INC: We didn’t ask for class suspensions

Paterno Esmaquel II
(UPDATED) The Iglesia ni Cristo says the medical mission has nothing to do with politics

JAMPACKED VENUE. Participants in the Iglesia ni Cristo's medical mission pack the roads of Manila. Photo from Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko's Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) on Monday, October 14, denied asking local governments in the National Capital Region (NCR) to cancel classes for an event in the city of Manila alone.

Hindi po talaga. Hindi nanggaling sa amin. Katunayan, maski sa mga nagdaang mga Kabayan Ko ay hindi kami ang nagsasabi na walang pasok, sapagkat ayaw naman naming makapamerwisyo sa tao,” said INC minister Bro Edwil Zabala, the spokesperson for the medical mission, in an interview Monday afternoon.

(Really, no. It didn’t come from us. In fact, even in past Kabayan Ko events, it wasn’t us who requested the cancellation of classes, because of course we don’t want to disturb other people.)

Zabala said he doesn’t know why local governments, aside from Manila, decided to cancel classes for the INC event. “You would have to ask them,” he said.

Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada earlier said he suspended classes “to ensure the safety of the students.” In an executive order, Estrada also said the suspension will “help in efforts to preserve peace and order, and ensure public safety.” 

Zabala doesn’t believe officials suspended classes to woo the INC, a 2.25-million-strong religious group that practices bloc voting. (Watch Rappler’s video blog below.)

Hindi naman siguro. Una, bakit sila matatakot? Ang Iglesia ni Cristo, nakikipagkaibigan sa lahat. Tingin namin, kaibigan namin ang lahat. Gusto namin kaibigan kami ng lahat. Hindi kami dapat katakutan,” Zabala explained.

(I don’t think so. First of all, why will they fear us? The Iglesia ni Cristo makes friends with everyone. We think everyone’s our friend. We want everyone to be our friend. We shouldn’t be feared.)

The politically influential INC on Monday held Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko, a medical mission that aimed to help the poor and to boost the INC’s membership.

Local governments suspended classes in the NCR for the medical mission. The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and courts in Manila and Quezon City also suspended work

‘No political message’

In Monday’s interview, Zabala also denied insinuations that the INC sent a political message through the event. He said it was not a “show of force” as observers claimed.

FOR ALL. The Iglesia ni Cristo opens its event to believers and non-believers alike. Photo by Jose Del

Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, for one, said “there is a message behind the INC event” on Monday. “If you are a politician and you don’t get it, you are a fool,” she said.

Zabala said Santiago is “bright,” and he “would not presume to be able to explain for her.”

Palagay ko, siya ang makapagpapaliwanag ng kanyang sinabi. Basta ako, nagpapasalamat ako na hindi isa si Senator Santiago sa nagtampo o nainis dahil na-traffic,” he said. (I think only she can explain what she said. From my end, I am thankful that she is not among those who felt bad or irritated because of the traffic.)

He said the medical mission, however, wasn’t political at all. 

Walang bahid pulitika ito. Kung naobserbahan n’yo ang ginawa namin mula noong simula, hanggang kanina, maging noong magtapos ‘yung pag-aaral, o kung nakita ninyo ‘yung mga tarpaulins, ‘yung mga banner, walang political message talaga,” Zabala said.

(This doesn’t have any political color. If you observed what we did from the beginning, until a while ago, until we finished the Bible study, or if you saw the tarpaulins, the banners, there is really no political message.)

Zabala also apologized for the traffic congestion brought by the event.

He explained that the INC’s schedule for the Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko project was full, and Monday was the best day to do it in Manila. “Wala na talaga kaming pagkakataon na isagawa ito nang ibang araw,” he said. (We really don’t have an opportunity to do this on another day.)

He said he understands those who feel annoyed about the traffic.

Kung ako man siguro ang nasa lugar nila, mararamdaman ko rin ‘yon. Kaya nga dahil hindi ako ang nasa lugar nila, ako ‘yung nakikiusap na sana, pagpasensyahan na kami. Isang araw lang naman… Puhunan na lang ninyo, bahagi na lang ninyo, sa tulong sa mga kababayan nating natulungan,” he said.

(If I were in their position, I would probably feel the same way. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I appeal for their understanding. Anyway it’s just for one day… Just consider it your contribution, your part, in helping our countrymen who benefited.)

HELPING THE POOR. The Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko event involves distributing medicines and providing relief goods. Photo by Jose Del

But was it possible for the INC to minimize traffic? 

Busloads of INC members, after all, came not only from Manila but from nearby provinces. Zabala acknowledged this, and said the INC didn’t prevent those from the provinces from going to Manila.

He said, “Lilikha lang tayo ng samaan ng loob lalo eh: ‘Bakit mo kami pagbabawalan?‘” (We will be creating conflict: “Why are you preventing us?”)

Kingmaker?

Politicians have wooed the INC, which has 1.37 million voting members within its flock. This is almost the same number of registered voters in the provinces of Rizal (1.38 million) and Nueva Ecija (1.36 million). READ: INFOGRAPHIC: What you should know about the Iglesia ni Cristo.

The group’s backing has thus led to political victories.

The INC endorsed President Benigno Aquino III, who was elected in 2010. It also backed the candidacy of Estrada, who won a landslide victory in 1998. 

How powerful is the INC? A journalist asked Zabala: Is it a kingmaker?

The INC minister refused to answer. Zabala said, “I think the best people to answer that question would be those in politics, the politicians.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.