How the new Iglesia leader chose who to endorse

By Aries Rufo,

Posted at May 05 2010 11:57 PM | Updated as of May 07 2010 02:49 AM

MANILA, Philippines—The new executive minister of the bloc-voting Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), Eduardo Manalo, may have his late father’s conservative views, but with a twist.

Manalo—Ka Eduardo to his flock—pulled a surprise on Wednesday when he endorsed the candidacy of Liberal Party standard bearers Benigno Noynoy Aquino III and Manuel Roxas II.

The announcement came amid expectations by some INC elders and insiders that the sect would pick Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manuel Villar Jr. Between Aquino and Villar, the latter courted the INC endorsement more avidly.

Only last week, learned that Villar went to the INC headquarters in Quezon City to seek the bloc’s endorsement. On that same day, the leader of another religious group also paid Manalo a visit purportedly to lobby for Villar.

In contrast, the last time Aquino was summoned to the INC Central was weeks ago, accompanied by his sisters, LP campaign manager Florencio Abad said.

Estrada embarrassed them

Estrada, who the INC endorsed in the 1998 presidential elections, was out of the equation from the beginning, sources told us. The former President, who was convicted of plunder, broke an agreement with the INC that he would retire from politics if pardoned by President Arroyo.

It was the INC and El Shaddai (a Catholic movement) leader Brother Mike Velarde who brokered Estrada’s pardon. The INC reportedly guaranteed to the Arroyo administration that Estrada would not run for any public office in exchange for the pardon.

But Estrada decided to run, embarrassing the sect.

Since the younger Manalo assumed the INC helm last year following the death of his father, Eraño “Ka Erdie” Manalo, political observers have been trying to decipher him. Will he retain his father’s conservative political views, or will he make his own bold moves?

The May 10, 2010, elections will be the first major test of his leadership.

Villar was first choice?

About two weeks ago, Manalo issued a circular telling INC followers to exercise their right to vote. In that circular, he also implied that INC members should not question the decision of the INC leadership.

This has prompted some members to speculate that the INC might abstain from supporting a presidential bet, something that it did in the 1986 snap polls.

Religious endorsements: Half-truths, bloated figures, with strings attached
MANILA, Philippines—With the new Iglesia ni Cristo head endorsing an unexpected choice for president, Benigno Aquino III, and with the El Shaddai leader’s bet being closely watched by political players and ordinary voters alike, the real capability of their organizations to deliver supposed bloc votes is the subject of debates again.
Nine years ago, just after the senatorial and local elections, Newsbreak magazine asked questions related to bloc voting sects: How much of these religious groups’ supposed strength and influence is myth? Are they any close to holding Philippine politics hostage? Or are they peddling half-truths?

The answer is, yes, they peddle half-truths, the estimates of the votes they can supposedly deliver is bloated, and their endorsements always come with strings attached. Even the candidates they supported in the past are downplaying the weight of the Iglesia ni Cristo support, for instance.
Senior writer Aries Rufo wrote “Church Power” for the May 23, 2001, issue of Newsbreak. Read on, and find that the views and analysis of our sources then remain relevant today. They sound like they are discussing the 2010 polls.      more

Last week, the buzz in the INC was that Villar was the chosen one.

In an earlier interview, Abad said that the LP “is just going through the motion” of courting the INC endorsement and that “Noynoy would go only if he got invited.” 

In those meetings, which Aquino admitted happened thrice, he was asked about his platform of government.

Asked what clinched the INC support, Abad surmised that the younger Manalo may have been convinced of Aquino’s “character, idealism, and aspirations.”

Maybe, maybe not.

In a statement issued after the official announcement, Manalo there were many factors considered in anointing the LP tandem. 

"Many important factors were taken into consideration in making our decision. After careful and prayerful deliberation, the Church believes that this is the best for our country," he said.

For the common good

Bloc voting, as practiced by the INC, has been criticized by some quarters for being contrary to freedom of choice and free will. But to the INC, freewill and freedom of choice should take a back seat when the common good is involved.

Politically, bloc voting has become a handy tool in serving the common good of INC members.

They are able to get concessions and favors from government, in exchange for their command votes.

Political observers may say that the endorsement of Aquino was hardly surprising, considering that he appears to be the likely winner, having topped the popularity surveys. The INC has been criticized for betting on sure winners, so that it would appear that it was INC that swayed the results.

This is only partly true.

In 1992, the INC went for Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., who lost to Fidel Ramos. In the 2004 race, President Arroyo was only a second choice. The sect wavered between Fernando Poe Jr. and Panfilo Lacson but it dropped the 2 opposition candidates when they failed to unite and run as a team.

Misgivings about Aquino

Those in the know say that the major factor in the decision-making process during the time of the older Manalo was personal politics.

The late Manalo cultivated close personal ties with the Marcoses, which may explain the INC’s support of Cojuangco and Estrada in 1998. Arroyo, too, cultivated close ties with the elder Manalo.

But such personal ties do not burden the new INC leader.

Since entering politics in 1992, Villar has been consistently carried by the INC, indicating that the real estate magnate has cultivated close ties with the older Manalo.

On the other hand, the INC only supported Aquino in the 2007 senatorial race, and only after his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, personally sought the endorsement of the sect for her son.

The INC had its misgivings against Aquino following the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004, where some INC members were among those killed.

Before martial law, families who were INC members were kicked out of Hacienda Luisita, another issue that the sect held against the Cojuangcos.

Stalled talks with El Shaddai

What does this say of Manalo’s character?

Freed from the personal ties of the father, the younger Manalo is more pragmatic and less emotional in his decision-making process, some INC members observed. “I think, for him the bottom line is what serves the common good. The father also decided that way, but it is less emotional this time,” one member observed.
Not many are aware that the older Manalo, before his death, and El Shaddai’s Velarde were exploring the possibility of endorsing a common candidate for the 2010 elections. “Combining the endorsement of these groups would have been a major coup,” an El Shaddai insider said.

But the younger Manalo was not too keen on forging an alliance with Velarde. And when he took the reins of the INC, the discussions were stalled.
In endorsing Aquino, the younger Manalo appears to be sending the message that he is his own man, ready to forge new personal ties and then retaining some. (