Manila - Amid an internal power struggle that stunned the nation with allegations of misgovernance, detentions and abductions, thousands of members of the Iglesia ni Cristo celebrated the indigenous sect's 101st anniversary Sunday.
Some of those who flocked to the INC-owned Philippine Arena in Bulacan had been there just after midnight. Those who motored on Sunday morning had to deal with big traffic jams on the NLEx, prompting dozens of churchgoers to simply park their vehicles on the side of the expressway, prompting the MMDA to tow them.
No politicians were spotted in the crowd, even though political leaders have traditionally sought to be seen congratulating the powerful sect, where command voting is part of the basic tenets.
Some believers had also come from abroad. The INC has 3 million followers in the Philippines and over a hundred other countries.
At 7 a.m., the INC's current leader, Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, led the prayers, and counselled the flock to pray always, stay fast to the beliefs handed down to them, and always avoid lies and deception. This prompted some in the congregation to turn emotional.
The past week had seen stunning developments in the sect, which is known to keep a tight hold on followers, after no less than Executive Minister Manalo's younger brother Felix Nathaniel or "Angel" sought help in a YouTube video. He said he, his mother and several ministers critical of the leadership's decisions are being harassed. A subsequent audio clip of his mother "Ka Tenny" pleaded for help, saying their lilves were in danger. She also called out to her eldest son Eduardo, asking for a chance to talk to him.
A blogger also claimed several ministers were abducted and are being detained with the connivance of some law enforcers.
The allegations prompted the INC leadership to expel Angel, his mother Cristina or Ka Tenny, and other siblings Marc and Lottie. Eduardo Manalo himself signed the expulsion order, according to reports.