MANILA, Philippines - At least 600,000 people attended the Iglesia ni Cristo's (INC) Grand Evangelical Mission at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on Tuesday, authorities said.
Although some observers said the gathering was a show of support for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, an INC lay leader said the event was not political.
Moises Tolentino said the gathering was part of their preparation for their centennial celebration in 2014.
It was also open to all, including those not belonging to the Christian sect.
"Basically, [it's part of] our effort to reach out to public, non-Iglesia ni Cristo so that they can be exposed to what we believe in, as part of the doctrine of INC," he said.
Political and church observers, however, said the gathering could also be seen as a show of force.
The INC supposedly which has a membership of at least 3 million nationwide, votes as a bloc during elections.
The influential group formally invited Corona, but he did not attend the gathering.
President Benigno Aquino also did not attend, saying his presence might give the event political color.
Meanwhile, the gathering caused massive traffic jams near the Quirino Grandstand.
Some lanes at Intramuros and Roxas Boulevard were used as parking spaces by buses and jeeps rented by INC members.
Katigbak Drive, South Drive, and Independence Road were temporarily closed.
Several children were also brought to police after they got lost.
Some fainted and received medical treatment.
INC volunteers also apprehended 19-year-old Jay-R Villanueva, who was distributing anti-Aquino paraphernalia at the Quirino Grandstand.
The anti-Aquino material alleged that the President wants to remove Corona from office to change the Supreme Court ruling on Hacienda Luisita.
Villanueva claimed that he did not read the material, and his sibling's friend only asked him to distribute it.
Around 800 policemen, along with MMDA rescue units and INC volunteer groups were deployed to maintain peace and order at the event.
Thousands of INC members also gathered in the provinces for the evangelical mission.
The event caused heavy traffic outside Metro Manila and left passengers stranded in some areas. - report from Niko Baua, ABS-CBN News