Analyst: INC has become a political trader

ABS-CBN News

Religious group Iglesia Ni Cristo's (INC) practice of endorsing particular candidates during elections has become a leveraging point for the group, a political analyst said on Thursday.

"With due respect to the INC, may I be frank in saying that the INC has become a political trader and negotiator?" Professor Edna Co said on ANC's Dateline Philippines.

Co said the endorsement "has become a leveraging point on the part of the particular sect or that particular church group to leverage probably what would come out from what we call a political negotiation or agreement."

But, she added, the INC bloc voting is part of the reality of Philippine politics, and "in politics, anyone can leverage power and it can leverage its own number in exchange for its own interest."

What worries her, however, is that this imposed vote could dampen the spirit of the election wherein every individual should be sovereign when casting one's vote.

"My worry is that that particular bloc voting may limit the independence and freedom of every individual Filipino voter to make his or her own choice and make his/her own assessment of the candidates, and therefore cast his/her vote according to one’s freewill."

The influential religious group is endorsing Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for president and Senator Ferdinand ''Bongbong'' Marcos Jr. for vice president.

Members of the INC were told last night by the INC leadership to vote as one, after which they were given sample ballots.

DEFLECTING THE NON-ENDORSEMENT

Co said while the INC endorsement is definitely an addition to a particular candidate's vote count, it may not necessarily equate or lead to a victory.

"My view is that if you seek to the INC in an official capacity, or probably as officially INC, they’d say they really consider the order coming from the hierarchy of the INC and therefore they vote as a bloc," she said.

But, she added, according to testimonies of some individual members of the church, "they either kept quiet about it or they’d say it’s [unified vote] not necessarily so in the case of the 100% members of the INC."

Co cited the recent controversy in the church, involving cracks within the INC and the Manalo family, as a sign that "it is not automatic that whatever the hierarchy would say would be 100% carried on by the members."

"To some extent, there is division there somehow; but to what extent, I couldn’t establish that," she added.

While the INC bloc vote is estimated to generate 1.7 million votes for their endorsed candidate, Co said Filipinos outside the group would not be influenced by their choice.

"It exists as a reality in Philippine electorate setting, but again, part of the reality is that that’s the bloc of the INC. Period. And there are many others who may think differently and who do think differently. Therefore, may not necessarily shape the ultimate result of the election," she said.

In recent elections, the INC leadership endorsed then-Senator Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino, incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and then Vice-President Joseph Estrada. All of them won their respective presidential races.

But Co urges the candidates not endorsed by the church to work harder and try some more to offset the possible boost provided by the endorsement.

"This the particular time when there is no opportunity for any candidate, whether Sec. Mar, Sen. Poe, or whoever, to chill and to melt away and to be discouraged," she said.

"I think it’s a general attitude of a candidate [should be] to think more positively and to strive some more rather than to just admit that everything else that is about election is determined by an INC endorsement," she added.