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THE PHILIPPINES: The role of the Church

Bienvenido Macario clarifies for us the religious situation in the Philippines: "Iglesia Ni Kristo, which has branches here in California and other parts of the world, was founded by Erano Manalo in San Juan, where President Joseph Estrada served as mayor from 1968 to 1986. Now San Juan's mayor is his son Jinggoy.

The founding of Iglesia Ni Kristo (INK) was inspired by Gregorio Aglipay, who established the Philippine Independent Church in the 19th century. In 1872, three Catholic priests, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, were executed by Spanish authorities for having been implicated in a revolt. My grandfather told me that in his time, the 1880's, Catholic revolutionaries would still go to mass but would step out of the church to skip the sermon, after which they would return for the rest of the mass. In a male-dominated society, only men observed this practice. When I asked him why not the women, he said: "Have you ever seen nuns officiate a Mass?" This was corroborated to me by a classmate at De La Salle, who was told about the same practice by his grandfather, who was from Batangas [south of Manila].

My grandfather emphatically advised me is never to confess my sins to another human being. He told me that Philippine revolutionaries were often caught and arrested after being asked by the priest if indeed they were revolutionaries. I was also told of cases in which a rich dying man would be given the last rites and confess his sins in private. Upon his death, the priest would confidently and gladly tell his children that their dead father would surely go to heaven. Why? He just donated his entire estate to the church. Since no one dared question a priest, this went on until the Americans came and educated the masses.

INK is a small solid group that often supports a candidate whom the Catholic Church opposes. While the Catholic Church sends funds overseas, INK's headquarters collects from all over the world. Men of honor, INK vote as one and fight to the bitter losing end, but they always abide by the law. They were supporters of Marcos, who was a member of the Philippine Independent Church before converting to the Catholic faith on marrying a Catholic.

The more significant group ( 8 million strong) is the Catholic church-backed El Shaddai ministry, headed by servant-leader Mike Velarde. Published reports indicate that his wife checked-in at Stanford Medical Center for treatment towards the last week of November 2000. With a more affluent, educated and thinking followers who are apparently fed up with established religion's inefficiency and corruption, no candidate wins without the endorsement of this group, together with INK.

The jueteng scandal found the Catholic church duty bound to pressure Mike Velarde to abandon Estrada and endorse the Catholic church's call for him to resign. It was said that Velarde could not in conscience do so and sought refuge at Stanford Medical Center, using his wife´s health as an excuse. Perhaps as a reply to the expose of the Catholic Church's financial dealings, not to mention its vast land holdings in the Philippines, it was stressed that Velarde was in the real estate business prior to his ministry.

I was told by those claiming to be close to the inner circle of the El Shaddai movement that the weekly collections from their Saturday prayer-meeting is such that it takes one whole week to count all the cash collections, a rumor which some say is driving the Catholic hierarchy out of its wits.

American Philippine specialists seem to be unaware that the way the US deals with the Philippines and the Philippine Catholic Church is a gauge by which its foreign policies will be assessed. A hundred years ago, in 1900, the Philippines were governed by the US through the established ruling aristocracy which was opposed by the same members of the clergy who fought the Americans. In fact, suggestions came up that Quezon and the rest of the mestizo politicians where actually sons of friars.

Finally, however way the new US administration approaches the Philippine powder keg, it will have to deal with the Catholic Church. While in the '80's an agreement of sorts was forged between Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan, I doubt it very much if the same could be worked out with the same Catholic Church in Asia.The stakes are higher than it seems, with China, Japan and all non-Christians watching. A case in point is Indonesia's recent surge of vigilante justice.

My comment: Bienvenido does not stress that many of the leading priests were Spaniards, while the rebel priests were mestizo. I have long been puzzled by Spanish anti-clericalism. Perhaps much of Bienvenido's explanation applies to Spain as well.

Ronald Hilton - 12/23/00