The 101st anniversary celebration of the Iglesia ni Cristo last July 27 along the North Luzon Expressway created a traffic gridlock that frayed the nerves of the motoring public.
Media reports of traffic slowdown were an understatement. It took three hours and 30 minutes to navigate a five-and-a-half kilometer stretch. I anticipated that the traffic would be slow-moving that day but did not expect that it would virtually ground to a halt. There were times when there was no movement at all for about ten minutes. When this happens in a four lane expressway, the vehicle build up would result in traffic chaos.
Surprisingly, however, apart from some drivers wanting to get ahead of others, everyone seemed to have behaved reasonably well. There was no open display of anger and frustration that I witnessed in the vicinity where I was. How the gridlock happened and why should be investigated to prevent it from happening every time there is an event in the Philippine Arena.
From what I was able to find out, it appears that members of the Iglesia ni Cristo joining the celebration started to park along the expressway when they ran out of parking spaces inside the sports complex. The parking was stretched for over a kilometer north and south of the entrance. When the traffic enforcers started to prohibit them from parking, they got mad at the police, prompting the policemen to simply allow everyone to park beside the road. This was what one of the policemen told me when I inquired. They seemed afraid to confront the celebrants who were also having a hard time because of the difficulty of getting to the venue.
As one got closer to the entrance, the parking situation became uncontrollable until there was only one lane left. This should never have been allowed at any cost by the traffic enforces. One does not have to be a traffic expert to know that when a very busy freeway with four lanes is reduced to one, traffic will virtually stop. Those buses parked with all the people walking along the road slowed traffic to a crawl. Those motorists fortunate enough to take the counter-flow lane did not suffer as much but even the vehicles there were slow moving. Traffic management simply broke down.
I assume that there must have been some kind of planning and coordination between the police, the NLEX management and the Iglesia ni Cristo on how to handle the traffic. Whatever plan that was devised however, was a complete failure. For one, there were not enough policemen and not all the personnel who were there were trained in traffic. There were other traffic enforces wearing blue uniforms but I do not know whether they were from the NLEX management or from the INC. Nonetheless, they were also total failures.
For such a huge event, there should have been better planning and coordination. As it turned out, the planning underestimated the problem that ensued. People pay toll so that they can get to their destinations at the quickest possible time and not to get stuck in traffic in a freeway. Given that there will be more activities in the Philippine Arena in the future, the NLEX management must look into this problem seriously so that solutions can be planned and undertaken. Using the celebration as a reason is unacceptable nor is it fair to simply ask the motoring public to be patient. The NLEX management must ensure that what happened on July 27 will not happen again. It is their responsibility.
The Iglesia ni Cristo has come a long way from its humble beginnings when the late Executive Minister Felix Manalo founded it on July 27, 1914.
Today, the INC has become truly global being located in 102 countries and territories throughout the globe. The first foreign mission was established in Hawaii in 1968. Now, congregations are found in the Americas, Europe, Asia and even in the Middle East. As of March 2014, there are about 5,545 congregations. The INC has therefore every reason to be proud of this accomplishment. Although there are no official figures in the country as to how many consider themselves members of the INC, the National Statistics Office estimate that 2.45 percent of the population is affiliated with the INC making it the third largest religious denomination after Christianity and Islam.
The church, however, is not without its critics. Some say that the INC is a “state within a state”. Its political clout is strong. Some of our politicians go to the extent of genuflecting to local ministers just to get the INC support. This kind of behavior is shameful to say the least but that is the reality of our politics today. But as the church celebrates its 101st founding anniversary with a bang, it is embroiled in an internal conflict which is threatening to create what might be the most serious problem of the church since Teofilo D. Ora, split with the INC in 1922 to form his own church. To outsiders, the expulsion of the mother and two siblings of Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo together with some ministers may appear extreme and is obviously a hard-line approach. The problem does not seem to involve a challenge to the authority of the Executive Minister but a plea to investigate corruption allegations against certain subordinate officials which the church leadership is refusing to do until the dissenters repent and ask for forgiveness.
There seems to be no resolution in sight but it is not in the interest of the INC to drag this problem very long.