Philippine sect opens 'worlds largest indoor arena'

Manila - Philippine President Benigno Aquino presided over the opening on Monday of what is billed as the world's largest indoor stadium, erected by a politically-influential religious sect.

The $175-million Philippine Arena, which can seat 55,000 people, was hailed as a showcase that will serve as a major venue for concerts and sports events as well as gatherings for its owners, the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) sect.

"You have proved that the Filipino can reach great heights, that we can have achievements as lofty as any in the world," Aquino said in a speech to Iglesia members.

He hailed the 15-storey structure as "the largest domed arena in the whole world", saying its capacity was "even double that of the Staples Center in Los Angeles", a major sporting and entertainment venue.

Ground-breaking was in July 2011 for the stadium, which has a floor area of about 99,000 square metres (1.065 million square feet) and a height of 62 metres, and the facility was formally completed this month.

Located in Bocaue town, just outside the capital, the arena's construction is just one of many events marking the centennial of the Iglesia ni Cristo on July 27.

The Christian sect also said the stadium will have a capacity about double that of other popular indoor arenas like New York's Madison Square Garden.

However the Singapore National Stadium, completed in June, also seats 55,000 people and has been hailed in the press as the world's largest domed structure.

The builders have said the arena will be resistant to earthquakes which are a frequent threat to the country which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

The Iglesia ni Cristo sect wields considerable political influence in the Philippines as its members, believed to number about three million people, vote as a bloc for whoever their leaders endorse.