MANY who had expected to cash in on the recent Iglesia ni Cristo march on EDSA/Shaw Boulevard ended with a sad face, as though they had lost all their life savings at Ricky Razon’s casino. One rather audacious hustler who had committed various groups, without their knowledge, to join the rally was visibly stupefied by the non-appearance of the guys and groups he apparently had wanted to exhibit as his own trophies. The INC organizers themselves did not want any strangers mixing in; using a common counter sign, the marchers were continuously reminded to make sure no non-members stood next to them. Thus, aside from Malacañang, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and the Liberal Party (LP), no outsiders were able to use the march for their own ends. It was their show all along, at the victim’s own expense.
Even the expelled INC minister Isaias Samson, whose charges of serious illegal detention, harassment, grave threats and coercion against eight of the 12 members of the Sanggunian, the INC’s all-powerful administrative body, had triggered the protest rally, was himself used by Malacañang to hoodwink the INC. The INC was made to believe that De Lima was dying to file the non-bailable charge of serious illegal detention against the Sanggunian members, and possibly even against INC executive minister Ka Eduardo Manalo himself. This line was excessively hyped, including the last part.
Authoritative sources have since revealed that De Lima never gave nor intended to give the Samsons’ complaint any special treatment beyond what she normally gave every complaint reaching her. But she was “directed” to make it appear that she was “prioritizing” the complaint, just to see how the politically sensitive, bloc-voting INC would react. It was a pure political “psywar stunt,” reportedly concocted by a group using the services of an overstaying American consultant who used to work with then president Joseph Ejercito Estrada, and who is now identified with the boys of Mar Roxas.
The group was also reportedly responsible for spreading the rumor that even Ka Eduardo might be impleaded in the complaint. Samson has vehemently denied this rumor, but it was vigorously fanned by Malacañang, LP, and even some INC members. When the INC began to mobilize, the rumor proved helpful in calling upon otherwise lukewarm “kapatids,” especially in the provinces, to join the protest. Thus, many joined not because the eight Sanggunian members were in peril of being arrested and jailed on a non-bailable charge, but because they worried and feared for their head. It was all political bluff.
From Friday through Sunday, some 20,000 INC members jammed EDSA/Shaw. This wasn’t quite half the size of INC’s total membership in Metro Manila alone, which some INC sources place at some 150,000 minimum. The crowd was actually bussed in mostly from the provinces, but was big enough to create the gridlock that caused motorists to curse on the road, and many to slam the INC on Twitter and Facebook. When the INC apologized for causing the public so much inconvenience, Malacañang jumped in to press the organizers to end their march. At Camp Crame, Roxas reportedly told INC evangelist general Bienvenido Santiago the marchers would be dispersed and their leaders arrested if they did not quickly disband.
Eager to win some brownie points from the INC, some politicians argued that traffic had always been a problem under Aquino, whether or not there were marches on EDSA/Shaw. So don’t take it against the INC. They failed to consider that the public will always put up with any inconvenience for a noble public cause—-a protest rally against the criminal mismanagement and neglect of the MRT; against the slow response to the humanitarian disaster caused by superstorm Haiyan/Yolanda; against the President’s stand-down order that led to the massacre of 44 police commandos at Mamasapano; against the unpunished plunder of the P150-billion DAP and the P10-billion PDAF, which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional and void; against the looming conspiracy to stage another hocus-PCOS election in 2016, etc. But the tired office worker trying to rush home from work after a long day, but kept on the road for another two hours or so because of some INC members talking about the problems of the INC has a right to ask, “What’s in this for us or for the country?”
On Saturday afternoon, authoritative sources revealed that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa met with the INC head Eduardo Manila at INC Central Headquarters. This was promptly reported in this space, but the content of the closed door discussion was never disclosed to the press. If any agreement had been reached, and anyone had expected a Malacanang announcement that would allow the INC to tell its members to go home the next hour or the next day, nothing of the sort came on Sunday. To the contrary, it seemed to be all quiet before the storm.
At midday, I got a call from an INC “insider” who said the sect’s highest leadership had ordered a no-holds-barred attack on the Aquino regime. Non-INC members who had been watching from the sidelines would be welcome to join and raise all the issues they would like to raise, he said. Until then, the protesters and their spokesmen had been limited to talking about the allegedly “extraordinary attention” De Lima was giving the Samsons’ complaint. But they were careful not to criticize PNoy for anything, not even to ask him to sack De Lima for her alleged bias against the Sanggunian, or to ask her directly to step down.
This time, my informant said, a non-INC political operator who had tried to project himself as capable of packaging a coup against Aquino, would be calling a news conference to expose PNoy’s alleged PDAF dealings with Janet Lim Napoles, the purported pork barrel queen, when he was still a congressman. I told my informant I first heard of that story about a year ago, and had seen nothing to substantiate it until now. I wouldn’t bet a single cent on it, I said. True to my misgivings, the designated individual tried to insert himself into the rally as a speaker, but failed to make his so-called “expose.”
That Sunday evening, PNoy convened an emergency meeting of select members of his Cabinet at the Pangarap guesthouse. In attendance, according to reports, were Ochoa, Roxas, De Lima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, the AFP Chief of Staff and the PNP Chief. They discussed the situation on EDSA/Shaw and Ochoa’s meeting with the INC leadership. At the end of the meeting, PNoy had a conference call with Manalo, Palace insiders said.
Aquino reportedly told Manalo the charges against the Sanggunian (which have not even been subjected to any preliminary investigation as of now) would not be pursued; De Lima herself would be resigning in due course, together with all the other Cabinet members who would be running for the Senate. In exchange for its benevolence, Malacañang asked the INC to immediately end its rally, and commit to support Mar Roxas for President against any and all comers in 2016. For Malacañang, getting the INC to commit support for Roxas was the real end game.
PNoy had earlier anointed Roxas as his candidate, to fulfill a commitment he made in 2010 upon his mother Cory Aquino’s death when he asked Roxas, a long declared presidential aspirant, to give way to his presidential bid. Roxas then ran as vice president, but lost to Jejomar C. Binay, Erap Estrada’s running mate. Roxas is generally perceived to be the weakest of all the wannabes. “He could lose unopposed,” says one critic; “he would surely lose, even if he does not enter the race,” says another. The INC, which votes as a bloc, and is not known to support losers, is well aware of this. So Manalo reportedly told Aquino the INC could support Roxas if he manages to poll not less than 20 percent in the final popularity “surveys.”
It is a conditional rather than firm commitment.
But on Monday morning, the crowd quickly vacated the rally site after general evangelist Bien Santiago announced an agreement had been reached, except for those from the peripheries who stayed on until the opening of the big malls in the area, into whose bosom they eventually disappeared. Roxas has since tried to overwhelm the public by rolling out the first alleged survey showing him on top of everybody else. It is as bad a joke as Senate President Frank Drilon saying Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares would be running for President despite her constitutional disqualification and defects; but we have to brace ourselves for more of it.
The ratings of so-called front runners are generally based on completely non-transparent surveys, run by the propaganda fraudsters and those who pay them to supply the needed results. These are promoted by the complicit media, with the ignorant and gullible public as its victims. Not to be duped by these, the INC normally conducts its own political nose count. According to some insiders, the last INC internal survey on presidential preferences, conducted before the present crisis threatened to permanently split the sect into two rival camps, put Sen. Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr., as the top preference of the “kapatids” way above all the rest.
Among the present probables, only Marcos could become the common choice of the two camps, the sources said. He alone, according to this view, could help preserve the sect’s ability to guarantee a common set of candidates for all its members. But Marcos is not even a declared presidential candidate.
However, the INC’s most serious problem is not the poverty of presidential choices, which is also the nation’s problem. It goes much deeper, into the duty of its members to follow the church’s leaders in choosing whom to elect in the next election. Since the founding of this church, its members have always voted as one; no member has ever openly questioned this disciplinary practice. But it might be one of the more profound effects of the split within the church after the expulsion of the executive minister’s own mother and brother and other ministers. A crisis of obedience could ensue, as suggested by the rather poor response from Metro Manila to the call for support from the embattled Sanggunian members.
An elderly church member said he believes the INC could become much stronger if, while insisting on the unity of its members with respect to religious doctrine, it allowed them complete freedom in making their individual electoral choices. This would be akin to the practice of the other faiths, famously expressed in St. Augustine’s classic formulation, “in necesariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas”— in the one thing necessary (faith), unity; in things where there are many valid options, liberty; in all things, charity. The elder said he was praying that the present crisis would thrust his church into the spring waters of reform. We wish this church the best.
Back to the 2016 election and the problems the INC shares with the nation, the dearth of worthy presidential choices is a profoundly serious concern. But our first fundamental problem is that while our people are eager to have another election, the government has no real desire or willingness to conduct a truly clean, honest and transparent election. Aquino and Roxas simply want to remain in power. The “election” will be a farce—-that seems to be a given. And the people, while aching to have an election, will not accept its results. They are waiting to reject them. Thus the nation could begin by holding an “election,” and conclude with a revolution.