The guy has guts, I’ll give him that. Or else, he’s really incurably dense and hopelessly forgetful—or just incredibly desperate.
It turns out that President Noynoy Aquino didn’t go to the Iglesia ni Cristo headquarters in Quezon City yesterday to ask the influential bloc-voting church to vote for administration presidential candidate Mar Roxas. According to my sources, Aquino swallowed his pride—more on this later—to ask the INC to endorse his vice presidential bet, Leni Robredo.
Aquino needn’t have bothered. As politely as possible, he was told by executive minister Eduardo Manalo and other elders of the church that his candidates are simply not on their list.
In the case of Robredo, in fact, the issue has already been settled, Aquino was reportedly told. All indications (confirmed by my own sources in the church) point to a firm decision by the Iglesia to vote for Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, even if it has not yet declared its choice for president as yet.
Besides, Aquino was already too late when he went to “Sentral,” as INC members call their church’s headquarters. One highly-placed source in the church told me that the sample ballots for INC members have already been prepared and printed and may be distributed to the faithful as early as today—even if no one except for Manalo and a few top-ranking advisers of his know its contents.
I cannot confirm if Aquino followed the usual protocol before visiting Sentral. A sitting president who goes to Sentral usually sends feelers first to designated INC liaison officers, through his own liaison people in Malacañang.
If Aquino did any kind of prior intelligence-gathering and liaising, he would have saved himself the embarrassment of personally hearing his request turned down (no matter how nicely) by the church’s leaders. And the INC, out of courtesy, would certainly not stop him from paying them a visit, even if they already knew that they were not supporting the president’s candidates.
But what Aquino seems to have gotten right is the futility of pushing for Roxas—before the INC or anywhere else. And the push for Robredo could be motivated purely by the supposed “winnability” of the congressman from Naga City or part of a more complicated plan to keep the Yellows in power through an alleged “Plan C” that involves ousting the winner in the presidential race, in order to install Leni as a Gloria-like president afterwards.
Whatever motivated Aquino to visit Manalo and the INC, it certainly wasn’t because he suddenly realized that he was a friend of the church. Because, if you know the back story, he most certainly is not.
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It’s true that the INC, which is believed to command around two million votes, supported Aquino’s presidential run in 2010. But the thanks they got for that was to be told by Aquino, in a meeting with church leaders early in his term, that they could expect no favors from him.
Aquino apparently told Manalo and other INC leaders that he didn’t need the votes because he would have won anyway without them. This was the first major offense of Aquino against the church, which is widely believed to leverage the votes it delivers to winning candidates for strategic appointments and other favors for the benefit of its membership.
During the impeachment trial of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in the first part of 2012, the INC was supposedly opposed to the plan to unseat the top magistrate. The INC held a massive “prayer rally” at Manila’s Rizal Park to express its displeasure over Aquino’s plan to remove Corona—even if the church didn’t protest when the President eventually had his way.
Finally, last year, in the middle of the controversy surrounding the internal uprising in the INC involving the mother and siblings of Manalo himself, the church took offense that then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima—a known Aquino hatchet-woman—seemed to be giving credence to the allegations of Lowell Menorca and other revolting clergymen. This led to yet another protest rally on Edsa, which thankfully did not result in violence.
For all these reasons, it’s clear to see that the INC has no love lost for Aquino and his administration. And why, I’m told, the church’s choice for a new president was quickly narrowed down to either Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte or Vice President Jejomar Binay.
This is why I say that it took a lot of guts for Aquino to show up at Sentral on that fool’s errand of his. I really can’t say if Aquino is totally clueless or if he honestly forgot all about the INC’s grievances against him and his administration.
But maybe Aquino isn’t clueless or forgetful. Maybe he’s just really, really desperate to stay out of jail after his term ends on June 30, now that it appears clear that neither of his top two candidates are going to win.
Desperation is a powerful motivation. And Aquino, for all his tough talk and empty claims of being the best president ever, is clearly one scared, soon-to-be-powerless ex-president.