[The author, a prize-winning and critically acclaimed filmmaker, is an Iglesia ni Cristo member who steadily worshipped for four years. This makes him eminently qualified to write a well-rounded review of the blockbuster film, "Manalo.”]
“Alam mo naman sa Iglesia, ultimong pag-utot kailangang ihingi mo ng pahintulot (You very well know in Iglesia, you need to get permission even for such things as farting),” remarked an INC District Cultural Officer one afternoon when we were finalizing plans for a short film intended for entry in a district-wide film festival.
This concern is fundamental in making an honest-to-goodness evaluation of the movie “Manalo,” hyped over the past two weeks or so as breaking all movie exhibition records, both local and foreign; its premiere showing at the Philippine Arena drew a reportedly record attendance of 43,000,\ immediately meriting a Guinness Book of World Records Award as the largest ever all over the world and in all history.
It goes without saying, if “Heneral Luna” deserved my review, then all the more should “Manalo.” But then there’s this singular hindrance which immediately seems to be a dead weight heaped on my shoulder. Inside Iglesia ni Cristo, freedom of speech is a luxury not even reserved for ministers on the lower ranks of the INC bureaucracy; for the multitudes of the membership, their only prerogative is to say “Opo, opo, opo.”
And I am an Iglesia ni Cristo!
How do I go about reviewing the film when my rights are limited to achieving supreme acquiescence: “Opo, opo, opo?” To say otherwise is to commit a most heinous offense: “Di pagpapasakop (defiance, simply put).” And the punishment for the sin is horrendous. The last “teksto (term for ‘sermon’)” I listened to told of a Biblical passage in which in the olden Iglesia ni Cristo a directive was agreed upon for members to sell all their belongings and offer the proceeds to God. The story went that the couple Ananias and his wife set aside for themselves a certain portion of those proceeds. In punishment for the offense, God killed the couple. The minister cited the case of Ananias and his wife as depicting the sin of “di pagpapasakop” and proceeded to stress repeatedly: “Ano ang ginagawa ng Diyos sa mga hindi nagpapasakop (What does God do to those who refuse to obey)? Pinapatay (They are killed!) Pinapatay!” That emphasis sent chills running down my spine and since then I refused to listen anymore.
I’ve gone through so much travail in life that I’ve been divested of all my worldly possessions. What’s left with me is bare self-respect and the right to speak, and if these were still denied me, then what’s there still left to live for?
In INC, the words of its Prime Minister are the words of God. The movie “Manalo” says it all.
Manalo is depicted as hailing from a poor family steeped in Catholicism. A priest, whom the family calls Amo (a term certainly couched in derisive connotation), takes interest on the boy Felix and brings him to Manila, there to pursue studies. At the same time, he is reared as a sacristan of Amo, thereby honing him up on the values of a devout and priestly Catholic. Into his maturity, he is attracted to a series of study sessions in Protestant churches (Baptist, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Presbyterian, Misyon Kristiyana, among others). He is thus depicted as a zealous believer in God but unable to find God’s one true church. His particular condemnation of the Catholic Church finds a most profound expression in his staunch objection to the Catholic priest Amo giving his dying father extreme unction, resulting in the man dying without receiving the last sacrament. Felix is castigated both by his mother and Amo but insists that the last sacrament, like worship of graven images, is not Biblical, therefore, unnecessary and evil.
It is in this episode of his father’s death that “Manalo” raises the question: How is man to be saved?
Thus Felix goes on a circuitous journey from one church to another. Into his marriage with Ata (his first wife Tomasa dies earlier), his search for the true church becomes most intense (or that’s how it is supposed to be). He spends three days closeted in his room scanning the Bible for answers to his questions. At the end of this episode, he barges out of his room, announcing to Ata that he has found the church he has been looking for: Iglesia ni Cristo. And he expresses a resolve to preach this finding to the world. Ata points out that they have no church to preach in, a contention echoed by colleagues in the churches he formerly belonged to. Felix argues that he does not have to belong to any church, or any of the existing churches anyway; what he will be preaching is the Church of Christ as stated in the Bible.
Thus Felix sets out to preach: “At sinasabi ko sayo, ikaw ay Pedro, at sa batong ito ay itatayo ko ang aking Iglesia (I tell you, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church). Kaninong Iglesia (Whose Church)? Iglesia ni Kristo (the Church of Christ).” And he proceeds to prop up his first quotation with Romans 16:16: “Mangagbatian kayo ng banal na halik. Binabati kayo ng lahat ng Iglesia ni Cristo (Greet one another with a holy kiss. You are greeted by all churches of Christ.”
It is enough for Felix to cite these Biblical verses to convince followers that Iglesia ni Cristo is the one true church in the Bible. From a small simple congregation in Felix’s native barrio of Tipas, Taguig, his preaching reaches far and wide so that by July 27, 1914 he is able to register it as a religion with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Five years later, he is prayed over by leading ministers of other churches including the Catholic Church, like so many kings solemnizing his formal elevation to knighthood.
Unwittingly, with its admission of the latter event, “Manalo” reinforces a contention by INC’s most vociferous antagonist, Ang Dating Daan, that INC has been lying about its birth being on the 27th of July 1914 – the date of the outbreak of World War 1. It is INC’s doctrine that World War I is the realization of a Biblical prophecy, Mark 13:8: “Countries will fight each other, kingdoms will attack one another.” In indoctrinating people to membership in the sect, INC cites World War 1 as proof that Iglesia ni Cristo is the one true church as prophesied in the Bible. Though “Manalo” does not verbalize this claim, it at least underscores a news report about WW1 breaking out just as Felix is registering INC at the SEC. But Ang Dating Daan has been making its own underscoring through a UNTV program, X-Men, that a news account of the knighthood of Felix by several head ministers of protestant churches and the Catholic Church in 1918 proves Manalo had been baptizing members already in 1913, and the July 27, 1914 registration of INC was deliberately made at the same time as the outbreak of the WW1 so as to make it appear as the realization of the Biblical prophecy about the beginning of a new messenger or Sugo – Felix Y. Manalo.
Part 2 will come out tomorrow Friday October 16.
The author, Mauro Gia Samonte, is an accomplished movie journalist who for a time ran a column in the Lifestyle-Entertainment section of The Manila Times. A known filmmaker, he has more than 50 movie titles to his credit. He has won two best screenplay awards, one from the Metro Manila Film Festival and another from the Film Academy of the Philippines.