MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It was the powerful Iglesia ni Cristo’s biggest anti-government rally in Metro Manila, yet its attendance was dwarfed by the participation of its members in earlier INC events – a sign of division within the church.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said the crowd at the INC rally along EDSA, Metro Manila’s main highway, peaked at 20,000 on Sunday, August 30.
In contrast, the PNP said the INC’s charity walk for Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors on February 15, 2014, drew as many as 200,000 INC members – a new Guinness record for the longest charity walk.
This means the biggest crowd at the INC’s rally in Metro Manila, which ended on Monday, August 31, was only around 10% of those who joined the Yolanda charity walk.
The number of protestors was lower even if the INC on Saturday evening, August 29, announced that church members from Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Quezon, Batangas, and Pangasinan, among others, will join others from Metro Manila along EDSA.
The rally, in any case, angered Metro Manila residents because it triggered monstrous traffic. (READ: Iglesia ni Cristo: Sorry for traffic, blame our enemies)
INC spokesman Brother Edwil Zabala, for his part, slammed the police for its supposed low crowd estimate during the 5-day rally.
Zabala said the police might as well say only 100 protestors showed up along EDSA, because the police would always downplay the INC’s numbers anyway.
“Kung gusto nila, bawasan pa, baka 25 na lang tayo rito (If they want, they can even say we’re only 25 people here),” Zabala told protestors on Sunday.
Initial target: 500,000 protestors
The INC – which is known for its culture of discipline and unity, as well as strictness – drew bigger crowds before. (READ: The rise of INC: ‘Stricter religions grow stronger’)
Because of this – and most importantly, the INC practice of bloc voting – politicians feared this church that counts 1.37 million voters among its faithful. (READ: How potent is the INC’s vote delivery system?)
Recent allegations of corruption among INC leaders, however, reportedly loosened the church’s grip on its 2.25 million members. (PODCAST: Saan patungo ang Iglesia ni Cristo?)
A Palace insider said the INC initially targeted 500,000 people to join the rally along EDSA.
EDSA was the site of the peaceful revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and a similar movement that ousted then president Joseph Estrada in 2001. (READ: INSIDE STORY: The end of the Iglesia ni Cristo protest)
The INC agreed to disperse on Monday because of low numbers and division within the church, a government source said.
‘Show of weakness’
Like the Yolanda walk, the INC attracted more people during its medical mission in the city of Manila on October 14, 2013.
More than 700,000 people trooped to this medical mission, radio DZMM reported back then. The event included non-INC members who wanted free medical services.
The medical mission in the city of Manila forced local governments in Metro Manila to cancel classes. The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and courts in Manila and Quezon City also suspended work.
On February 28, 2012, the INC held another huge event – a prayer rally at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. The prayer rally drew as many as 100,000 people, Inquirer.net said in its report.
Despite the lower turnout this time around, Zabala said the INC achieved its objective in its recent 5-day rally.
Zabala told reporters on Monday: “Ang mahalaga po, nagawa na naming ipakita at iparinig sa lahat: Ang Iglesia ni Cristo, nagkakaisa kami (What’s important is we managed to show and let everyone hear: The Iglesia ni Cristo is one).”
Inquirer.net editor in chief John Nery said the INC’s attempted show of force turned to be a “show of weakness.”
In his column on Tuesday, September 1, Nery wrote: “A show of force? The protest was in fact the exact opposite. On Thursday, the Iglesia ni Cristo took to the streets of Manila as a political force to be reckoned with. On Monday, they left Mandaluyong much diminished. The organizers had miscalculated.”
‘No negative impact’
Palace Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr, for his part, expressed confidence that the administration’s relationship with the INC was not affected negatively by how the government handled the rally.
Coloma said the government’s focus was to “maintain peace and order” for the duration of the mass action.
“Para sa pamahalaan, ginawa lang naman nito ang tungkulin nang naaayon sa batas at wala namang tinitignan na aspeto ng (For the government, it was only doing its duty under the law, and it does see any aspect of the) relationship that could have been negatively affected,” he said.
“We have always been on top of the situation,” Coloma added.
When asked, Coloma said the government cannot stop the INC, or any group, from exercising their freedom to assemble for as long as the necessary permits are obtained, and it “would not cause public disturbance that would be likely to bring on more serious repercussions to our society.”
He said that in the case of the INC rally, it secured the necessary permit to hold the rally over the weekend, “and they did not commit any action that could be considered as a violation of public order.” – with reports from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com