Expelled minister says INC leaders losing grip on followers
The Iglesia Ni Cristo’s (INC) recent protests that stopped traffic on major Metro Manila thoroughfares for nearly five days showed that the Sanggunian or the governing council of the church is already losing its following, according to a former official of the church.
Expelled INC Minister Isaias Samson Jr. believes the powerful governing council only exposed its diminishing sway over church members, particularly in Metro Manila, when it had to call on them to join the protest against the Department of Justice (DOJ), mustering a crowd that reached 20,000. Samson added that reinforcements had to be brought in from the provinces when hundreds of thousands of INC members lived in the metropolis.
“Many members don’t believe them anymore,” Samson told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview Monday night.
“Because if you noticed, the first three days that they had a rally was not successful, only a few came, and even on Edsa.… That alone proves that the members are no longer listening to them,” he said.
INC protesters on Edsa Ortigas peaked at 20,000 around 1 a.m. Monday, just hours before the INC declared an end to the action following a meeting with government.
This represented only one percent of the estimated two-million membership at the INC, an influential church with a distinctly strict doctrine of obedience.
The INC rallies began Thursday night, two days after Samson, his wife and son filed complaints of illegal detention, harassment, threats and coercion against members of the Sanggunian at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The charges stemmed from the Samson family’s alleged “house arrest” in the hands of Sanggunian members in August, when he was suspected of writing online articles against church leaders under the name Antonio Ebangelista. The INC has denied that the Samsons were ever detained.
Invoking the separation of church and state, the INC complained that De Lima was giving undue attention to the case and was meddling in the internal affairs of the church. Samson’s complaint has yet to be assigned to an investigating prosecutor.
“Can you imagine they ordered all district ministries in far-flung provinces to bring the members or constituents to Manila. They didn’t need to do that if the members in Manila are listening to them,” he
told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Monday night in an interview in one of his hiding places.
Samson noted that Quezon City alone had between 80,000 and 100,000 members.
“You see what happened. Only a few came, and that was despite the threat. They (Sanggunian members) told them that if they didn’t come, that would mean they were not one with INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, the church administration. And that could mean expulsion,” he said.
He said the low turnout had even prompted the Sanggunian to invite “outsiders” as speakers at the Edsa event, among them Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco and Greco Belgica, former senatorial candidates who lost in the 2013 elections, and lawyer Harry Roque, who has expressed plans to seek a party-list seat in Congress next year.
“If they are ministers respected by the members of the Church of Christ, their words would have been enough, because that’s how members have been trained,” said Samson.
“So when they say something, as a member I will believe them immediately. But (the members) no longer believe them so they had to take other people from the outside, can you imagine? Just to convince the members?,” he said.
Samson said some INC members were “silently protesting” what’s going on in the Church.
“I would say there are members of the church right now who are divided when it comes to opinion about what’s going on. But when it comes to following the doctrines, they’re always obedient,” he said.
Asked what he would make of the silence of Manalo, executive minister, during and even after the protests, Samson said: “Your guess is as good as mine.”
He said it “has never been the habit of the executive minister” to attend such events.
While he and his family are forced into hiding because of alleged threats to their lives, Samson is hopeful that, someday, they could return to the INC after it is genuinely cleansed.
“When everything settles down, when everything is back to normal, to the former conditions of the church, definitely we’ll be the first to go back to the ministry,” he said.
Going back to “normal” for Samson would mean that the Sanggunian members he is accusing of corruption and other criminal acts would have already resigned and “paid for whatever they had committed.”
“If the Sanggunian truly loves the church and Brother Eduardo Manalo, they would have offered their resignation already or asked to be transferred to other responsibilities so there would be no suspicions anymore,” he said.
In the end, true to the teachings of the only church he has believed all his life, the INC will survive the crisis.
“This church will remain until the end. In fact, this is referred to as the last work of salvation. This will no longer be turned away… It will last until the end of time,” Samson said. Tarra Quismundo
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