multimedia speakers blast with the emcee’s voice denying corruption allegations against the INC.
The emcee further boasts of many church projects, saying INC corruption claims circulating in the media are “gawa-gawa (made up).”
In a coordinated effort, members from as far as Cavite brought with them food and clothes that will last them until Monday, August 31, on the street. Many of them were seated on the ground, along with INC members from other areas.
“Ganyan kaming mga magkakapatid. Kahit hindi kami magkakakilala,” said an INC member from Taguig City. (This is how we are brothers and sisters [in the faith]. Even if we don’t know each other.)
Although not a handog, he also said the Friday gathering is a far cry from the “formal” church gatherings of INC.
Conditions while under the sun Friday morning weren’t as ideal. Caps and umbrellas as protection for members in the vigil were being sold. Meals and bottled waters were handed out.
Still, the members said they were happy to come as one with their fellow Iglesia believers.
“Siyempre, masaya kami. Masayang masaya. Napakahalaga ng pagkakaisa namin rito,” he said. (Of course, we are happy. Really happy. Our cooperation here is important.) – Rappler.com