Was blind, but now I see

The rally against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima held by thousands of Iglesia ni Cristo members last weekend on Edsa was illuminating because it showed in a greater light the political power that their group wields in this country.

The INC objected to de Lima’s investigation into a defrocked INC minister’s claims of abduction and other maltreatment at the hands of members of the church, in relation to internal squabbles.

The church exhorted its members to block Edsa in nothing less than a show of force, crying “separation of church and state,” saying that the government should not meddle in what they said was an internal problem.

Their three-day campout not only turned that particular stretch of Edsa into a dumpster and a toilet, it also turned a huge part of society against them. The fallout effects from their protest action continue to pile up.

The INC rally showed that their church is just like any other large, organized group involving itself national politics in order to preserve and promote its own self-interests.

Many from the INC—leaders as well as followers—made implied threats that unless de Lima resigns, they would use their bloc voting power against her (she is running for senator next year) and others in the present administration.

The INC is said to control the votes of 1.3-million members. Bloc voting can be considered a manipulation of the affairs of state. How can they then claim protection under the banner of “separation of church and state” when they themselves flout it?

The INC also showed their inconsistency by reversing a well-known stricture against their members joining mass actions.   Their staging one to further their own ends is a contradiction of what they’ve stood for until now. It’s obvious that instructions, as in this case, that have reified into usage may be dissolved as needed; showing that religion, like any human activity, is a social construct.

In other words, we make it all up as we go along, creating what we think we need, discarding what we don’t, or what doesn’t serve our ends as we have defined them.

The tendency to do this holds true of course not only for the INC, but for other religions as well, including the Roman Catholic Church (seen in its opposition to the Reproductive Health bill, for instance), and for other special interest groups such as big business.

Art. II, Sec. 6 of the Philippine Constitution (1987) states simply: “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” That last word, according to Google, means “never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored.”

But what does it mean, really? The discourse on this is ongoing, against showing in real-time how society is constructing its meaning of this concept.

Some legal minds say that it refers to the freedom of practice of religion, and that no one shall be persecuted nor discriminated against for their faith.

But does it also mean a church and its members are beyond the law? That it can order its members to the streets to object against the investigation of a legal complaint filed against some of its members? That it can inconvenience countless others and cause the loss of productivity and hundreds of millions in estimated economic losses? That it can pressure government to accede to its demands?

Is this reasonable? Is this righteous?

The INC rally is also making us think about religious power being leveraged into political power that exerts such a great influence that many politicians made conciliatory gestures to the INC.

These politicians have now slipped in the estimation of the voting public; they will now be hard-pressed to reverse the public’s negative perception of them.

Politicians, and government in general, bent over backward to accommodate the INC rally. There were no police dispersing the rallyists. If they had been farmers or leftists on the march, would they even have been allowed to reach Edsa? Most likely, as we’ve seen in the past, they would have been greeted by police carrying shields, batons, and water hoses.

Is this fair?

If anything, the INC rally opened up our eyes. Now we are no longer blind to the political power they wield. Now we know who the politicians are who will curry favor with them to gain that bloc vote.

Now we see.


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