MANILA, Philippines – It was only the second gathering of its kind in the history of the Christian Leaders Coalition.
According to Brother Eddie Villanueva, the national chairman of the lead group Philippines for Jesus Movement, the first time the coalition came together was after the 1986 People Power Revolution, to pray for newly installed President Corazon Aquino, mother of the current president.
On Monday, March 9, they gathered again in Malacañang to offer “Special United Prayers for the Nation’s President,” Benigno Aquino III. They did so, according to the Malacañang advisory, “in light of seeming current threat of political, economic, and social instability.”
During the gathering, Villanueva, the evangelist founder of the Jesus is Lord Movement, reiterated the support of the Christian Leaders Coalition for Aquino. Villanueva’s son Joel is a member of Aquino’s Cabinet, serving as director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
“This Christian Leaders movement is not a part of the resignation movement,” the older Villanueva said, before encouraging Aquino to finish his term until 2016.
He also said that it is everyone’s duty to defend a “constitutional presidency,” adding that “only the devil” would go against the economic progress currently being enjoyed by the country.
He questioned the motives of those calling for Aquino to leave his post, and said there was no basis for their calls even if there were “mistakes committed” during the Mamasapano operation.
“Let’s restore sanity and pray for wisdom,” Villanueva said.
The prayer gathering – which excluded Catholic religious leaders – happened over a month after a bloody operation in Maguindanao. On January 25, some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to arrest top terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.
The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that claimed at least 65 lives, including 44 SAF troopers.
Since the incident, various sectors, including some Catholic leaders, have called for the resignation of Aquino. They were frustrated by his handling of the incident and amid confusion of his role during the operation.
No to attention-seekers
Aquino delivered his speech at the gathering with guns blazing. He slammed those he called kulang sa pansin or KSP, a colloquial phrase for attention-seekers.
“They are the ones that want to diminish hope, they are the ones that want to take advantage of the issues we are facing to return the old system where they can again benefit,” he said.
He said these groups always have criticisms to dish out regardless of the government’s actions.
Aquino said he sometimes feel that his is only the voice that continues to push for peace in Mindanao, especially after the clashes.
The Mamasapano incident occurred less than a year after the group signed a landmark peace deal with the Philippine government, and as lawmakers deliberate on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which seeks to create an autonomous region initially headed by the MILF. The has since lost some support after the incident.
The President, however, said he is strengthened by the support of like-minded individuals, like the Christian group present, which gives him inspiration that his administration will succeed in fighting for good.
“During events like this, I am given confidence that even if our job is hard, as long as we unite and give each other strength, we will beat those who want to return the old system,” he said.
He added, “we believe peace is the key to progress and it is what will deliver justice to every Filipino.”
Malacañang and the Christian leaders present also denied rumors that the President is bribing religious groups to support him, thus hence the prayer gathering.
In a statement, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr emphasized it was the church leaders who asked for the gathering.
“At the initiative of the Coalition of Christian Leaders, President Aquino agreed to meet at a prayer gathering this afternoon with pastors and members of evangelical churches,” he said.
“This event was proposed after the President’s meeting with the church leaders in Malacañang 3 weeks ago. In that meeting, the President discussed with the church leaders the background of the law enforcement operations launched by the government against international terror suspects Zulkifli bin Hir alias ‘Marwan’ and his deputy Basit Usman.”
The others present in Malacañang were Bishop Leo Alconga, national vice chairman of the Philippines for Jesus Movement; Bishop Dan Balais, chairman of Intercessors for the Philippines; Brother Daniel Razon, president of the Church of God International; and Dr Andrew Luison, president of Cityland Corporation.
In a statement, the coalition said they planned the gathering “to listen to our leader, President Benigno S. Aquino III, who will share with us valuable insights on the key issues facing our nation and people today, particularly those that have a bearing on the peace process in Mindanao.”
The statement added: “We call on the authorities to ensure that the ends of justice are served and that those accountable are prosecuted without fear or favor. We believe that the work of peace building must be pursued and that our nation must continue to move forward toward inclusive economic growth and social justice for all.” – Rappler.com