Faith and Spirituality

Jesus Is Lord, a homegrown church, shows political force on 45th anniversary

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Jesus Is Lord, a homegrown church, shows political force on 45th anniversary

45TH ANNIVERSARY. Jesus Is Lord founder Brother Eddie Villanueva leads the church's 45th anniversary celebration at the Quirino Grandstand, October 14, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The story of Jesus Is Lord is one of the best examples of the blurred lines between church and state in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country where Catholicism was the state religion for centuries

MANILA, Philippines – The homegrown Christian church Jesus Is Lord (JIL), founded by an evangelist who is now a congressman and whose son is now a senator, celebrated its 45th anniversary at Manila’s iconic Quirino Grandstand on Saturday, October 14.

Up to 40,000 persons attended the six-hour JIL anniversary event, the Manila Police District said. The celebration, which started at 3 pm and ended with a fireworks display past 9 pm, was attended by VIPs such as Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and Senate Deputy Majority Floor Leader JV Ejercito.

Brother Eddie Villanueva, the 77-year-old founder of the JIL, preached about healing and “packages of miracles” as JIL members raised their hands in prayer and proclaimed, “Alleluia, praise the Lord!” 

He also went personal about their family’s “double tragedy” – the death of his wife Adoracion “Sister Dory” Villanueva, 73, in March 2020, followed by the loss of his child, Bocuae Mayor Joni Villanueva-Tugna, 42, two months later. “I will admit to you, I lost the will to live,” said Villanueva in Filipino, adding that if he were not “born again,” he would have returned to communism. 

Adult, Female, Person
PRAYER. Jesus Is Lord members pray during the church’s 45th anniversary event at the Quirino Grand Stand in Manila, October 14, 2023. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

With Villanueva calling for “revival,” the JIL anniversary event was primarily a prayer rally. Tucked in different parts of the program, however, were hallmarks of the church’s power for more than four decades.

In one of the most potent proofs of its influence, the program included the reading of resolutions from both houses of Philippine Congress to congratulate the JIL on its 45th year. The resolutions, presented in giant picture frames to the thousands at Quirino Grandstand, were signed by House Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri. 

The Senate resolution and its House counterpart called JIL “a catalyst of spiritual revival in the nation” and said it “deserves special recognition from the Filipino people.” 

But in terms of politics, nothing spoke as powerfully as the Villanueva father-and-son tandem itself: Brother Eddie, whose party-list group CIBAC received 673,044 votes in the 2022 elections, earning him a congressional seat; and his son Joel, who ranked ninth out of 12 in the senatorial race, with nearly 18.49 million votes.

With one at the Senate and another in the House, the father and the son, in the same spirit, have either pushed for or opposed legislative measures based on their church’s beliefs.

Lighting, Light, Adult
REVIVAL. Brother Eddie Villanueva, founder of Jesus Is Lord Church, calls for ‘revival’ during their 45th anniversary event at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila, October 14, 2023.

The story of JIL is one of the best examples of the blurred lines between church and state in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country where Catholicism was the state religion for more than three centuries under Spain. The Catholic Church and other religions, such as Iglesia ni Cristo, have also been criticized for interfering in the affairs of the state.

‘DNA of JIL people’

Senator Villanueva, 48, did not shy away from addressing sociopolitical issues at the JIL event.

In a speech, Senator Villanueva spoke of his achievements at the Senate, noting that he was involved not only in moral issues – such as “‘yung ayaw natin na same-sex marriage, ‘yung ayaw natin na diborsyo (the same-sex marriage that we oppose, the divorce proposal that we oppose).” 

The senator said he is also at the forefront of fighting gambling and Philippine offshore gaming operators or POGOs, and advocating the rights of overseas Filipino workers. He noted that, “when God called me to the Senate,” he authored the bill creating the Department of Migrant Workers “for the glory of God.” 

Binabanggit po natin ito sapagkat ito po ang DNA ng JIL people: Tayo po ay parte ng nation-building (I am mentioning this because is the DNA of JIL people: We are part of nation-building),” said Senator Villanueva.

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FOUNDER’S SON. Senate Majority Floor Leader Joel Villanueva, son of evangelist Brother Eddie Villanueva, speaks at the Jesus Is Lord Church’s 45th anniversary event at Quirino Grandstand in Manila, October 14, 2023. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Senator Villanueva, who is the majority floor at the Senate, was a Cabinet member of Benigno Aquino III and later became part of the Senate “supermajority” under Rodrigo Duterte and now Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Nothing political?

In his own speech, the elder Villanueva delved more into the event’s theme of “revival” and lamented how the Philippines is a Christian country only “in words.” He then challenged his followers to a change of heart.

Speaking onstage for around two hours, Villanueva hardly mentioned anything political, unlike in previous JIL anniversaries.

In 2013, on JIL’s 35th anniversary, Villanueva called for a “revolution of righteousness” and called for an end to corruption through pork barrel. At that time, his son Joel was director-general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA under the Aquino administration.

In 2017, in a press conference during the JIL’s 39th anniversary, the preacher slammed extrajudicial killings and blamed these on “scalawag” cops under Duterte’s watch.

In 2018, on the church’s 40th anniversary, he said injustices persist in the country because not everyone recognizes the Lord – an apparent reference to Duterte’s remark that God is “stupid.”

Person, Adult, Female
FERVENT HOPE. Jesus Is Lord members raise their hands in prayer during their church’s 45th anniversary celebration at Quirino Grandstand in Manila, October 14, 2023.

This year, without reference to any specific political issue, Villanueva said one must not enter politics “if your motive is power per se.” 

The preacher said, “Dalawang klase ang politiko, ‘di ba? Isang politiko, for power and money. Wala naman dito. Merong mga politiko, for public service naman, iba naman ‘yon.” (There are two kinds of politicians, right? One kind of politician is for power and money. That kind is not here. There are also politicians who are for public service. That’s a different matter.)

From atheist to church leader

Villanueva founded the JIL in 1978 with an initial 15 student members from the Polytechnic University in the Philippines, a state-run institution. A former atheist and communist, he had converted to Christianity.

The church now estimates it has four million members in the Philippines and at least 55 other countries.

Crowd, Person, People
FORMER ATHEIST. Brother Eddie Villanueva founded Jesus Is Lord in 1978 after converting to Christianity.

Villanueva first exhibited political clout in the 1992 elections after his anointed bet, Fidel V. Ramos, became the country’s first Protestant president. It was race that pitted religious groups, such as the Catholic Church and the Iglesia ni Cristo, against each other in terms of direct and indirect religious endorsements.

His influence waned after 1992, however, after the JIL’s bet Jose de Venecia Jr. lost to actor Joseph Estrada in the 1998 presidential race. 

Years later, Villanueva ran for president but was defeated twice – in 2004 and then in 2010. He also ran for senator but lost in 2013. 

Villanueva said he wanted to provide “alternative” leadership. – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    JIL’s Founder’s statement: “Dalawang klase ang politiko, ‘di ba? Isang politiko, for power and money. Wala naman dito. Merong mga politiko, for public service naman, iba naman ‘yon.” But by DIRECTLY taking part (in the past, the founder had run for President and Senator; now, both father and son have elective political positions in the Legislature) in Philippine politics (unlike that of the Catholic Church and INC), such statement should be subjected to Suspicion.

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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