MANILA - There will be no major shifts on how the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) is charting itself, spiritually and politically, with the death of its leader Eraño “Ka Erdie” Manalo.
As a religious group, its teachings, practices and values are etched on solid ground, but the highly disciplined Christian sect, known for its bloc-voting practice in elections, might adopt a more objective political view with the change of leadership.
In a sense, the change of leadership is actually a misnomer since Manalo’s son, Eduardo “Ka Eddie Boy,” 54, is expected to carry the torch and the family legacy.
The elder Manalo himself assumed as executive minister of the INC also after the death of his father, Felix, who founded the religious organization on July 27, 1914.
Sources close to the inner circle of Ka Erdie say the late religious leader had been grooming the younger Manalo for years, just like what Felix did to his son a generation ago.
Eduardo has been the INC’s deputy executive minister, or the "pangalawang tagapamahalang pangkalahatan," and his assumption as his father’s successor will be just a formality, says an INC member.
Ka Erdie, 84, died of cardiopulmonary arrest Monday. He took over as executive minister following Felix Manalo’s death, and was credited for expanding the church internationally.
It was during Ka Erdie’s term that the INC became a major political force with its estimated 2-3 million bloc-voting members.
No major departure
Political analyst Angelito Banayo believes there will be "no major departure from the management side” with the succession of Eduardo Manalo to the INC hierarchy.
Banayo notes that Eduardo has been acting as the chief operating officer for some time now, although the late INC head still had the last say on religious matters.
While it makes sense that the Manalo family prepared for a smooth transition of power, members, however, were left in the dark on who made the final decision.
“We’d been hearing that Ka Eddie was making the decisions but the members were not too sure,” one INC member says.
Banayo, who is also a political consultant of Senator Panfilo Lacson, says the younger Manalo called the shots on political decisions “at least in the last two elections.”
If this is true, the younger Manalo is proving to be more adept and savvy than the father.
In the 2004 elections, the INC, instead of having to choose between actor Fernando Poe Jr. and Lacson, passed the ball to the two warring opposition bets. When Poe and Lacson failed to settle their differences, the INC did the next best thing: it threw its support to President Arroyo.
Since it was a close race between Arroyo and Poe, the INC vote was seen as a deciding factor in favor of Arroyo.
In contrast to other religious groups that have a more predictable matrix of desired candidates, the INC operates on a case-to-case basis. Members are surveyed on who are their preferred candidates in the national level, and the final approval comes from the top. In the local races, however, the local ministers have the latitude to decide on who to support.
More pragmatic leadership
To be sure, the INC’s clout and influence in politics is beyond doubt, rivaling that of the dominant Catholic Church. After a misstep in the 1992 presidential race, where the sect threw its support to losing candidate Eduardo 'Danding’ Cojuangco, the INC bounced back in the 1998 elections with the election of former President Estrada, which the group supported.
Political analysts say that INC’s bloc-voting members can spell the difference in tight presidential, senatorial, and local races. Candidates fiercely contest the INC endorsement, and they will have to pass through a wringer before any endorsement is given.
Former Bulacan Congressman Willie Villarama, whose family is close to the Manalos, believes that politically, those who will be disadvantaged by Ka Erdie’s death are the politicians “who have long historical ties with the INC.”
Villarama says Ka Erdie was loyal to a fault, especially to those who have helped the INC “when it was still being persecuted as a religious group.” On the other hand, his son, spared of such debts of gratitude, could adopt a “less personal, more objective approach.”
During the Marcos dictatorship, the INC allied itself with late strongman, and the strong ties were carried over to Cojuangco in the 1992 presidential race. Cojuangco was one of Marcos’s cronies.
The sect’s support for Estrada also has historical ties. The Manalos and Estrada forged their relationship when he was still mayor of San Juan.
A former politician related to abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak how Manalo disengaged from a previous campaign promise after learning that the politician was running for a vice-gubernatorial post in one province. “When he found out I was running, Manalo took back his endorsement to my rival. That’s how he valued ties.”
If the elder Manalo decided with his heart, the younger Manalo’s decisions may be less clouded by emotional links.
The current purge at the INC of corrupt ministers is one sign.
Members told abs-cbnews.com/Newsbreak that Eduardo Manalo has initiated a purge of crooked members that spared no one, including in the INC inner circle. One of the casualties was a trusted emissary of Ka Erdie to Malacañang. “That’s how strict he is,” says one member.