Iglesia ni Cristo: We are one

Sabbath, Shaw Boulevard, early evening: glassy-eyed commuters, old ladies clutching plastic bags, the occasional saleslady, all shouldering into the horde, packed like sausages going bad at the edges, crotch to ass, elbow to gut, excuse me, sorry, let me through, crazy, crazy, crazy. The old man in the soaked shirt says it, mutters it into the back of someone’s neck, mumbles it as he shuffles forward inch by humid inch, says it again just before he falls on someone’s shoulder with one foot in the gutter and one hand clutching at air. Crazy, crazy, crazy.   

There they are, half a block away, the roiling, shifting, seething mass boiling at the intersection of EDSA and Shaw, plastic flags whipping, under traffic lights that still blink blind, shifting green to red to green again over a highway clogged with humanity. The jeeps come in, parking in the distance, forty of them rolling in from the north, the buses vomiting out five dozens each.

Neil Sedaka booms over the speakers, run, Samson, run. The crowd roaring as a pitchfork-wielding Leila de Lima hacks off an animated Isaiah Samson's hair. Run Samson, run, Delilah's on her way. This is the crowd that cheered in the late afternoon, cheered at the good news announced with pomp and circumstance, cheered when they were told Ortigas is blocked, brothers and sisters.

Oh, run Samson run, Delilah's on her way. Run Samson run, you ain't got time to stay.

A man with a microphone walks into the stage and shouts at the crowd.

Would you like to hear a joke? Would you like to laugh?

Yes, shouts the crowd.

The government says there are only 13,000 of us here.

He pauses. 

Now you can laugh!

The crowd laughs.

We are a hundred, he says. We are twenty-five.

The crowd cheers.

A million, says the sweating man in blue handing out flyers. A million, says the woman who will not give her name.

We are a million. And we are one.

The sidewalks are gone, a carpet of flattened cardboard boxes and aluminum sheets is laid out a city block deep, strewn with bodies and plastic bottles and the detritus of someone’s dinner. The rain comes down in torrents, leaving behind the stink of sweat and urine – a contribution from the man pissing on a cement post next to a sleeping baby.

The train rumbles overhead. There are signs posted everywhere, black on white tarpaulin, hanging from walkways, taped to the back of cars, used as ponchos by the men standing in the rain. The words are in block letters – freedom of religion, right to worship, let us be – don’t screw with us.

Ask them what they stand for, ask them who they are, ask them what church and state means to them. Watch the heads turn, see the hands clutch, no name, no home, no stance, can’t talk, sorry, sorry, go away. Tinker, tailor, reporter, spy.

Shout your love, says the man on the stage. They do, for God, for Christ, for the great EVM, but the outrage of the revolutionary is missing from the flag-waving throng. The smiles are sheepish, the eyes darting, the arms limp, the crowd by the railings giving off the whiff of guilty schoolboys who can’t quite believe their teacher is offering them beer. 

We are one. We are one. We are one.

The man with the microphone is still rousing the crowd. The language is repetitive, enemies at the gates, God on our side, show them, tell them, repeat after me.

We were going about our business. We were quiet. We were law-abiding. We are lovers of peace. They forced us into this, the bright boys of the government, the biased people of the government, the prejudices of one Leila de Lima and her cohort of godless men.

We are good people, yes?

We are kind people, yes? 

We are a peaceful, law-abiding people, yes?

They disrespected our God, our church, our families, our prayers, yes?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

We will not be trifled with, yes?

Yes!

 

They are still there in the morning.

Past ten, the face of INC’s general evangelist Bienvenido Santiago appears on screen.

"We'd like to inform you all that both the Iglesia and the government have spoken to each other and clarified matters. So all is well."

Cheers, prayers, weeping, the words booming out of the speakers drowned in the wave of celebration. The leaders of the churches rise to thank their flock. The crowd disperses, the muck of days packed into plastic bags and cleared off the sidewalks.

Ask them what victory is. Ask them what they know. Ask why they cheer. 

We proved we were united. We stood for our church.

In the offices of the Department of Justice, in the press room of the Palace, the government is categorical. No deal was struck. De Lima stays. The people must go. 

Back to the jeeps, over the motorcycle saddle, up the steps to the train, down to the highway they had blocked to hail buses for home. 

The government interfered with God’s plan, yes?

Leila violated the law of the land, yes? 

They disrespected our God, our church, our families, our prayers, yes?

Yes?

All is well. We are one.  Stills and video by Carlo Gabuco / Rappler.com