The fact that the public remains vigilant over whether the Aquino administration struck a deal or not with the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) underscores the reality that the administration, through the Department of Justice (DOJ), indeed holds special powers over which of the numerous cases brought to its attention it will pursue or not, and at what pace. The dispensation of “justice” is not merely a procedural matter as DOJ Sec. Leila De Lima would have us believe. After all, let us not forget that under her watch, administration allies involved in the pork barrel scam have managed to evade prosecution. Under her watch, cases of extrajudicial killings, such as that of botanist Leonard Co, and of numerous illegal arrests and detention of activists, have sat unmoving for years.
So did De Lima indeed give “special attention” to the illegal detention case filed by expelled minister Isaias Samson against INC leaders? Procedurally, perhaps not. But politically, it may have.
Needless to say, the four-day INC protests failed to draw any popular support because of sweeping, distorted calls for “religious freedom” and “separation of the church and state” (the cases filed against their leaders has nothing to do with their Constitutional right to freedom of religion). These calls were obviously meant only to unify INC devotees in what seems like a defense of their church, all the while providing a smokescreen meant to protect a decades-old leadership that has cracked under heavy allegations of corruption and rights violations. No wonder the protests were seen as “bullying” tactics, with the bloc voting practice as the main muscle flexed by the INC.
Indeed, the INC has itself admitted that its protests were all about how this bloc voting practice was used against them. In a statement in its website last August 26, the INC claimed that Samson’s case was being used as political leverage, in order to get their support for Liberal Party presumptive standard bearer Mar Roxas. “Nang pumutok ang paghihimagsik ng mga ‘Fallen Angels’ noong Hulyo 2015, inakala nila na hihingi ng tulong sa kanila ang Iglesia. Subalit, sila’y nabigo. Ang paghingi sana ng tulong ng Iglesia ang ‘pag-asa’ nila para masiguro ang pagsuporta ng Iglesia kay Mar Roxas sa 2016 election,” (When the ‘Fallen Angels’ rebellion started in July 2015, they thought that Iglesia would ask them for help. But we didn’t. Our asking for their help was their only ‘hope’ that Iglesia would support Mar Roxas in the 2016 elections) the INC stated, referring to the Aquino administration and the so-called rebellion of its expelled ministers. The INC went on further to say that if they did not support Roxas, an attack on the church’s reputation would ensue, rendering them “useless” to the administration’s political opponents.
Whether or not this allegation is true, the fact remains that the Aquino administration has gained a large amount of distrust among INC leaders and devotees, who voted it into power last 2010. While this distrust has largely to do with a case involving their church, they have also articulated at least one other source of it, one that Filipinos outside of their church can relate with—the lack of justice for the victims of Mamasapano. For a sect that is known to prohibit members from joining unions and political rallies or even expressing political views, that at least is a step forward.
It’s only a pity is that while they decry selective justice by the state, their words and actions can be construed as demanding the same to favor their religious leaders. It’s only a pity that while they cry foul over the Aquino administration using their bloc voting practice against them, they negotiate with it using the very same leverage.
The negotiations were no joke either. Reports say that in meeting INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo, President Aquino was flanked by top police and military officials and his closest cabinet members, including Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman (who in her official capacity has nothing to do with the issue), and of course Roxas (who has something to do with the issue though not entirely in the sense of his official capacity as Interior Secretary).
So that at the end of the day, when a distrusted administration says that “diplomacy” has prevailed, and a self-serving religious leadership says that the situation is “win-win,” for many, it can only mean that a deal was made. Yes, elections are always marked by horse-trading. But thanks to both the INC and the Aquino administration, we not only know it can be done, we can actually witness how it’s done. A part of it was the special treatment we saw given to the INC protesters, compared with the massive police force (and ensuing violent dispersal) it usually deploys against critics of the administration who mass up in the same numbers.
Rumor has it that one of the concessions given to the INC is De Lima’s early resignation from the DOJ. But given De Lima’s pronouncements of her intentions to run for senator, that shouldn’t even be considered a concession but a must. The same goes for Roxas’ long-overdue resignation. For as long as the Aquino administration continues to use its powers and privileges, riding on public resources, to place its anointed candidates ahead in the electoral race, there is always leverage enough to horse-trade votes and “justice.”