PAYDAY Fridays are tough acts to have especially with the gridlock that has characterized Metro Manila traffic. But it became messy when the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) started its own version of occupy bottlenecks. First was Padre Faura, Manila, a known checkpoint because you have there the Supreme Court, Department of Justice, University of the Philippines-Manila and the UP-PGH, among others.
After two days of OccupyPadreFaura, the INC decided to transfer to a major road artery, EDSA. Timing was probably good for the organizers because they really stalled traffic but more importantly, it caught off guard the Aquino administration, local governments and the police. From the Ortigas Central Business District at 8:30 pm, a private security group insisted that all vehicles could not pass to Guadix Road and would have to go straight to ADB Avenue and right to Shaw Boulevard. A 15-minute drive took us two hours and another 45 minutes to reach Greenhills in a round about manner.
Within minutes, the line of vehicles from Shaw corner San Miguel reached up to Poveda and then you saw masses of people walking toward Shaw while lines of stranded passengers grew by the minute since INC blocked EDSA from Ortigas to Shaw. Nobody can give us any reason what was going on until we opened our radios and voila, it was now OccupyEDSA for the INC.
As a citizen of this Republic, we believe in the freedom of speech and religion. In fact, we have a tradition of fighting for dissent and assembly. But those are not the issues here. The issue at the heart of this total breakdown was the rule of law. The Philippines after all is a country of laws and not of religious blocs. You may have an issue with Aquino, go do it where there is minimum disruption and, to the administration, can you at least put some order in EDSA? Yes, you were surprised but that does not mean you should be paralyzed or perennially reactive.
It is something you know how because EDSA has been cordoned off several times by phalanxes of police, barbed wires, fire trucks and container vans. Why do you allow INC to rule over you? The last SONA was like a garrison state going to Batasan but here, maximum tolerance meant total breakdown? The whole EDSA-Shaw became one big latrine, indeed, it’s more fun in the Philippines!
Then Friday led to Saturday mobilizations, peaking at night with sleep overs and then Sunday early evening, again INC members were massing from North and South, causing standstill traffic. When Sunday midnight arrived, INC through its spokesman said they would leave in the morning to transfer to Manila. Amazing! And the Aquino government has been hostaged since Friday. It took the mad netizens and a concophony of hashtags for the palace to release two photos of the president meeting his Cabinet to assuage the angry observers on the missing leader. After a few hours when nothing happened to restore order, some netizens were planning to restore order themselves.
And what was the cause of such crowd herding from a religious bloc who has been a solid source of political power since time immemorial? It was allegedly the plan of the Secretary of Justice to file illegal detention cases against the leadership and the Sanggunian of the INC. Instead of preparing for the legal fight, the INC decided to adhere to the law of the jungle. Brazen.
Parked buses along EDSA, create disarray, cause paralysis and the whole thing will compound mobility of people and goods. Yes, in any rally, disruption is the measurement of success. Here though, the legal process is also being hijacked. Yes, the Aquino government has been known to be vindictive, a true proponent of selective justice and being the sample of such practice has been the norm. But the case has been at the preliminary level yet and the pleadings have not been filed in court. Imagine if they had been, we would have a grand mess at the way INC is misbehaving.
The alleged illegal detention was a smoke and mirror operations. As early as the Corona impeachment case, INC has flexed its muscle in that gigantic show of raw power in Luneta. Why? Because the Aquino administration poked INC and threatened to pursue cases from money laundering to cancellation of government contracts and delaying appointments of INC members in government. Yes, that is how powerful the INC is. Who blinks first, wins. And in that round the Aquino government blinked and the threat to the political players by the INC to vote accordingly vanished. Round one went to the Aquino government. Corona was impeached.
And so INC went their usual merry way until the Customs issue came to the public sphere. The reformer in Customs Commissioner John Sevilla got fed up with pressures coming from the direction of the political and religious worlds to reportedly do fund raising for 2016 and to appoint an INC-backed lawyer. And true to form INC has established connections in the whole bureaucracy. The norm is we supported you in the elections, deliver! The gung ho attitude of Sevilla to restore Customs to the good graces of reform got decimated. Round two to INC.
In this instant, the power play is now about 2016. Break INC, it loses its power. Break INC, you level the playing field. Why the need to break INC? Because candidate A cannot benefit from its endorsement if INC decides to support another. The deeper you go on this 2016 and INC, the sordid the details become. The construction proved to be the gem of controversy with its prohibitive construction costs, hazy deals with government from landbanking (conversion of agricultural land), water supply, violation of the rules on ingress and egress along NLEX, and so much more. The lifestyles of INC leaders became fodder for the ever hyper news cycle. Add the family conflict and you have the video of Angel Manalo and Ka Tenny, the sibling and mother respectively of erstwhile INC head, executive minister Eduardo Manalo. They were expelled on July 23, a few days ahead of INC’s centennial last July 27. Also expelled were the executive minister’s other siblings, Marco Eraño Manalo and Lolita “Lottie” Manalo Hemedez.
It cannot be an internal matter when laws of the land are set aside. From the actuations of the police then, on preventing a crime, the operation of a private armed group of INC, to the gathering of the mob in EDSA, has been a worrisome engagement. For 3 nights and 4 days government was paralyzed. Who blinked? Aquino did and we shall see the aftermath of such an agreement. INC wins round three.
According to NSO, there are a total of 2,251,941 members of the INC, a 28% increase, from 1,762,845 in 2000. INC members comprise of least 110 nationalities in 6 continents. Be skeptical about the numbers for religious groups tend to overstate the obvious.
As Edmund Burke once said, “the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” INC has proven that they will continue to outlive political incumbents, that’s naked power!