A proper tribute to INC founder | Inquirer Opinion
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A proper tribute to INC founder

Like many Filipinos who don’t belong to the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), I knew very little about this indigenous church, and even less about its founder, Felix Manalo.

The little I knew of the INC was based on superficial observations and word of mouth. I knew of it mostly because of its temples, white concrete structures notable for their shapes and ornate decor. Talk had it that members were guaranteed lifetime employment, but that in return they were forbidden from joining labor unions or going on strike.


But mostly, I knew about the INC because of its vaunted “bloc voting,” with millions of members taking their cues from the church’s national leadership on who to vote for in both national and local elections, a practice that gave the INC unprecedented influence with and power over government officials.

Then, when its members held a protest action in front of the Department of Justice and thence on Edsa, another face of the INC emerged: a church unafraid to use bully tactics to get its way when the law threatens its leaders’ interests.


I now wonder how the INC protest would have played in the public’s perception had “Felix Manalo,” the movie purportedly based on the life of the church’s founder, was shown commercially before then. I don’t think the film could have had much impact, for while it may have made people more sympathetic to or understanding of the INC, the pace, length and subject matter do not make for compelling viewing.

* * *

But I am glad the movie was made, if only to pay proper tribute to a Filipino who overcame traditional and religious restrictions to follow his own path, despite the obstacles.

The period leading to the revolution against Spain and the turn-of-the-century arrival of the Americans was fraught with frightening change and challenges to the status quo. More so for the film’s Felix Manalo, whose mother and family (including a priest-uncle) are staunch Catholics, and who moves to Manila with his uncle to study and perhaps pursue the priesthood. But following his own restless intellect and questioning mind, Manalo abandons the Catholic Church and embarks on a search for the “truth” that leads him to different Protestant congregations and finally to founding the INC.

This phase of Manalo’s searching is the movie’s weak underbelly, being much too talky. Joel Lamangan, the film’s director, searches for ways to portray the inner struggle of his subject matter, to little avail.

My favorite part of the three-hour movie is the segment on the INC’s travails during the Japanese Occupation and the deaths and persecution of its members. Although, as portrayed in the movie, Manalo seems to have done nothing but listen to the stories and sympathize with the tellers.

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Dennis Trillo, as Felix Manalo, admirably plays it low-key and subdued, eschewing emoting for conveying his inner struggle. Bela Padilla, as Manalo’s second wife and lifelong partner Honorata (Ata), is a pleasant surprise.

Art direction, especially the costumes and makeup, were spot-on and, as far as I can tell, faithful to the period. Lamangan deserves credit for managing his huge cast, which features quite a number of actors in cameo roles, as well as for putting order to a sprawling and epic story.

I still have questions about the basis of the INC’s beliefs, but in telling the story of one man’s and one community’s search for truth, the movie deepens our appreciation for the courage it took to ask questions and act on them.

* * *

Joining our media group invited to taste the pleasures and luxuries of Bluewater Panglao Resort in Bohol was a production team from the GMA-News TV show “Day Off.” The show gives a literal “day off” to ordinary folk, bringing them to exotic locations around the country, while celebrity hosts take the place of the selected subjects at their workplace, trying their hand at unglamorous chores.

For a show scheduled near the Christmas season, the producers decided to feature twin brothers Ronel and Rodel Arojo, who work for a ham-making factory in Laguna, ham being a staple of Filipinos’ holiday tables.

Acting as host of this episode and guide to the Arojo brothers as they feasted on Bluewater Panglao’s meals and enjoyed everything that Bohol has to offer—from water sports, to heritage structures, and goggle-eyed tarsiers—was Maey Bautista, who by herself has an interesting back story.

A production staffer at many GMA-7 shows, Maey caught the attention of the network bosses with her natural bubbly self and self-deprecating humor. Her talent came to the fore when she was cast as a contestant on the show “Survivor,” partnering with comedian Betong (also a former production staffer) as one of the pairs seeking to prevail despite the hardships, lack of food and physical challenges. I don’t know if she emerged winner, but Maey took advantage of the stint as a stepping stone to a performing career.

Also on hand from the “Day Off” team were segment producer Shaine Aica Galang, researcher Michelle Bacsa, and crew members Alvin Escarmosa and Richard Rebellon.

PR maven Pete Dacuycuy couldn’t join us at the last minute because of an attack of gout, but our group was joined by his niece Pinky San Andres, who contributes to the Bulletin. Pinky’s husband Noel rushed to be by her side (taking an 8-hour boat ride from Samar) when she suffered gastric pains, and was with us on our final day. Joy Fong, who writes for a lifestyle magazine, was also part of the group, as was noted photographer Donald Tapan. Our thanks to the amazing staff of Bluewater Panglao, especially Marvin Lao, coordinator for the marketing communications group.

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TAGS: Felix Manalo, Iglesia Ni Cristo
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