Show of Force?
“Nope, there’s no typhoon.”
So goes the first line of a Rappler report of class suspensions today. So why is there a metrowide-class suspension? “But there will be no classes from preschool to high school levels, both public and private, in all cities across Metro Manila Monday, October 14, due to an Iglesia ni Cristo [INC] medical-dental mission that is expected to attract 1.6 million participants.” (Source: Rappler) As of this writing, 63% are annoyed in Rappler’s Mood Meter.
|As of 6:41AM, October 14, 2013. Screengrab from Rappler.|
We welcome medical and dental missions. It is a reminder to all of us no matter what our faith is that, when we are heavenly minded, we should have earthly good as well.
I just find myself agreeing with what somebody commented, “We all know na walang [that there’s no] infrastructure to do humanitarian missions of that scale in the metro but still they allow INC doing it, and of all days on the start of the usual work week in the middle of the academic year, in areas of ridiculous foot and motor traffic.” (Ibid)
A chaotic scene in one of the distribution points of the INC's mission. Source: Inquirer.Net via YouTube
Of course, we have religious freedom here in the Philippines. I am not questioning the sincerity of the INC and its members. But it seems this is no mere exercise of such right. Apparently, with due respect to my friends who are members of that church, it is a show of force. It is flexing its muscles in view of its upcoming centennial celebration.
In a press conference, the INC denied that it was a political show of force. Source: GMA News via YouTubeIt appears that, due to its much-publicized bloc-voting practice, politicians tend to give in to them.
[The] INC is a shrewd political and business operator. It parlays the votes of its members for political and financial concessions to the church. … “The church itself is a union, a most powerful union,” said a senior INC member. (Source: PCIJ)So, what the INC wants, the INC gets?
The Bible (which they claim to be its sole rule for its faith and practice) commands us to obey the government (Read Romans 13:1-7).
|The INC Central Temple. Image source: Rappler.|
Yet, in one of its investigative reports, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) exposed an alleged flaunting of its influence.
It is not uncommon for the INC to attempt to secure the best deals for its projects. The church’s housing projects in Montalban, Rizal and in Dasmarinas, Cavite are instructive cases. In both projects, the INC began construction even if it had not secured all the necessary development permits and environmental compliance certificates (ECC). In Montalban, the church has a development permit and zoning/locational clearance only for Phase 1 of the five-phase project, and building permits for only two-thirds of housing units it wants to construct. These permits were given by the sangguniang bayan despite the INC’s failure to produce a prior requirement - the ECC. Oscar Ferrer, senior environmental management specialist of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office of Rizal, worries about what could be an “environmentally critical project.” “The site is only moderately sloping. What makes it critical, as reported by residents in the area, is that the area has an earthquake fault line that might be connected to the Marikina fault,” Ferrer said. In Dasmariñas, municipal Engineer Gregorio Bermejo certifies that the INC project has little documentation except for an approved site development plan. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Region 4 office says it has no record of any ECC application for any housing project in Cavite under the INC’s name. (Ibid. Emphasis added.)
One of the ways to submit to the government is paying our taxes: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed” (v. 7a. ESV). Yet, according to the PCIJ report
The INC is trying to wangle tax-exemption deals as well. In 2000, the Montalban municipal assessor declared the 29 hectares of church lands used for housing to be taxable, and three hectares for the chapel, exempted from taxes. The assessor estimated that the INC would have to pay some P5 million in taxes. The church, however, refused, arguing that the INC project was not meant for profit and should therefore be tax-exempt. The INC leaders also wrote personal letters to Rizal Gov. Rebecca Ynares, who endorsed the matter to Montalban Mayor Pedro Cuerpo. Former Rizal Provincial Assessor Oscar Baraquero denied the request, saying “the housing project which you claimed for charitable and philanthropic effort does not squarely fall under the provisions of the law, as these are intended solely for the members of INC…the term charitable is an act of humanity without distinction or limitations as to religious belief, creed or social affiliation.” The tax debate has been raised to the Department of Finance for decision. Meanwhile, Montalban officials are in a quandary. The INC has dangled before them the fact that they have many voters in the municipality. “Yung pwersa ng boto nila ang panlaban nila,” said one local official. “Maraming takot diyan sa Iglesia. (They use their votes as bait and many are afraid of them.)” (Ibid. Emphasis added.)[NOTE: If these issues have been rectified, I am more than willing to post a correction here in my blog.]
History shows that political power tends to corrupt a religious organization. The more political power it had, the more corrupted it became. No wonder our Lord Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
To me, His kingdom does not need such a show of force.
UPDATE: When I tweeted about my blog post, I got various responses. Here's the screenshot of a Twitter exchange. Later on, he erased his tweets.