By Wallace H. Little
This may sound more like “Salvation and Religion” than politics because I am dealing with the religious institutions there. But I am talking about their political effects, and the concurrent economic power they possess, rather than religious results.
In the Philippines today, there are two notable religious powers in politics. One is the Roman Catholic Church, which has been in that nation for something on the order of 400 plus years. It is thoroughly entrenched. While its religious influence has been partially dilured by its acceptance of pagan and indigenous religious practices, its politics remains at or near its peak. The nation is approximately 83 % Roman Catholic. This percentage show up in the family, in the barrio, the province, the educational system, the government, industry and commerce, and you name it. There is no area which is untouched by the influence of the Roman Church. So strong is it in one sense, that I knew personally a man who was convinced of the truth of the gospel, but refused to be baptized until his wife and two adult daughters (themselves Roman Catholics) gave their approval. The rooms in the schools are decorated with Roman Catholic Church paraphernalia, and there are statues to various “saints” in the yards of most I have seen. The RCC exerts much direct and indirect control over what is taught, how it is taught, who teaches it and the materials used. You can be sure little is presented which does not show Catholicism in the best possible light.
In employment, a Roman Catholic has a decided edge on anyone else who is not also a member of the RCC. If a dispute occurs between employees, one of them which is not a Roman Catholic, the odds heavily favor it being settled in favor of the Catholic. In a nation such as our own, where separation of church and state is mandated by the Constitution as well as accepted in practice, it is difficult for us to appreciate the all-pervading influence the RCC has in all levels and all stages of Philippine society. There are times when even wanting to preach the pure gospel of Christ in the streets will bring about wrath of the Catholic who feels he must become the “protector of the faith.” Our brethren there have been threatened with jail for preaching the truth. More than once, they have ended up in jail for doing so. It is hard for one not accustomed to such influence to understand why an intelligent people will sit still for the power exercised by the RCC. But it is there. One who goes there to work without regard for its existence is due for a surprise, and not a pleasant one, either.
Another religion which exerts a large influence there is the Iglesia ni Christo, literally, “Church of Christ.” This is not our brethren, who to meet the requirements of Philippine law, have identified themselves as “church of Christ (New Testament). ” Iglesia ni Christo was founded in 1914 by Felix Manalo who touted himself as a prophet equal to Christ. Since his death, his son has taken his place. Basically, the Manaloists deny the deity of Christ. The organizational structure is very rigid and tightly controlled. Their buildings all resemble each other, their exterior design being so they are recognized instantly by everyone wherever they might be and whatever their size. These folks comprise approximately 10′ of the population, but exercise a control and influence beyond what this figure indicates. During elections, they vote as a unit, for whichever candidate is selected by their organization. How many politicians in the U.S. would like to have 10% of the total vote “in their pockets”? I am understanding the case when I conclude the politicians there court the Manloists.
Their influence in some industries is exceedingly strong, although recent curbs by the government has reduced this. Still, in a business or industry where their control is assured, one who is not a member would have a very difficult time getting work. If he were a member, then changed his religion, the chances are he would suddenly find he no longer has a job.
A third group, the Muslims, exert considerable influence where their members are strong. This is mostly in central Mindanao. For the past several years, a portion of them have been in active revolt against the government. Their revolt was and, perhaps, may still be financed by some Arab oil nations whose speciality seems to be putting their noses into the internal affairs of other countries. Recently, the revolt seems to be quieting down and the area coming more under the effective control of the government. Examples of the treatment of others by the Muslims can be proved to underscore the influence of these people in their areas, and the consequent danger to all non-Muslims. For example several years ago, an attack was planned against a town not too far from Pagadian City, Mindanao. It was to kill the non-Muslims and undoubtedly to make off with whatever spoil could be found. It failed only because the mayor, a Muslim himself, learned of the plan, and placed his responsibilities above the desires of the rebels, his own ethnic group. The non-Muslims were warned and escaped before the attack. In other situations, folks were not so fortunate.
In one area, repeated Muslim attacks against ethnic ‘minorities produced death, homes and working tools burned and destroyed, and farm animals burned,butchered and stolen. Several thousand were forced off their own lands and migrated to the hill country north of Davao City, in southern Mindanao. There, the only work they could find was as tenant farmers in the uplands. Here irrigation was impossible and crops depended upon rain. Among this group were about 600 brethren making up 17 congregations. Without tools or farm animals for putting the plows, each man was capable of farming only about one hectare of land, as a tenant farmer. This meant the land-owner received 2501o of each crop. In a good year, a hectare provided enough rice or corn to permit a man to take care of his wife, three or four children and himself barely.
A crop failure is a disaster. In the spring of 1978, such a crop failure occurred because of a drought. Unable to irrigate, these people could not put out their first crop. When the food from their previous harvest was consumed, the food speculators moved in. These offered rice on loan at 6.40 a kilo (the going retail price was 2.10 kilo, but it takes money to buy at that price, and these tenant farmers had none). This “loan” was to be paid back when the second harvest came in, but in cash, not rice. It meant selling the crop in the open market for the wholesale price (about 1.50 per kilo). The results were that they owed approximately 4 kilo’s of rice money for each kilo of rice they borrowed. The ethnic minorities including our brethren, had to deal with the food speculators because no one else was willing to deal with them. The stage was set for near-perpetual economic slavery. U.S. brethren, on learning of the situation, provided enough benevolent funds to break the hold of the food speculators on the brethren. The non-Christians were not so fortunate.
Three percent of the population comprise all the members of the various denominations and sects there. In this figure is included our brethren in Christ (of course, the Philippine Government looks on God’s children as just another denomination). These groups have little if any influence in politics. This is because of their small sizes, divisions, and the fact their thrust and interest go in other directions. This is specially true of brethren.
Until the mid-1960’s, those who held to the institutional position were pretty much in control of God’s people there. The Philippine Bible College (PBC) at Baguio City, had its tentacles in virtually all churches in that nation. The Americans who ran the PBC had close control over these churches. Then things began to change. Brethren there with little outside help and only their New Testaments to go.hy (what else should they have needed, really?) began to seethe authority of Christ prohibited many of those things being done by the school. The revolt against institutionalism spread rapidly. Yet the zeal of honest brethren was not only to fight against this evil, but also to get out and convert. And convert they did. Today,, the power of the liberals in that nation ,is broken so badly that the liberals are outnumbered on the order of ten to one, or more, by conservative brethren. The total number of congregations the liberals can claim, no matter how broad the definition, is less than 50. Some months ago, the liberals in Japan held a “Workshop.” Bob Nichols, a friend of mine for many years, was invited to attend, even though he opposed their institutional apostasy. While there, he heard several of the American liberals from the Philippines talk. One remarked, “The anti’s have taken over the Philippines.” The one who made the comment was not exactly happy about it. I am!
What I am trying to show is that it is not the easiest thing in the world for one to become a Christian in the Philippines, and it is likewise difficult for one to remain a faithful saint. The obstacles are many, especially by exposure to the political pressures of false religions. Likewise, the pressures from false brethren are strong against any who become and remain faithful Christians. I know brethren personally who have suffered at the hands of liberals, particularly by the Americans who run the Philippine Bible College, through political pressure brought on them because of their faithfulness to Christ.
Yet, inspite of the problems and the pressures, the Philippines today is one of the nations on earth where the fields are still white unto harvest. The people hunger to hear the gospel. In my own experience, I have known many to literally miss meals in order to hear Christ preached. Once becomming Christians, many continue to be subjected to the political pressure of the non-Christians and ungodly brethren. This is to be expected (2 Tim. 3:12). I wish this were limited to the liberals toward those who opposed their institutional apostasy. But that is not to be. What is most disturbing is to find brethren who claim to be conservative doing some of things to each other they do, in the name of religion. And as with those of false religions, the tactics of evil brethren are political. From among these, we have found men and women whose interest was not in salvation, but rather, to make godliness a way of gain (1 Tim. 6:5). See “Philippines: Salvation And Economics” for more details on this. Yet, the work continues, the church there grows and many are edified after entering Christ’s body.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 9, pp. 151-152
March 1, 1979