Church group ends five-day protest that paralysed Manila

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Iglesia ni Christo protestsMore than 20,000 members of politically influential Philippine Christian sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) on August 31 ended five days of street protests that set off huge traffic jams in the Philippine capital Manila and sparked outrage from motorists.

The group has been protesting since August 27 over what it sees as government interference in church affairs. On August 28, they blocked Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA, paralysing the main thoroughfare in Manila with the crowd swelling to 20,000 people over the weekend, police said.

However, on August, 31 INC leader Chief Evangelist Bienvenido Santiago said without elaborating that his group had ended their protests peacefully after holding talks with government officials.

“The Iglesia and the government have talked and explained their sides,” Santiago said. “Everybody is now calm.”

The INC began protesting after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima took steps to investigate a criminal complaint filed by an expelled senior church member who had taken legal action against INC leaders, complaining of illegal detention, a criminal case that could lead to the arrest of some INC officials. Santiago did not refer to the case in his statement.

The 101-year-old religious group wields political clout because its large numbers of followers vote as a bloc in national elections. Politicians have courted its vote, and administration and opposition candidates eyeing next year’s presidential elections issued carefully crafted statements on the protests.

The secretive church has been wracked by infighting, with some of its ranking leaders facing and denying allegations of abducting members critical of the leaders and of misusing funds.

INC is a Unitarian church and follows Christian primitivism ideology by proclaiming itself to be the one true church, that it is the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus and that all other Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant sects, are apostates. The INC has a long history of conflicts with other Christian groups in the Philippines

Church of Christ
Headquarters and central worship building of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) in Quezon City, Metro Manila

Headquartered in a huge complex in Quezon City, the INC has approximately two million members worldwide in more than 5,500 congregations in 102 countries. It is run by influential and wealthy Manolo family and operates a hospital, a university and an aid organisation.

It has its own construction company which builds the INC’s usually massive worship buildings all over the globe, and it has also has founded the Association of Computer Technologists and Information Volunteers whose members perform computer-related assistance to the church. The INC is also a large land owner in the Philippines.

The INC also said to have some sort of its own internal defense and intelligence service, as well as between 1,000 and 2,000 high-caliber firearms in its armory, apart from guns owned by individual members who include soldiers and policemen.

Politically, the INC and former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos had close relations. It was Marcos and his wife Imelda who catapulted the INC, then a minority church, to a position of parity with the dominant Catholic and the various Protestant churches in the 1980s. It was also during the Marcos era that the INC achieved phenomenal expansion.

The Marcoses provided lucrative government contracts for INC-linked companies, among them Amalgamated Managment and Development Corporation, to produce official documents such as driving licenses and vehicle number plates. The company’s biggest shareholders were brothers and senior INC members Serafin Felimon Cuevas. The church stood by Marcos unto his twilight days.

Under President Joseph Estrada, Serafin Cuevas was made Justice Secretary. INC members have also been appointed as official to the Land Transportation Office, the organisation that awards the contracts for license plates and the like.

The relation between the church and suceeding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which it opposed, was far worse. Shortly before the 2001 election, the two tanks and six trucks full of soldiers were sent to surround the church compound in Quezon City to prevent an alleged destabilisation plot by the INC.

Incumbent President Benigno Aquino III has been demure towards the sect, but relationships soured lately after he repeatedly ignored a nomination by the influential church for top government posts.

As for the upcoming 2016 elections, the bloc-voting sect is also said to be willing to support the anticipated presidential bid of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son. If Bongbong is not running, they would reportedly support independent candidate Senator Grace Poe.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

More than 20,000 members of politically influential Philippine Christian sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) on August 31 ended five days of street protests that set off huge traffic jams in the Philippine capital Manila and sparked outrage from motorists.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Iglesia ni Christo protestsMore than 20,000 members of politically influential Philippine Christian sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) on August 31 ended five days of street protests that set off huge traffic jams in the Philippine capital Manila and sparked outrage from motorists.

The group has been protesting since August 27 over what it sees as government interference in church affairs. On August 28, they blocked Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA, paralysing the main thoroughfare in Manila with the crowd swelling to 20,000 people over the weekend, police said.

However, on August, 31 INC leader Chief Evangelist Bienvenido Santiago said without elaborating that his group had ended their protests peacefully after holding talks with government officials.

“The Iglesia and the government have talked and explained their sides,” Santiago said. “Everybody is now calm.”

The INC began protesting after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima took steps to investigate a criminal complaint filed by an expelled senior church member who had taken legal action against INC leaders, complaining of illegal detention, a criminal case that could lead to the arrest of some INC officials. Santiago did not refer to the case in his statement.

The 101-year-old religious group wields political clout because its large numbers of followers vote as a bloc in national elections. Politicians have courted its vote, and administration and opposition candidates eyeing next year’s presidential elections issued carefully crafted statements on the protests.

The secretive church has been wracked by infighting, with some of its ranking leaders facing and denying allegations of abducting members critical of the leaders and of misusing funds.

INC is a Unitarian church and follows Christian primitivism ideology by proclaiming itself to be the one true church, that it is the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus and that all other Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant sects, are apostates. The INC has a long history of conflicts with other Christian groups in the Philippines

Church of Christ
Headquarters and central worship building of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) in Quezon City, Metro Manila

Headquartered in a huge complex in Quezon City, the INC has approximately two million members worldwide in more than 5,500 congregations in 102 countries. It is run by influential and wealthy Manolo family and operates a hospital, a university and an aid organisation.

It has its own construction company which builds the INC’s usually massive worship buildings all over the globe, and it has also has founded the Association of Computer Technologists and Information Volunteers whose members perform computer-related assistance to the church. The INC is also a large land owner in the Philippines.

The INC also said to have some sort of its own internal defense and intelligence service, as well as between 1,000 and 2,000 high-caliber firearms in its armory, apart from guns owned by individual members who include soldiers and policemen.

Politically, the INC and former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos had close relations. It was Marcos and his wife Imelda who catapulted the INC, then a minority church, to a position of parity with the dominant Catholic and the various Protestant churches in the 1980s. It was also during the Marcos era that the INC achieved phenomenal expansion.

The Marcoses provided lucrative government contracts for INC-linked companies, among them Amalgamated Managment and Development Corporation, to produce official documents such as driving licenses and vehicle number plates. The company’s biggest shareholders were brothers and senior INC members Serafin Felimon Cuevas. The church stood by Marcos unto his twilight days.

Under President Joseph Estrada, Serafin Cuevas was made Justice Secretary. INC members have also been appointed as official to the Land Transportation Office, the organisation that awards the contracts for license plates and the like.

The relation between the church and suceeding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which it opposed, was far worse. Shortly before the 2001 election, the two tanks and six trucks full of soldiers were sent to surround the church compound in Quezon City to prevent an alleged destabilisation plot by the INC.

Incumbent President Benigno Aquino III has been demure towards the sect, but relationships soured lately after he repeatedly ignored a nomination by the influential church for top government posts.

As for the upcoming 2016 elections, the bloc-voting sect is also said to be willing to support the anticipated presidential bid of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son. If Bongbong is not running, they would reportedly support independent candidate Senator Grace Poe.

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