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For one wild moment it seemed like a scene from that memorable protest rally in Manila in February 1986, days before the People Power revolt, when Citizen Cory called for a boycott of institutions, business firms, and newspapers owned or associated with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies.

Viewed from above, Rizal Park and the streets surrounding it were so packed with people that one wondered then how public transport would cope with them once the rally was over, or—good Lord—what would ensue if a powerful explosive went off in their midst.

But that’s as far as comparisons will go. Apart from the startling crowd density, the medical/evangelization mission conducted by the Iglesia ni Cristo last Monday—a day before a 7.2-magnitude earthquake wrought havoc in Central Visayas and parts of Mindanao—was vastly different in tone and character. While the huge crowd present at Cory’s “boycott rally” (representative of the ABC classes) was quietly resolute, intent on hearing the call to arms that the woman of the moment was delivering in her trademark monotone, even then careful to stress nonviolence, the throngs that besieged the five INC mission sites in Manila were loud and rowdy, packed literally cheek by jowl, frighteningly prone to sudden surges, and straddling the thin line between anxious and desperate, so that, as vividly shown in TV news footage, otherwise able-bodied young women were reduced to hysterical whimpering after being extricated from a gnarled tangle of limbs that, because uncontrollable, bordered dangerously on the lethal. The prize at the winding queues: plastic bags containing relief staples—three kilos of rice, three tins of sardines, three packs of instant noodles.

The INC mission that not only dispensed freebies but also conducted medical and dental services was privileged with the suspension of classes and rerouting of traffic. But these measures were of no use in the face of the masses of humanity that converged on Plaza del Carmen, including the Lacson, Nagtahan and Mendiola areas; Quinta Market in Quiapo; the Manila Post Office area; and the Isetann area at CM Recto Avenue and Quezon Boulevard. Other arteries of the metropolis were viciously clogged. There was no rain but the usual execrable traffic on Edsa became a crawl, and elsewhere it came to an hours-long standstill that resulted in a general paralysis in the streets, the suspension of work in both private and government offices including the courts, and horrific inconvenience for the public.


Is this any way for an “investment-grade” country to comport itself?

Analysts pronounced the madness a political message, a show of force, by the influential bloc that is assiduously courted by politicians because of its vaunted voting power. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago called those politicians who missed the message fools. She harped on the theme, claiming that the INC was registering its protest over the misuse of the pork barrel and said, provocatively, that it wanted “a regime change, even only in attitude among our present corrupt politicians.” An intriguing scenario, but if symbols were being invoked, why then was the mission held in a city whose mayor was once convicted of plunder? And at any rate an INC minister declared there was no politics in the activity and indeed apologized for the hassle. Still, let’s ask the question: What was the purported message being sent? That the INC has the power to call out masses of people at any time it wants, perhaps in defense of certain people it favors, people who may be beleaguered or in dutch with the ruling powers, or in need of warm bodies for visible (if not coherent) support? Does it fancy itself of the likes of Cardinal Jaime Sin?

Apart from the certainty that the burgeoning population will take on more monstrous proportions, there are in fact clear conclusions to be made in the INC mission that turned Joseph Estrada’s Manila into more of a madhouse than it already is. At least two: that the impoverished, and even those not exactly so, will be lured in the hundreds of thousands by freebies (a number were seen carting off more bags than they were reasonably entitled to), and that officials, including Estrada and his people, as well as the chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority, are incapable of demanding and ensuring order in a “medical/evangelization mission” (or most likely they were loath to displease the visitors). Inquirer.net

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