Corona, Aquino avoid face-off in Iglesia Bible expo

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MANILA -- Warring leaders President Benigno Aquino III and Chief Justice Renato Corona avoided seeing each other in Tuesday's grand evangelical mission of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) in Manila.

The President said he was told that everyone, including him, was invited to the activity as part of the INC's evangelization work, but at the same time, he received information that his presence "might give a political tinge to the whole event, which detracts from the religious intention of this activity."

Some 600,000 people trooped to the event as traffic was snarled at roads leading to the Quirino Grandstand in Manila due to the influx of INC members and supporters, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.


Similar activity was held simultaneously in 19 other venues in the country.

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Some 7,000 INC members gathered in Fuente Osmeña Rotonda in Cebu City, while at least 400,000 people showed up in Tarlac City, PNP spokesman Agrimero Cruz Jr. said in a text message to Sun.Star.

Thousands also gathered at the Tionko football fields along Quimpo Boulevard in Davao City. INC followers arrived in buses, vans and jeepneys from neighboring provinces, clogging up traffic in the routes leading to the football fields.

Since he chose not to attend the activity, Aquino said he would just want to say "thank you" to the INC for supporting him in the 2007 senatorial and 2010 presidential elections.

"I was supported by the Church in 2010 and also in '07, so 'thank you.' I am sure that they have been partners like when I was still a congressman in Tarlac," he told reporters after a speaking engagement at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

Like Aquino, Corona declined the INC's invitation following the advice of fellow magistrates and close associates.

"The Chief Justice will not attend the prayer and evangelical mission to avoid accusations that he is using the prayer rally for political purposes," SC spokesperson Midas Marquez said, adding that all justices were invited to attend the event at the Quirino Grandstand.

Marquez said Corona has just extended his congratulations to the INC, whose members have rallied behind him in his impeachment although the religious group did not officially declared support for the Chief Justice.

The INC leadership earlier said the activity is not a political rally in support of Corona.

"This religious activity is one of the means by which the Church propagates the teachings of God in the Bible that members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo believe to be essential for man's salvation," INC spokesman Bienvenido Santiago said.

He noted that the gathering and the impeachment trial were only coincidental; stressing the 2012 has been marked as the evangelical mission year.

If there were politicians and government officials that were invited to the event, Santiago said they will not be allowed to speak as they all know, especially those who were earlier invited in the same gathering, that their only role there is to listen.

Aquino, apparently downplaying reports that the INC was supportive of Corona, said there were also a number of members of the religious group who are supportive of his administration's efforts, including the move to impeach Corona.

He failed to elaborate, but said the event was geared toward the group's centennial celebration in 2014.

"So they want a very significant centennial celebration in two years' time and they have deemed this is necessary to lead to that," Aquino said.

As of 6:48 p.m. Tuesday, the Manila Police District estimated the crowd at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila at 600,000. More and more people started arriving at the venue, spilling over to the areas of Katigbak and South Drives, at the Rizal monument, and Roxas Boulevard from Delpan to Vito Cruz at the Philippine International Convention Center, said the police.

With this, traffic was snarled at roads leading to the grandstand.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino admitted they experienced difficulty untangling the traffic jams when public and private vehicles ferrying INC members started arriving as early as Monday night to early morning Tuesday to attend the event.

"Because of the influx of motorists, difficulties were experienced. There were buses that transported INC members from as far as Central Luzon, Bicol and Quezon," Tolentino said.

He said to ease the problem, the MMDA had arranged parking areas at the north wing of the Quirino Grandstand, while another was located at the South Drive from Roxas Boulevard to Independence Road for those with car passes.

However, the official said hundreds of vehicles have parked in the area and occupied the lanes of Roxas Boulevard and secondary streets near the Quirino Granstand, resulting in traffic problem.

One lane parking each at the Roxas Boulevard from P. Burgos to P. Ocampo Street, and Bonifacio Drive from 25th Street to Anda Cirle, on the other hand, was made available for buses.

"Based on our monitoring, parked vehicles have reached parts of Roxas Boulevard up to the Cuneta Astrodome," the MMDA chief said.

The same problem was monitored at the Nichols Interchange, particularly on the north-bound side, though traffic was light at the opposite side.

Earlier, some 100 INC members were stranded in Barangay Mayapa, Calamba, Laguna, as they had run out of vehicles that would bring them to Manila for the event.

Traffic at the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) eased around noon, the Metro Base said after hours of moderate to heavy traffic caused by a traffic accident early morning.

To alleviate the problem, MMDA Assistant General Manager for Planning Emerson Carlos said the agency deployed "Libreng Sakay" buses at affected areas, as well as 700 traffic enforcers to augment those deployed by the Manila City Government.

Some 500 policemen from the MPD and the National Capital Region Police Office were also on hand to secure the gathering.

Ambulances and the agency's emergency services team were also sent to provide assistance if needed.

Among those who attended the religious gathering Tuesday were Pangasinan Representative Gina de Venecia, former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo's lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, Marquez, former National Bureau of Investigation director Magtanggol Gatdula, Navotas City Representative Tobias Tiangco, former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon Ejercito, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, former senator Ernesto Maceda, and Rizal Governor Jun Ynares.

Similar grand evangelical missions have been conducted at the Quezon Memorial Circle in 1995 and at the Amoranto Stadium in 1996.

INC spokesperson Santiago said similar gatherings have been conducted in the past, majority of which were held on a smaller scale.

INC is an independent Christian group founded by Brother Felix Manalo in July 1914 in Sta. Ana, Manila.

Since then, it has grown to three million members as 747 of its 5,121 congregations are based in 93 countries. (Virgil Lopez/SDR/AMN/ECV/AH/JOP of Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

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