EXPLAINER: More may be endorsed by Iglesia ni Cristo. In 2019, INC picked Edgar Labella, Mike Rama, 6 other Barug bets; 7 BOPKs, minus Tomas Osmeña, Mary Ann de los Santos.

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4 FROM BARUG SO FAR. As of this news feed, Partido Barug was still waiting for word from Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) that would endorse more of its candidates. Only four Barug candidates have so far been "blessed" by INC: Cebu City reelectionist councilors Joel Gaganera and Jerry Guardo and newbie Jaypee Labella, and candidate for north district congresswoman Niña Mabatid.

Aspirants from administration Barug and opposition Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) are known to have wooed for INC support.

Last April 7, Mayor Mike Rama -- with fellow Barug bets Dondon Hontiveros, Joel Garganera and Peter Mancao -- was seen outside the Iglesia's Cebu City district headquarters on Gen. Maxilom Ave.

PREMATURE NEWS. Mayor Mike's official Facebook carrying photo of the visit prematurely announced an INC endorsement ("I am grateful for your support...") but the next day retracted it ("I apologize for the mis-impression...), Mike blamed it on "confusion" caused by an "enthusiastic supporter." Confirmed later though was that INC endorsed the four Barug bets but not any other yet from the party.

Other candidates outside Cebu City who already got the INC backing include, media reports said, Governor Gwen Garcia, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Ahong Chan, Talisay Mayor Samsam Gullas and others in the Alayon slate, and Minglanilla Mayor Rajid Enad.

HOPE BASED ON INC'S 2019 PICK. Chances were still open for a repeat of the INC support for Mike Rama and other Barug bets. In the 2019 election, INC went for Edgardo Labella, for mayor, Rama, vice mayor. and six councilor bets, namely, Tony Cuenco, Gerry Carillo, Dondon Hontiveros, Raymond Garcia, Edu Rama and Niña Mabatid.

Compare that with INC's support for BOPK aspirants: none for the top two posts but the late Raul del Mar and Bebot Abellanosa got the nod for the congressional north and south seats, and five for councilors: Leah Japson, Alvin Arcilla, Alvin Dizon, Jerry Guardo and Yayoy Alcoseba. (Yes, Guardo ran and won under BOPK but defected to Barug.)

The last election in which INC rooted for BOPK mayor and vice mayor was in 2016 when it picked the Tomas Osmeña and Labella tandem.

Mayor Rama called his INC visit "part of a religious inter-faith campaign as ascendant mayor and candidate for mayor." He didn't have to explain. Candidates, local and national, consider the INC support as extremely helpful, notably because of their bloc voting.

HOW WANNABES VIEW INC NOD. Mayor Mike partly covered his political intentions in saying he was also promoting inter-faith in their April 7 visit. He said it was "important to seek the support of all religious sectors and organizations during elections." Councilor Garganera said all candidates do it.

The reason is that INC delivers bloc votes, which the Catholic Church doesn't do and only few other groups do. In close races, the INC support may make the difference.

That doesn't guarantee victory, Mike Rama said last May 17, 2019, but it does help. Among INC's choices in the 2019 election, Labella and Rama won the city's top posts and five of six from Barug and five of five BOPK councilors also made it. BOPK's House bets -- del Mar and Abellanosa -- also won. Carillo and Guardo lost but Guardo moved to #8 in the north after BOPK's Sisenio Andales and Alvin Arcilla were disqualified for violation of term limit.

INC must have helped the winners but, to be sure, they had a high batting average in choosing them a few days before the race.

CRITICISM ON BLOC VOTING. Apparently, INC has used bloc voting to make itself a political force to reckon with. Obviously, it has succeeded. Proof of that: INC is being sought for help by candidates every election. Its formula must be to support candidates who, the Iglesia believes, will win and occupy influential positions: "winnability" for high seats of power.

Do the politicians seeking favor from INC know how bloc voting is enforced by church leaders? They must know or are assumed to know.

A Rappler May 15, 2019 article by one Enrico Roces, an INC member, said the Iglesia seeks and gets political power from the state that it helps form and in turn helps the religious group. Not a secret, to be sure.

The INC supposedly wants only the freedom to exercise its religion. But then Constitution and the laws already guarantee that. It must want political leaders who assure and deliver the protection -- or risk denial of bloc votes in future elections. What can be stronger and more irresistible lobby than the promise of votes in bundles or chunks?

What politicians backed by INC may have ignored or shoved aside is that the group (a) allegedly supported "plunderers, land grabbers, and human rights abusers," in effect "violating all the tenets their religion teaches"; and (b) allegedly coerced members to follow voting orders from the leaders, in the name of unity, with no right to question the choice, even threatening with "ruining the chance of everyone to go to heaven."

In 2019, INC supported Bong Revilla, JInggoy Estrada and Bato de la Rosa, among others. In 2016, it backed Rodrigo Duterte for president and Bongbong Marcos for vice president. This year, it already endorsed the BBM-Sara tandem and its senatorial bets, who still include Jinggoy Estrada.

It's clear that criticisms of bloc voting and whatever methods the rule is being enforced by INC -- including refusal of its leaders to explain their choice and using the mass "loss of heaven" card -- haven't dissuaded politicians from seeking or accepting its support.

KEEPING QUIET. Isko Moreno, presidential wannabe, said he respects the Iglesia process, as he must also respect the Catholic Church's process of not ordering its members whom to vote for. Moreno lost the INC seal of approval to Bongbong Marcos. Would that change his public stand on INC's "unity" policy?

Candidates who get INC backing are "deeply honored and humbled," as Labella said he was in 2019. Those who are pushed aside, as Tomas Osmeña and Mary Ann de los Santos were in the same year, could only keep quiet. They'd still need INC in the next election, which is already a few days away.

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