The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) is reportedly endorsing seven candidates from the ruling Team PNoy coalition and five from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance for the May 13, 2013 elections. The powerful religious group is known for batting for its preferred bets from the presidential level down to the barangay level.
While some quarters have accused the INC of overstating its membership, politicians nevertheless make it a point to be on the group’s good graces come election time. According to one estimate, 2.3% of Filipinos belong to this group.
A look at Iglesia ni Cristo’s senatorial endorsements the past five election cycles shows that they have a knack for siding with the winners. Only election results from 1998 onwards are discussed here since the list of INC endorsees from 1995 back are unavailable online.
In 1998, INC endorsed Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for president and vice president respectively despite them being from opposing parties (something they did not do in 2004 and 2010). This could be nothing more but a pragmatic move on the group’s part since the two are leading by huge margins over their nearest rivals.
In the senatorial race, INC endorsed seven from Estrada’s coalition Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP) and five from Lakas-NUCD, the administration party. Lakas-NUCD fielded then-House Speaker Jose de Venecia as its standard-bearer. When the official canvassing ended, 7 bets from LAMMP won while five from Lakas made it – exactly as INC predicted.
In 2001, all but one of the religious group’s senatorial endorsees lost. INC endorsed eight candidates from the Arroyo-aligned People Power Coalition (PPC), four from the Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masa, and independent bet Noli de Castro. The 2001 Senate race happened four months after Estrada was ousted from power and just two weeks after the deposed president’s supporters organized EDSA III.
Miriam Defensor-Santiago failed to make it to the “magic 13” although her party mate Gregorio Honasan won the 13th spot meant to finish the three years left in the term of Teofisto Guingona, who was appointed vice president.
Arroyo, J. (PPC)
Santiago (X) Honasan (PnM)
De Castro (IND)
INC’s support for PPC bets was surprising since the group’s leader Erano Manalo is known to have close ties with Estrada. A Philippine Star report noted that “the INC’s lineup of candidates had similarities with the results of the latest Social Weather Stations survey.” From being identified with Estrada, the group slowly pivoted to the Arroyo camp.
INC’s pivot to the Arroyo camp reached its nadir in 2004 when the group endorsed her over Fernando Poe Jr. in the presidential race. As Estrada’s bosom buddy, many expected INC to endorse Poe. According to reports, the religious group’s upper echelon was supposedly peeved because the opposition failed to unite. This is in addition to the fact that Arroyo intensely courted that group’s support.
The INC also supported Arroyo’s running-mate De Castro as well as six senate bets from the ruling Koalisyon ng Karanasan at Katapatan para sa Kinabukasan. Meanwhile, six senatorial candidates from the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino got the INC’s nod.
INC spokesperson Bienvenido Santiago said in a statement at that time that in making election endorsements, the group “takes into account the general well-being of its flock and the commitment of the candidates to guarantee the untrammelled exercise of religious freedom.”
As for specific guidelines, the INC measures a candidate’s “capability to govern, both physically and intellectually, and political will to effect national unity and peace are also among the factors considered.”
Arroyo and De Castro won, though their election victories are being contested to this day. Meanwhile, three of their twelve senatorial endorsees didn’t make the cut – Robert Barbers, Ernesto Maceda, and John Osmena. Administration candidates Pia Cayetano, Richard Gordon, and Lito Lapid won instead. INC’s close ties to Arroyo led them to their worst senatorial endorsement record ever.
The 2007 midterm elections happened against the backdrop of the Hello Garci scandal which put in doubt the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration. The election was widely seen as a referendum on Arroyo. Despite the pro-opposition tide sweeping the country, the INC endorsed six candidates from Arroyo’s Team Unity (TU), five from Genuine Opposition (GO), and reelectionist Senator Francis Pangilinan, who ran independently.
Eight candidates from GO won, together with only two from TU, as well as independent re-eelectionist Pangilinan and the returning Gregorio Honasan. Four of the candidates the INC endorsed lost: Defensor, Recto, Sotto, and Zubiri, and all of them came from TU. Cayetano, Honasan, Pimentel, and Trillanes of the Genuine Opposition won despite not being endorsed by INC.
Three years ago, all but one of INC’s endorsees lost. The sole miss came from Liberal party’s Ruffy Biazon. His partymate Sergio Osmena III won instead. Interestingly, Osmena got an endorsement from the INC for his 2001 senate bid.
1. Ruffy Biazon (Liberal Party) – x (Osmena)
2. Bong Revilla (Lakas-Kampi)
3. Pia Cayetano (Nacionalista Party)
4. Miriam Defensor Santiago (People’s reform Party)
5. Franklin Drilon (Liberal Party)
6. Juan Ponce Enrile (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino)
7. Jinggoy Estrada (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino)
8. TG Guingona (Liberal Party)
9. Lito Lapid (Lakas-Kampi)
10. Bongbong Marcos (Nacionalista Party)
11. Ralph Recto (Liberal Party)
12. Tito Sotto (Nationalist People’s Coalition)
This means that 52 of the 61 senatorial candidates INC carried in the last five national elections won, for an accuracy rating of 85.2%. It can be observed that most of the time, the INC endorses candidates who are already in the winning circle though they do take a risk occasionally with mixed results. It has long been discussed that INC support is decisive is important especially for those in the tail end of the Senate race. Consider the following:
1. With an endorsement from the INC, Honasan would have won the 12th place in the 2001 senate race, which means can serve until 2007. Instead, he merely served out Teofisto Guingona’s unfinished term until 2004.
2. Had INC endorsed Pimentel in 2007, his lead over Zubiri would have been bigger and less vulnerable to cheating. He wouldn’t have needed to wait until 2011 to occupy his seat.
3. Teofisto Guingona III of Liberal Party won the 12th and last spot in the 2010 senate race over his partymate Risa Hontiveros by a margin of 1.1 million votes. What if Hontiveros and not Guingona got the endorsement instead?