I WATCHED In awe as the members of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) came out in droves insisting that we care about what was going on with its church. It’s the first time – at least if memory serves – that we have become privy to what goes on in this organization, other than the fancy weddings of celebrities that we’ve seen.
Yes, Gladys Reyes is celebrity to me.
The Manalo mystery
It makes for an exciting movie actually, in the tradition of 10,000 Hours – that Robin Padilla movie inspired by the time when Ping Lacson was on the run.
Because what does one make of that (in)famous YouTube video of the brother of the leader of INC, declaring that he was being kept against his will in the house he lived in with his mother and sister? What of the mother, whose aged voice implored INC leader Eduardo V. Manalo to speak with her. What of those cryptic questions about ministers gone missing, or being kept against their will?
This might have been the first time we could even form an opinion about INC, without feeling like we were stepping on their freedom as religious institution. Because even when it was later revealed that the Manalo siblings and their mother were only being told to leave the house – instead of being detained there against their will – it was still beyond me how anyone at all could put an aged and ailing mother under such distress.
It didn’t help that what we were being told was that electricity and water services had been cut; and that no one could leave the house lest they be disallowed from returning.
Cut to the story of the missing – and escaped – minister. One Isaias Samson Jr., an ex-INC minister, who has alleged that he and his family were illegally detained by eight members of the INC leadership, aka the Sanggunian. Both Samson and Manalo’s brother Angel have spoken about corruption within the INC, putting into question the credibility of the current Sanggunian.
Yup, an infinitely more exciting movie than the Felix Manalo biopic could ever be.
And the plot thickens
It is the first time that so much has been revealed to the public about the workings of the INC – and from those within the organization’s higher echelons. It’s why it is difficult to ignore the current leader’s brother and mother; it’s why it is hard not to listen to what ex-Minister Samson has to say.
It is also why watching INC members assembling in such a public space, declaring in such a public way their love for their current leader, seemed like nothing but an attempt to show us all that a majority of INC followers stand firm on one side of the fence. They stand by the current leadership and no one else, YouTube videos and a case of illegal detention be damned.
One wonders if the INC leadership knew that this was risky business. And no, not because a majority in the country would be inconvenienced, which might mean a public less sympathetic to their cause. It was risky because that stage, the gen sets, the free snacks and water, the teary-eyed audience, the hosts that were wont to be hysterical – all these could be the undoing of this organization which was doing these not in the name of God, nor the name of some supreme abstract being. Instead they were speaking of and for one leader, EVM! EVM! they chanted, reminding us all that at the heart of this was not even the issue of the separation between religion and state, but really the protection of one Eduardo V. Manalo.
It was fanaticism like no other. Fascinating to watch. But also really scary.
Who else is INC?
At some point it became clear that where the INC is concerned, it’s them versus us, them versus whoever so much as puts into question the leader they so love, them versus the rest of non-INC Philippines.
Which forces us to ask the question: who are the members of INC in government? Recently, it has been said that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa is an INC member – which he has yet to confirm. But pray tell, who else is a member of the INC in the president’s cabinet? In the various departments? In the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines?
Because if there’s anything the INC gathering of last weekend revealed, it’s that when push comes to shove – and when shit hits the fan – these people who are in positions of power in government will not choose to do what is right and lawful. Because they can only choose to do what is right by the INC.
In this instance, how many policemen could not have dispersed the crowd even if they were ordered to do so? How many local officials could not deny them a permit? How many local officials had no choice but to say yes to this gathering for one man?
It seems that if there’s any separation at all that we must now demand, it’s the separation of government office and INC membership, because for the first time it has been revealed how in the end it is being INC member that will take precedence over any other role they might play in government office or police service.
It seems that if there is anything we needed to learn from last weekend’s grand display of love for INC’s Manalo, it’s that we must now demand that our public officials declare their INC affiliations on their curriculum vitae. At least then we’ll know who they are truly loyal to. And nope, it can’t be nation, nor public service.