Duterte, Marcos and the Vindication of a Religious Endorsement | The Summit Express

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Duterte, Marcos and the Vindication of a Religious Endorsement



Barely five decades ago, the Iglesia Ni Cristo's working class paved the way for the surge of modern Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). They were part of the pioneering force which opened a new portal for the economy to grow during the Marcos administration. It was during that time that the INC suddenly realized that its role isn't limited in declaring the word of God inside the walls of its "kapilyas" (chapels).

INC bloc voting election 2016

From then on, it expanded its function as an influential economic propeller and political kingmaker.

Duterte publicly admits that he admires Marcos’ style of leadership.
Duterte publicly admits that he admires Marcos’ style of leadership. Photo credit: Philippine Star online
Even the late President Ferdinand Marcos recognized it as he forged a strong relationship with the Manalo-led church. Today, that tie with the INC managed to transcend the realms of time as it finally threw its support to Senator Bongbong Marcos, the late strongman’s namesake and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the man who openly venerates the leadership style of the older Marcos.

INC’s Bloc-Voting Record

Known for its almost solid bloc-voting practice, political analysts estimates that Duterte and Marcos can get as much as 80% of the almost two million registered INC voters. Just enough for their rivals to scramble in finding ways just to prevent their ascension to power.

Marcos will try to battle it out against administration bet Robredo on Monday
Marcos will try to battle it out against administration bet Robredo on Monday. Photo credit: CNN Philippines
For its detractors, it is nothing but pure blind faith that drives the INC brethren in following the decision of the higher-ups in their church. But among its believers, the blessing of Ka Eduardo Manalo, the third-generation leader of the country's homegrown church is a highly coveted one. His anointment is providential to anyone who receives it. For them, the consecration of the church's head honcho is the manifestation of God's will, without it, there will be no unity.

In a populist and highly religious country like the Philippines, media mileage, lording over surveys and nationwide political machinery are essential but acquiring the nod of a religious group can also make or break a candidacy. An endorsement is a validation of a candidate's qualifications and provides an advantage to outplay other runners.

Although the INC has a smaller electorate compared to the Catholics in the country, the latter does not have any obligation to vote unanimously. Looking back, the INC's voting power underwent a series of trials prior to its emergence as a critical player today.

Changing of Allegiance

As Marcos tried to consolidate his remaining strength to remain in power, the INC remained with him during the 1986 snap elections but a number of its followers voted to help catapult a Cory Aquino to the presidency.

INC’s electoral power evidently diminished as the next 1992 presidential elections saw a protestant Fidel V. Ramos winning the presidency. INC’s favored candidate, Danding Cojuangco only placed in a dismal third after the crowd favorite Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

However, INC took back its position as a kingmaker after supporting the eventual winner Joseph Estrada in a short-lived presidency. Anyway, Estrada was too popular that even in a crowded presidential race he managed to pull off an impressive number wherein with or without INC's backing, will still make him the 13th ruler of the land.

2004 was truly the comeback of INC’s bloc-voting power when it chose to go with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who narrowly won against action star Fernando Poe Jr. with an approximate 1.1 million or 3.48% vote margin. Taking note from the exit poll conducted that time by ABS-CBN and SWS, the members of Iglesia Ni Cristo comprised three percent of the voters that day. Had Poe’s camp managed to persuade Panfilo Lacson to withdraw to get INC's support and prevented the cheating in Maguindanao, Poe could have been the winner.

INC was helpful for the INC to seal its stature as a must-have force after being instrumental in helping Aquino to extend his lead against Joseph Estrada and Manny Villar, solidifying his hold as the perennial winner.

Will Bloc-Voting Work on Monday?

Duterte meets with Iglesia Ni Cristo’s leader Ka Eduardo Manalo.
Duterte meets with Iglesia Ni Cristo’s leader Ka Eduardo Manalo. Photo credit: Eagle News Twitter account
But the upcoming Monday showdown will be a different one. Duterte and Marcos will be banking on the support of an Iglesia that is yet to recover from the stigma of controversies that it has been trying to hush since last year. If the INC was able to deliver 74% for Arroyo and 84.8% for Aquino before, Duterte’s camp should expect a lower turnout.

But despite this, the endorsement will surely bring greater momentum for Duterte’s supporters for the next two days as it just came right in a time where the mayor finally broke away with his rivals in the surveys. The INC’s declaration of support to Duterte can be taken as a confirmation that the mayor satisfactorily met the moral parameters and that he's the most qualified to do the job and will shield him from the final round of blitzkriegs that his opponents will try to be able to snatch votes from him. However, INC's support may or may not help Duterte to acquire the undecided and the swing voters depending on how these people see the INC in a post-Menorca exposé era.

In the case of Marcos who is popular among the millennials, there's certainly no room to be confident. Because aside from the ten to twenty percent who doesn’t follow the bloc-voting style, not all INC voters are coming from the youth sector as some of them lived during the dark ages of his father’s regime which might go for other candidates or worst, vote for his closest rival Congresswoman Leni Robredo who is now the survey frontrunner. Take note on how the Roxas-Binay 2010 faceoff was concluded where Roxas was the frontrunner in the surveys before Binay took over and eventually staged a come-from-behind win. At that time, Roxas successfully got a commanding 86.4% of the INC votes whereas Binay only managed to collect 8.8% from the non-conformist INC voters. Binay's Cinderella title run can be repeated again by Robredo as the history of her performance in the past surveys mirrors that of the vice president.

To those four who failed to get Manalo's precious "yes," there's still alternatives like Mike Velarde's El Shaddai and Joel Villanueva's Jesus is Lord Church. But undeniably, INC offers the most solid reputation in delivering hundreds of thousands to more than a million votes.

Vindication of the oppressed

If there’s one thing that Duterte, Marcos and the INC has in common is that all of them are being perceived as the oppressed in their respective battles. Dutere’s foul mouth, the shadow of martial law following Marcos and the countless allegations of corruption inside the INC worked effectively to vilify them to the public, which could have been the deciding factor for the century-old church to back the two to whom they can relate their situation the most. With no record of betrayal from Marcos and Duterte, it was a flawless courtship indeed.

Duterte and Marcos graciously entertains the press.
All smiles. Duterte and Marcos graciously entertains the press. Photo credit: FHM Philippines online
For Duterte, should he win, it will be a vindication of his character. A win will justify his shrewd boldness and frequent dropping of curse words in front of the media and large crowds. It will give him the authority to perpetuate the principles he thinks will quickly solve the country's woes, regardless of the consequences and dangers it may pose to the democracy and the people.

For Marcos, it will be a vindication of their family name. A win will help their family to clean their tainted image. The Marcoses may use this opportunity to overhaul their reputation, to start anew, and bring a new Marcos leadership that will dismantle the remaining vestiges of dictatorship they were notoriously known for. Or they may use this to navigate themselves towards restoring ostentatious and corrupt governance that their enemies are claiming they are guilty for.

The INC puts emphasis on its members to join together in the same mind and in the same judgment. The doctrine of unity serves as the cornerstone of its bloc-voting practice. This has been the prime justification that the INC members have been able to defend well over the past elections. Regardless if in full or not, INC’s support will play a significant role in this very tight race and will somehow aid it to restore order among its confused brethren.

--Michael Santiago, The Summit Express