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The class bias against the INC: ‘How dare they?’

I was surprised at the vehemence even usually sober commentators heaped upon the Iglesia ni Cristo because of its four-day protests to defend its leadership from “non-bailable” kidnapping charges.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading when Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Randy David, my professor in a sociology class, practically blamed a very serious crime, the shooting of broadcaster Anthony Taberna’s just-opened restaurant on the INC, as if it were some drug syndicate the journalist crossed.

“Maybe some INC members weren’t pleased with the neutral stance he (Taberna) seemed to be taking on the issue (the INC demonstrators),” speculated David, whose brother Pablo Virgilio is the auxiliary bishop of San Fernando City.

But even the police had declared that the shooting had nothing to do with the INC rallies, and Taberna spoke at the rally at EDSA when David’s column came out, expressing his all-out support for his Church’s protest actions.

I was shocked as well when I read the column also in the Inquirer, of my former editor Amando Doronila, who hardly has been reactionary in his decades as a professional journalist, and who almost always saw the big, even global, picture .  Instead of discussing for instance the significance of a religious organization challenging a government, he devoted a column that ranted about “monstrous traffic gridlocks stemming from the seizure of key streets by INC fanatical followers.”

That the Doronila was livid over the INC’s rallies is obvious when he wrote: “ The disruptions caused by the protest actions were the most virulent and disruptive street unrest encountered by the government since the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986.”

Has Doronila forgotten the armed protest actions – i.e., coup attempts by the RAM — from 1988 to 1989 he closely covered as Manila Chronicle editor, Cory’s huge rally at Luneta in 1991 and march to the Senate to push for the retention of the US bases, EDSA II, EDSA III, and the pathetic attempts by one Navy lieutenant to trigger uprisings against President Arroyo from 5-star hotels, whose refrigerators were mysteriously emptied of Angus steaks and aged wines? All of these make the INC actions seem like mere religious processions. (Probably Doronila had been unfamiliar with the horrendous traffic that has been going on for years now because of the incompetence and corruption of Aquino’s officials that he mistook those as the impact of the INC’s demonstrations.)

Numbers in the streets and in the polls: INC’s only weapons
Numbers in the streets and in the polls: INC’s only weapons

Usually an analytical writer, Doronila even stooped to rabble-rousing by ending his column with a sarcasm: “Who runs the country – the INC? ”

Even Rene Saguisag , a human-rights lawyer and veteran of a hundred demonstrations during martial law that created traffic in Manila at a time when daily monstrous traffic was still unheard of, even called the INC a “super bully”, and compared the 2-million strong religious sect to the superpower state of 1.3 billion people — China — which he claimed is similarly bullying us in the South China Sea.

This Yellow Horde’s distinctive character trait of having “double standards” is clearly infectious.

I don’t remember any column by Doronila complaining about the demonstrations at the EDSA Shrine in 2001, which paralyzed the Ortigas business area for four days and led to Estrada’s fall. I don’t remember hearing Saguisag point out that “EDSA Tres” in 2001, in which the INC provided most of the warm bodies, was a case of bullying President Arroyo by the camp of his client Joseph Estrada.

Why such enmity?

Why such enmity, a stance probably held by many Filipino Catholics which David, Doronila, and Saguisag merely  articulated?

One probable reason could be the fact that Catholics’ bigotry against other religions, and virulence against schisms within it. This perhaps has become a cultural DNA of Catholics, given the bloody history of the Church: the massacre of thousands of Christians called Cathars in France in the 13th century; the pillage of the Greek Orthodox capital Constantinople by the 4TH Crusade on their way to the Middle east to fight Islam; and the numerous Catholics vs Protestants wars that ravaged Europe. This is especially so since the Catholicism we have has been of the Spanish type, traumatized by the conquest of their kingdoms by the Muslim Moors.

However, the more important reason for the prejudice against the INC, for the outrage that a small sect could confront government is this: The INC has been largely an organization of the low- and lower-middle working-class Filipinos. How dare they cross government, and make demands?

Its strength has been due to the fact that it is virtually a self-help organization of the working classes led by an upper middle class stratum, the biggest fraternity (lifetime as opposed to college) for those who aren’t rich.

If you need a job, it is the INC “lokal” that looks for a job for you, even if it is just a contractual job at an SM Mall, and even if you’re prohibited from joining a union. Its members of course pay some tithe — a percentage of their earnings. But what’s a hundred pesos for somebody who otherwise won’t get a job at all? INC members see and know each other, and congregate weekly, with alternate groups assigned specific days to clean their “kapilyas.”

In contrast, most Catholics commune with other Catholics only during the weekly mass, but Catholics celebrating (hearing?) mass in a mall are hardly a picture of a cohesive religious organization.

Aside from a few businessmen and top lawyers (like the late Justice Serafin Cuevas), you haven’t heard of, or met members of the Philippine elite being with the INC, have you? I myself haven’t met a member of the INC who isn’t a wage worker, or a middle-class professional. Such working-class profile in fact is also that of most Christian churches in the country, such as the biggest one,  the Methodists.

Contrast that kind of class profile to that of the Catholic Church, which has been historically, a church dominated by the elite. It has in fact amassed since the Spanish colonization tens of billions of pesos in shares of stock (in the Bank of the Philippine Islands, most prominently) and land, donated by the ruling landlord and commercial class, maybe in the belief that that can buy their way to heaven.

Rich parents would even make sure that one of their children would become a priest or a nun. The motivation obviously was for them to have an “insider” who would get their visas to heaven. The sociological impact has been for the landlord and commercial class to have their representatives firmly entrenched in the Church hierarchy.

The children of the country’s ruling class of course are routinely brainwashed with Catholic dogma the very first day they go to school – which are such Catholic schools as the Ateneo, La Salle, UST, Assumption, and saint-this-or-that college.

More minutely class-stratified

The Church itself is even more minutely class-stratified.

The richest attend mass, get married, and have their funeral wakes mostly in such churches as Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, or at the Manila Cathedral. Posh, gated villages like Greenhills and Ayala Alabang each have their own Catholic churches, and I don’t think the guards there would let you in if you tell them you would just be going to mass there. Churches like those in Quiapo, Sta. Cruz, and Baclaran are for the Catholic hoi polloi, and so are the churches in the country’s towns, where however the richest hacenderos or traders routinely sit at the first pew facing the altar. The pews often even identify the names of the donor.

Pass by a Catholic Church after their mass, and you’ll see convoys of the most expensive cars. Pass by an INC after their service, and you’d see clearly working-class types walking home.

There is no counterpart in the INC of a Santuario de San Antonio, or “exclusive” churches in exclusive village.

The contrast between the two religions would be sharper if we compare the INC with a sect within the Catholic Church, the Opus Dei. As much as INC consists of the working classes, the Opus Dei consists of the crème de la crème of the country’s elite in nearly all strategic sectors, including media. The INC was even a rebellion against the Spanish hold on Philippine Catholicism. Opus Dei was founded by a Spanish priest.

The contrast between INC and the Opus Dei should serve to put in the more proper perspective the former’s recent protest actions, and its power of bloc voting.. The Opus Dei is much, much smaller than the INC, but it doesn’t need the masses, since their people are at the centers of political, economic, and even cultural powers. In contrast, the INC — and any working-class organization for that matter — can rely only on their numbers,converted into a political force in elections.

The Catholic Church has always interfered in the political realm, since the Spanish colonization, as was really the main beef of Jose Rizal in his two novels.

The acquiescence of the Church then led by Cardinal Rufino Santos was an implicit approval of martial law as much as Cardinal Jaime Sin’s “go to EDSA” was its move to help end it. Other than the Vatican, we are the only state in the world that bans divorce, solely because the Catholic Church doesn’t want it.

Talk of separation of Church and State. Opus Dei supernumerary Bernardo Villegas and a few otherCatolico cerrado delegates got that Catholic “unborn-from-conception” dogma in our Constitution (Article II, Section 12) so that the Supreme Court had no choice but to rule unconstitutional the Reproductive Health law that would have undertaken a real population-control program.

Have you ever heard of the INC espousing a stand with regards to these two issues, or others such as charter change, pork barrel, or Renato Corona’s impeachment? In contrast, the princes of the Philippine Catholic Church and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines almost always pontificate something on some political issue.

I’m not saying such moves are bad per se. I just want to contrast the fact that Catholic Church has always been interfering in the country’s burning issues, in contrast to the INC, which has mostly minded its own business.

Yet when the INC wields one of the only two weapons it has – the swift mobilization of tens of thousands of its members in the streets – to defend its other weapon of bloc voting, the likes of Doronila and Saguisag blow their tops, condemning it as a virulent super-bully disrupting the nation, who want to run the country.

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