Political leverage beneath the cloak of religion

The on-going impeachment trial of Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice (CJ) Renato C. Corona has become the center stage in the theatre of Philippine politics for the last several weeks. The daily proceedings from Monday to Thursday have brought out the worst and the best in Senator Judges, Congressmen prosecutors and the Chief Magistrate’s defense counsels. The trial has been so ticklish and passionate. Then, the publicity generated by live media coverage of the trial plus the press releases from both the prosecution and the defense have triggered further social and political polarization for or against the accused.

On February 28, 2012, an indigenous “religious group” named Iglesia Ni Cristo or INC which is generally considered as sympathetic to the predicament of the embattled Chief Justice tried to make its presence felt via its so-called Grand Evangelical Mission (GEM) at Luneta’s Quirino Grandstand in Manila, Philippines. Although it was announced that the “religious occasion” is open to everyone, formal invitations were served only to selected members of the Senate Impeachment Court and Supreme Court Associate Justices to include the impeached CJ Corona who nevertheless did not attend.

On that date too, the prosecution panel of congressmen headed by Representative Neil Tupaz unexpectedly announced before the Impeachment tribunal the dropping of at least five (5) out of the total eight (8) articles of impeachment. The prosecution however has completed its evidences only on: Article 2 which pertains to alleged Non-disclosure of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs); Article 3 for alleged violation of Judicial Ethics and; Article 7 for allegedly orchestrating the High Court’s issuance of a TRO aimed at nullifying the preventive watch-list order earlier issued by Justice Secretary Liela Delima to guard against possible flight of ex-President Arroyo out of the country.

Whether the sudden twist in the impeachment trial of CJ Corona (whose lead defense counsel is former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, a prominent INC member himself) was influenced by religious event or not, the Congressmen prosecutors and the Senator Judges have reason to take notice of the INC’s show of force. There were more or less two hundred thousand (200,000) participants (as per police estimate) who participated in that one and a half (1½) hour of a vague “religious ceremony”. While the INC did not exactly delve on politics during the program proper, some politicians involved in the impeachment trial and potential candidates could have possibly taken it (GEM) as an obvious message of an electoral clout which could make or break them during next year’s May election.

The INC has gained notoriety for being a political power broker as a consequence of its block voting scheme during elections. Allegedly, the one million or so registered voters (based on INC’s arguable statistics) used to follow the dictates of their church leader who chooses the candidates to vote for. Candidates are chosen on accounts of their inherent capacity to win based on latest surveys and pledge of political patronage/commitment to INC. Such kind of wily political machinations enable INC to oftentimes “have its cake and eat it too”.

Reliable sources on the other hand revealed that the political fallout between INC (which is after Corona’s acquittal) and President Aquino (who is for Corona’s conviction) stemmed from the former’s inability to corner juicier positions for its members in government despite endorsing the latter’s candidacy during the last Presidential election. Furthermore, the recent unceremonious sacking of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Magtanggol Gatdula (a proud member of INC) by the President due to alleged cases of kidnapping and extortion is deemed by INC as adding insult to injury. Hence, the INC has virtually defined its belligerent position in this particular case.

Whatever would be the outcome of CJ Corona trial is for the impeachment court to finally decide. A negative people’s reaction though, towards the final resolution (whether for or against the accused) will put to test the political maturity of those at the helm of the three (3) co-equal branches of PH government; the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Noteworthy too would be the spectacle of “spiritually self-destructive” game called: “political leverage beneath the cloak of religion” which the INC used to play.

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