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[OPINION] Voting for plunderers and murderers because the church says so

I woke up to the news of Bong Revilla cracking the Magic 12. The celebrity, who did virtually nothing compared to how much he plundered while he was senator, is back, voted by millions of Filipinos. (READ: 'How to get away with plunder': Netizens blast Revilla's acquittal with memes)

A chunk of these millions is from the church that endorsed him: Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), whose practice of bloc voting has drawn the ire of many. It is the 3rd largest religion in the Philippines.

In 2016, they supported then-mayor Rodrigo Duterte and vice presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos, both with numerous human rights violations in their portfolio. Yet, the INC stood by these two.

This topic is something I know by heart, because I had been in the INC since I was young. This is something that, if you asked me years ago, I would have defended. This is something that eventually turned me away from something I thought would be my salvation.

My family converted for reasons I will no longer discuss, and I would not say it was my choice. But I learned to accept being a kapatid and even lashed out at detractors online and offline for years.

During college, however, I started to observe my religion more. I saw holes in the church’s rules, such as the bloc vote, which we practiced even for student council elections. (READ: INC and the mentality of exclusivity)

But I had no safe space to discuss my concerns. Doing so at home would trigger a "'Yan ba ang 'tinuturo sa 'yo sa (Is that what they teach you in) [insert college]" rant from my parents. Doing so in the church community leads to people handing me Bible verses I have already heard, saying I should not speak about politics too much lest I want to attract the ears of authorities.

This is ironic when you look at the fact that INC itself, through years of bloc voting, has become a political power, helping form a state that is in favor of them.

Let me further explain how this practice works in the church. Weeks prior to the elections, ministers would lecture on how we must practice unity in all activities, including voting. While I don't know of any means through which they could monitor whether we follow this or not, they would illustrate what would happen to our souls if we don't. In a gist, a single vote could ruin your chances in heaven.

They would then hand us sample ballots with the list of names to vote for in every position, local to national. They never explain how each of these candidates were selected, or if there was a criteria at all. There were never INC candidates to support because they prohibited us from running for posts in the first place, saying politics is too dirty for us.

The only assurance they ever give is that we had to trust in our church administration, because they are appointees of God. 

In 2016, Duterte won. Bongbong almost did. Fast forward two years, INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo was appointed the President's special envoy for OFW concerns.

There is something disgusting about religion having a say in government affairs. A church is built on the followers' faith in God and in their elders. If these elders were to support the government wholeheartedly despite a lot of obvious flaws, the followers would be influenced to do so as well. The latter would no longer call the government out for how it treats its people, because they, too, are appointees of God. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Will religious endorsements work in 2019 polls?)

This elections, they once again went with people who, to say the least, had questionable characteristics. For one, they went with Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, both of which are still on trial for pocketing millions of pesos in public funds. They endorsed Bato dela Rosa, who orchestrated Duterte’s brutal anti-drug operations, and Imee Marcos, the dictator’s daughter who lied about her education throughout the campaign. 

All of INC's endorsees, except Jinggoy, are guaranteed a Senate seat as of writing.

It is one thing to make yourself a political power, create a huge voter base for your endorsees, and not even tell your members why they are giving up their democratic right for these people. It is another to give these votes to candidates who have been proven to violate every tenet they taught us in church. 

What's even more infuriating is how the members defend the bloc vote. They say that this is a statement of unity, which the church builds itself upon. They cite the Bible verse I Corinthians 1:10. They pile on people who criticize. "Mind your own business," they say. "We are just protecting our faith's interests."

They say: We are not the only voters in the country, that we are, in fact, a minority. If you don't like our vote, then form your own bloc.

That is, at the core, what the INC has taught its followers: entitlement. They are entitled because they have reserved slots in heaven come Judgement Day. So it is alright to contribute to the ruin of the nation, because, after all of this, they are not the ones going to hell. 

If this is what these members have become, then they should just come clean. They should not claim that being the minority does not affect the electoral outcome, because while it doesn't look that big in the national results, local candidates are buoyed by their votes. They should not claim that they are, in any sense, doing what's best for anyone other than themselves.

Further, they should not claim that they know what they are doing. They don't know why they are voting for plunderers, murderers, and land grabbers. All they know is that the leaders decide what is best for us and for our God.

Most importantly, they should own up before all the people whom their faith has condemned to hell; not in the next life, but here, in a hell they helped create for everyone else.

As for me, I will never be part of this again. I know a lot of INC voters share the same thoughts; maybe they are just too afraid to speak out and be banished from the church and their family. To them, I say, no one is going to see who you are going to vote for once you get that ballot. Like our leaders would say, God is your only witness.

Which god you want to serve is up to you. – 

*Enrico Roces is a pseudonym. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, we agreed to the request not to reveal the author's identity.