human rights defenders

Iglesia’s show of force

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The INC rally on Tuesday is seen as a show of support for Corona and a coming out party for its new heir, Eduardo Manalo

MANILA, Philippines – While the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has stressed that their gathering on Tuesday, February 28, has nothing to do with politics, it will inevitably demonstrate the influence of the group’s relatively new leader, Eduardo Manalo.

The 56-year-old Manalo succeeded his late father, the 84-year-old Eraño or “Ka Erdie,” as INC’s executive minister in 2009. “Ka Erdie” held the leadership post for over 4 decades.

Eraño, who served as executive minister from 1963 until his death in 2009, had influenced the course of Philippine politics by deciding whom INC members should vote, and by supporting key figures like the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and ousted former President Joseph Estrada.

Eraño would have also chosen Estrada in the 2010 elections since the group had endorsed him in the 1998 elections anyway, according to the book Ambition Destiny Victory: Stories from a Presidential Election.

“But after the 84-year-old leader passed away, his son Eduardo, who was more sympathetic to Noynoy, held sway over the final decision,” the book said, referring to the influential group’s decision to support then Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s presidential candidacy.

The INC-backed Aquino, who has occupied the presidency for almost 2 years, is now the subject of what is seen to be the religious group’s show of force under Manalo’s leadership.

Even without expressed political motives, at the very least, the Grand Evangelical Mission and Bible Exposition at the Quirino Grandstand at 5 pm Tuesday will show Manalo’s clout over the members of the 97-year-old organization, which politicians usually court for votes.

The Palace has downplayed the event.

Dismayed at PNoy

Days before the gathering, INC members told Rappler their group is dismayed at Aquino’s actions against their religious brothers and sisters, and at the President’s supposed lack of debt of gratitude after they supported him in the elections.

POLITICALLY INFLUENTIAL. The 97-year-old Iglesia ni Cristo will give indications of its influence in Tuesday's "grand" event at the Quirino Grandstand. Photo by Michael Josh Villanueva

The members referred to 2 prominent INC members who recently find themselves in an antagonistic relationship with Aquino – axed National Bureau of Investigation chief Magtanggol Gatdula and lawyer Serafin Cuevas, who heads the defense team of 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.

On the eve of the INC gathering, Rappler also reported that Aquino treats religious leaders differently, “careful not to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who used her power to curry favors with Church leaders.” (Read Aries Rufo’s take on President Aquino’s relations with Church leaders here.)

Courting INC

Historically, Filipino politicians have courted the INC for the votes of its members, who, under pain of punishment, are expected to adhere to whomever their leaders endorse.

In exchange, the INC reportedly expects their supported politicians to return the favor, sending them short lists of INC members whom they want to be appointed to government posts.

The INC has boasted of 4 million members from among their group nationwide – a little less than 4 percent of the 48,275,594 voters in the 2010 elections. But insiders claim that the 4 million represents the entire INC population, including the non-voters, Newsbreak has reported.

Based on previous election exit polls, 70% of INC members follow their leaders’ dictates on whom to vote, according to Ambition Destiny Victory. “In a contest expected to be tight and unpredictable, votes like these can spell the difference between victory and defeat.”

Meanwhile, some leaders of the Roman Catholic Church – the religion of most Filipinos – have also reportedly pressured politicians in exchange for the so-called, though non-existent, Catholic vote. –

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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