human rights in the Philippines

Anti-Aquino sentiment spreads across INC

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Some members of Iglesia ni Cristo are on Corona's side since they feel Aquino has no debt of gratitude

MANILA, Philippines – He doesn’t closely follow the news, but 17-year-old Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) member Michael (not his real name) has recently formed a bad impression of President Benigno Aquino III, thanks to friends who work in INC.

Marami po akong naririnig na marami po siyang kapatid na tinatanggal po sa mga puwesto sa pamahalaan,” said Michael, referring to their brothers and sisters in the influential religious organization. (I hear a lot of stories about him removing our brothers and sisters from government offices.)

From the INC, 2 prominent members recently find themselves in the news – axed National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) chief Magtanggol Gatdula and lawyer Serafin Cuevas, who heads the defense team of impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Aquino sacked Gatdula in January for an alleged kidnapping and extortion attempt involving a Japanese woman, while the President is also at the forefront of the campaign to remove Cuevas’ client from office.

Pero po yung bumili ng CD na pirated, hindi niya po tinanggal,” he said, referring to presidential adviser Ronald Llamas, who was caught on camera buying fake DVDs. (But he didn’t remove the one who bought pirated CDs.) 

It is interesting to note that Michael, a high school student, doesn’t even know Gatdula’s name. His sentiments seem to reflect those of other members of the INC, which will hold a Grand Evangelical Mission on Tuesday, February 28, in what is seen to be a show of force against Aquino.

Quoting INC officials who refused to be named, various news reports say the church is disgusted with Aquino’s supposedly “dictatorial” tendencies.

Rappler has tried but failed to reach INC spokesperson Bienvenido Santiago as of posting time.

Ironically, Aquino was the church’s anointed presidential candidate in the 2010 elections as INC members vote only those whom their leaders endorse, under pain of punishment and as a matter of principle.

This situation reflects the problem with campaign set-ups that rely, to a significant extent, on religious groups’ endorsements. While bloc voting isn’t practiced in the Catholic Church, some of its leaders have also reportedly pressured politicians in exchange for the so-called, though non-existent, Catholic vote.

‘Destroying’ INC

INC members whom Rappler spoke with – but whose identities they wouldn’t want to divulge out of deference to their ministers – denied the Grand Evangelical Mission is a prayer rally for Corona.

They said the INC regularly holds evangelical missions, though not always as grand as Tuesday’s event, to proclaim the church’s faith and invite new members.

While denying that Tuesday’s event is pro-Corona, Michael said he and his fellow church members generally side with the embattled Chief Justice.

Ayaw po namin siyang mapababa sa kinalagyan niya po ngayon… dahil po magiging ano po yung bansa natin, parang Katoliko na talaga. Parang pinapababa po ni Noynoy ang Iglesia eh,” he said.

(We don’t want him to step down from office… because our country will be… it seems to be too Catholic already. It appears like Noynoy wants to put the Iglesia down.)

Aquino’s mother, the late Corazon, was a devout member of the Catholic Church – whose doctrines and practices the INC has sharply criticized.

No debt of gratitude?

Raphael, an INC member in his 50s, said Aquino’s actions against his church’s members show a lack of debt of gratitude. “Parang hindi niya naalala ang pagkakaisa ng Iglesia na inano sa kanya,” he said. (It seems like he doesn’t remember the unity that the Iglesia threw behind him.)

“Halimbawa ikaw, nagawan ka ng mabuti ng isang tao, hindi ba tatanaw ka ng utang na loob?” Raphael added. (For example, if someone does a good deed for you, wouldn’t you pay a debt of gratitude?)

Nevertheless, Michael said he and his fellow members shrug off Aquino’s actions against them.

Kasi alam ko naman po na hindi niya kayang tibagin ang Iglesia eh. May pagkakaisa naman po ang Iglesia eh… nagtutulung-tulong po kami. Kung ano po ang iniatas ng tagapamahala, sinusunod po namin,” he said.

(Because I know that he cannot destroy the Iglesia. The Iglesia has unity in the first place… we help each other. Whatever our leader commands us to do, we obey.)

For his part, INC member Gabriel said he doesn’t really care about INC and its members in politics.

Sila-sila lang ‘yon eh. Anong makukuha natin? Matalo-manalo, anong makukuha natin? May premyo tayo? Wala,” he said. (That’s just among them. What will we get out of it? Win or lose, what will we get? Is there a prize for us? None.) –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email