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‘Tiwalag’

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‘Tiwalag’

It is the root word of a Filipino noun and verb (in various tenses) that mean expulsion, expel, expelled, etc.: “tiwalag.”

This T word brings fear among the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) followers because, to them, being stripped of membership means certain damnation to the fires of hell. The INC teaches that only through this church can one attain salvation—that is, go to heaven. It is the powerful Sanggunian (advisory council), which governs the INC, that can order the expulsion of members who are deemed to have gravely sinned or spread erroneous beliefs incompatible to INC teachings. For the INC, Jesus Christ is not divine but a God-sent messenger (sugo).

Also, an INC member told me, marrying someone who is not an INC member and getting pregnant out of wedlock, among other missteps, could mean tiwalag. I couldn’t resist asking, but gently: Didn’t Jesus Christ defend and reach out to the woman caught in adultery?

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Unlike in mainstream Christian churches such as the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches that do not exclude people of other faiths from the so-called economy of salvation, the INC maintains that it alone has the monopoly of the truth and the keys to the kingdom of God in the afterlife.

In the Catholic Church, excommunication or being denied the sacraments is rarely applied. And when it is, it is on those who openly rabble-rouse to defy doctrinal teachings on faith and morals, etc. In which case, the excommunicated is better off leaving anyway, because, why stay? But there is no talk of eternal damnation, at least in present times. Crimes (e.g., murder, rape, corruption) are better tackled in court.

Catholics can openly criticize erring pastors, question policies and traditions, even doubt articles of faith, and not be ousted. I know Catholics who cry for changes in the patriarchal state of affairs in the institution but who loudly profess their love for the church that, Catholic Christians believe, Jesus founded.

You can’t do that in the INC. So what happens now that the leaders who have the power to expel members are themselves being accused of wrongdoing by their own members? Ironically, these leaders who are being accused of corruption, abuse of power and other grave misdeeds are considered the keepers of the keys to the kingdom. By decree, they can condemn to hell the members who, motivated by their desire to see reforms, dare question. Alas, the expelled believe they are indeed damned.

It’s been two weeks since the INC imbroglio broke in the news, but long before that there was already restiveness in the ranks. The media, not the law enforcers, were the first recourse of disgruntled members who claimed harassment. For days, it was touch and go.

Finally, there was INC “Deep Throat” aka Antonio Ramirez Ebangelista, whose blog, “Iglesia ni Cristo, Silent No More,” gained followers who became a “core group” that refused to be “blind followers.” But no names, no faces.

Will you or will you not? I snarled at the hesitating INC source who, to be fair, later brought out a bag of beans for spilling. But only after Angel Manalo and his mother Cristina (Tenny) jumped the gun, so to speak, by coming out on video and saying they feared for their lives, with the latter begging to talk to her son Eduardo, the current INC executive minister.

Poor Angel is closeted (or being held captive?) in his home in the INC compound in Quezon City. Sympathizers bring him food. His widowed mother Tenny is believed to be abroad and ailing. Besides Tenny and Angel, another brother and a sister of Eduardo—Marco and Lottie—have been expelled. Itiniwalag na. But they are not leaving the INC, they protested. Where will we go? Angel asked.

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The INC could be a luxurious comfort zone to these third-generation Manalos whose grandfather Felix founded it in Manila in 1914 and was later succeeded (monarchic style) by his son Eraño, husband of Tenny and the father of Eduardo who has just expelled his own mother and siblings. The INC claims some two million members here and abroad who vote as a bloc.

With the INC’s influence and supposed wealth (from members’ offerings), many politicians woo INC votes, a situation that could lead to unholy deals. A dismayed INC source revealed that with national elections 10 months away, the INC has revived the position of “political liaison.”

Whom to believe? Angel has made pleas and statements to the media through his home’s gate. An INC minister in the United States has resigned because he couldn’t bear to read to his flock the circular on the expulsion of the Manalo family members. A minister now denies he was ever abducted, but his own brother insists the minister was forced to change the story. (The Department of Justice is now looking into the alleged abductions.)

The story unfolds one day at a time. And where has Eduardo been all this time? Except for his sermon during the INC’s 101st founding anniversary at the $200-million Ciudad de Victoria INC complex two weeks ago, little has been heard from him. He has not boldly confronted allegations of wrongdoing in the INC’s upper echelon. Is he under the spell of the Sanggunian?

If INC critics do not invoke command responsibility, it is because of a rule—written or unwritten, I don’t know—that the successors/descendants of the INC founder are never to be questioned.

Now in the media’s possession is a damning document in PowerPoint that shows the alleged rot in the Sanggunian over which Eduardo presides. It is a jaw-dropping exposé about corruption in high places. Is the INC now deeply in debt? Why? How explain Ciudad de Victoria/Philippine Arena? Needed are hard evidence and spade work that should lead to a paper trail that should lead to banks, property registries and hidden places that show proof of rot.

The T word keeps many INC members in fear and trembling.

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TAGS: Angel Manalo, Antonio Ramirez Ebangelista, Ciudad de Victoria, Eduardo Manalo, Eraño Manalo, expulsion, Felix Manalo, Iglesia Ni Cristo, INC, Philippine Arena, Tenny Manalo, tiwalag
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