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Cablegate: The Inc and El Shaddai: Two Philippine Religious

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.






1. (U) This message is Sensitive but Unclassified -- Please
protect accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and the
charismatic El Shaddai Catholic group are politically active
and their leaders retain significant influence on national
politics. This influence was highlighted by a highly-
publicized joint statement issued by the two groups on
October 20 that called for an end to political bickering.
Candidates from political parties across the spectrum
actively seek the two groups' endorsement because their
members are more likely than other groups to vote as a bloc
and are therefore a strategic swing vote in close electoral
races. Continuing voter registration by overseas Filipinos,
among whom these groups have a large following, has the
potential to further increase INC and El Shaddai influence
in the years ahead. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Religious Leaders Call for End to Political Bickering
--------------------------------------------- --------

3. (U) On October 20, two of the Philippines' most
influential religious groups issued a rare joint statement
on the political situation. The statement issued in the
names of INC Executive Minister Erano "Ka Erdie" Manalo and
El Shaddai leader Mariano "Mike" Velarde appealed to
administration and Opposition leaders to "end the political
bickering that has been going on for months" for the sake of
the national interest. They called on politicians to focus
instead on "the pressing needs of our people," which they
said were being neglected as a result of the ongoing
political turmoil. The statement received widespread
publicity. Many politicians, including President Arroyo,
publicly noted the statement, thanking the INC and El
Shaddai for their effort to end the political turbulence in
the country.

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A High Degree of Political Influence

4. (SBU) The statement and the reaction to it highlighted
the influence that the INC and El Shaddai maintain in
Philippine politics. Before every election, candidates from
most parties actively seek the endorsement of these two
groups. Both the INC and El Shaddai consistently have been
active in supporting candidates and are believed to vote as
a bloc in elections, though the extent of the groups' impact
on actual electoral outcomes is debated. Most observers
agree, however, that their support can be decisive in close
races. Of the two, INC members are believed to be more
likely to vote as a bloc (see paras 7-11).

5. (U) The combined voting bloc of INC and El Shaddai
members is estimated at two to three million nationwide,
according to pollsters and political analysts, but some
estimates run much higher. Local pollsters say that El
Shaddai has an estimated total membership of three to four
million and the INC of two to four million. However, the
2000 Census only recorded 1.8 million INC members, up from
1.4 million in 1990, so the more conservative estimates are
probably correct. El Shaddai's numbers are not
disaggregated from those of Roman Catholics in the national

6. (U) Membership numbers alone do not account for the
INC's influence. The INC has gained power and influence far
beyond its size by using its endorsements strategically.
Filipino political analysts say that local politicians often
instruct their followers to support the presidential
candidate endorsed by Erano Manalo in return for INC support
in their own races, in effect multiplying a small INC vote
into a larger vote nationally (El Shaddai endorsement of a
candidate has a similar impact). As a result, the INC bloc
is a strategic swing vote at the national level, especially
in multiparty electoral contests for the Senate. Political
observers say that at the local level, especially in Luzon,
the INC-endorsed vote can determine the fate of a candidate.

Swing Votes = Electoral Clout

7. (U) The late Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda
brought the INC into a position of prominence alongside the
dominant Catholic Church and various Protestant churches.
The Marcoses paid periodic visits to the INC headquarters in
Quezon City and were regulars at Erano's birthday
celebrations. Consequently, the INC supported Marcos, even
directing members to vote for him in the 1986 elections
(this seriously divided the church, and many members voted
for Corazon Aquino despite the directive).

8. (SBU) Since 1986, both groups have been active in
supporting candidates in elections. When the INC and El
Shaddai effectively endorsed Arroyo in May 2004, they
probably played a decisive role in electing her. Arroyo
defeated her closest rival (Fernando Poe Jr., who was also
seeking the groups' endorsement) by a mere 3.5 percent of
votes cast -- or slightly more than 1.1 million votes.

9. (U) The INC supported Estrada even after his removal
from the presidency and arrest in 2001, and was expected to
support the Opposition candidate against Arroyo in 2004.
However, the failure of the Opposition to unite under either
Senator Lacson or Poe contributed to the INC's pragmatic
decision to opt for Arroyo.

10. (U) At least nine of the twelve Senate candidates
endorsed by the INC in 2004 were elected, although its
members' votes were not necessarily the decisive factor.
Observers credited INC votes for a half dozen Senate-seat
victories in the 2001 elections.

11. (U) During the 2001 mid-term elections, INC members
formed an estimated three percent of voters -- compared to
84 percent for Catholics and one percent for the Catholic El
Shaddai (this figure, lower than its estimated 3.2 percent
share of the electorate, is probably because voters
identified themselves as Catholics rather than El Shaddai,
not because fewer of them voted) -- and INC's voting bloc
was estimated 80 percent solid, translating into 800,000 to
one million votes. Days before the elections in May 2001,
soldiers surrounded the INC's headquarters in Quezon City
after intelligence officials heard reports of a coup being
planned there. In reaction, the INC removed its endorsement
of some candidates who were part of the pro-Arroyo People
Power Coalition. Arroyo went to the INC's headquarters the
next day to apologize, thus successfully restoring the INC's
support for her candidates.

Snapshots of Political Influence

12. (U) There is considerable anecdotal evidence that
places a spotlight on the influence of the INC and El
Shaddai. According to press reports, for example, while he
was a senior police officer Senator Panfilo Lacson faced a
dilemma over how to fire a controversial police colonel who
was an INC member. "Lacson had to go to the central INC
headquarters to secure permission to fire [the officer],"
according to an INC member quoted in the press. During the
2001 elections, observers noted that Lacson made it a point
to call on the INC leadership in every locality he visited
on the campaign trail.

13. (U) President Arroyo is often present at El Shaddai
celebrations and rallies. In addition, Vice President Noli
de Castro, Speaker Jose de Venecia, Senator Manuel "Mar"
Roxas and former president Estrada (who was temporarily
allowed out of house arrest for the event) all attended the
recent El Shaddai Anniversary and Brother Mike's birthday
celebration on August 21. Brother Mike is the "spiritual
adviser" of former president Estrada's family and of First
Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Secretary of the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources Michael Defensor is also
known to maintain close ties to the INC.

14. (SBU) Political support for the government has brought
apparent rewards. For example, the 1998-2001 Estrada
cabinet included two influential INC members. El Shaddai's
spokesperson Mel Robles is Administrator of the Light Rail
Transit Administration. President Arroyo also awarded a 353-
million peso (USD 6.3 million) housing loan grant to Brother
Mike's Amvel Land Development Corporation in November 2004,
a move criticized by some as politically motivated.

15. (U) In addition, Velarde -- or "Brother Mike" as he is
popularly known -- has been active in recent efforts to
bring together the Opposition and President Arroyo in an
effort to end the political turmoil. Together with other
influential figures, Brother Mike is calling for an early
presidential election in 2007 and for Arroyo to form a
coalition cabinet in the meantime. Velarde had previously
also proposed a referendum on whether Arroyo should finish
her term, which is scheduled to run through 2010.

Background: The Iglesia ni Cristo

16. (U) Felix Y. Manalo founded the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC)
in 1914. He died in 1963 and his fifth son Erano ("Ka
Erdie") was elected as his successor and is now the
Executive Minister of the church; his grandson Eduardo is
Deputy Executive Minister. They and sixteen other senior
ministers compose the Church Council, which issues edicts
ranging from personal behavior to which candidates to vote
for in elections. The INC is modeled after the Seventh Day
Adventist and Christian and Missionary Alliance churches.
It uses the Tagalog language in all its services. The INC
is known throughout the Philippines for its large white
Romanesque-style churches, which are spotlessly clean and
surrounded by high walls.

17. (SBU) Pasugo ("God's Message"), the church's official
publication, asserts that the INC is the "one true"
Christian church. INC believes that the Christian Church
"apostatized" after the first century, and that Felix Manalo
-- God's "last messenger" and the fulfillment of Biblical
prophecies -- restored the church to its original purity.
It has an authoritarian, highly centralized structure and is
extremely wary of outsiders. (Note: An INC member who is
poloff's acquaintance was extremely evasive about discussing
specifics about the church; he would only assert that the
INC does not mix church and state, and that it is not
beholden to any political party or group. End Note.)

18. (U) The INC has a media presence to spread its message.
It owns Eagle Broadcasting Corporation, and broadcasts
religious programs on DZEM-AM radio station and the Net-25
television station. INC also owns and operates New Era
University (which has multiple branches) and a hospital in

Background: El Shaddai

19. (SBU) El Shaddai (Hebrew for "God Almighty") is a
Catholic charismatic renewal movement established in 1984 by
Brother Mike Velarde. El Shaddai had its beginnings in a
religious radio program on Brother Mike's DWXI AM station in
August 1983, when he shared his "miraculous healing" from
heart disease. A year later, Brother Mike formally
organized the El Shaddai DWXI "Prayer Partners Foundation
International" as an institution to support the broadcasts
of the station. The aim of El Shaddai is to revive the
"true Christian spirit" of the Catholic faith. Brother
Mike's preaching of "miracles and healing" popularized El
Shaddai. El Shaddai sometimes has had a tricky relationship
with the Roman Catholic hierarchy (the church respects
Brother Mike, but is worried that he at times makes
unapproved statements on doctrine, politics, etc.).

20. (U) The movement eventually evolved into a weekly
gathering of thousands of Filipinos for prayer, healing, and
worship broadcast on national TV. It is now considered the
largest Catholic charismatic group in the Philippines, and
claims to have more than 200,000 card-carrying "covenant"
members, as well as five million "non-covenant" members
worldwide who regularly attend prayer meetings. El Shaddai
has congregations in the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, the Middle
East, Italy, and Japan, among other places.

21. (U) Brother Mike's deputy and heir-apparent is his son
Franklin, who is Chairman and Executive Coordinator of El
Shaddai. Another son, Rene Velarde, is one of two members
that the El Shaddai-backed party-list group "Buhay" ("Life"
in Tagalog) has in the House of Representatives.


22. (SBU) The INC's and El Shaddai's high degree of
political influence appears set to continue in years to
come. Most signs indicate that both groups continue to grow
in size and -- as with the October 20 statement -- every
indication is that the groups will continue to try to exert
influence on the political scene. Both groups should also
benefit as increasing numbers of Overseas Filipino Workers
(OFWs) register to vote (they had the chance to vote for the
first time in 2004, but only did so in limited numbers).
Given the fact that over eight million Filipinos live and
work overseas, the votes of OFW INC and El Shaddai members
could significantly increase the two groups' respective
influence in national politics in the years ahead.


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