Eraño Manalo dies at 84 (Iglesia ni Cristo)

Eraño Manalo, the head of the politically influential, vernacular-speaking, and home-grown Iglesia ni Cristo, passed away Monday afternoon, an INC official said.

In a recorded announcement aired on dzBB radio, INC spokesperson Bienvenido Santiago confirmed Manalo's death at 3:53 p.m. Monday, August 31, 2009. Manalo was officially the Executive Minister of the INC, but he was also its supreme, charismatic leader who took over the church upon the death in 1963 of the founder, his father Felix Manalo.

"Ikinalulungkot naming ipabatid sa buong Iglesia at sa buong sambayanan na ang tagapamahalang pangkalahatan ng Iglesia ni Cristo, ang kapatid na Eraño G. Manalo ay pinagpahinga na ng Diyos. Pumanaw siya sa kanyang tahanan sa ganap na 3:53 kahapon Agosto 31, 2009, sa gulang na 84 taon," Santiago said.

(We are sad to announce to the Iglesia and to the whole nation that the Executive Minister of Iglesia ni Cristo, our brother Eraño G. Manalo, joined our Creator. He passed away at his home 3:53 p.m. on August 31, 2009. He was 84 years old.)

Santiago said that according to Dr. Ray Melchor Santos, Manalo died due to cardiopulmonary arrest.

According to Santiago, Manalo's remains will lie in state at INC's Central Temple in Quezon City. Further details will be announced, Santiago added.

Manalo was born on Jan. 2, 1925. He was INC founder Felix Manalo's fifth child.

Manalo's flock and influence

Manalo had guided his religious group through a long period of national and global expansion, and in the last decade had thrown his church's clout behind former president Joseph Estrada. The PCIJ has described the INC as "a secretive, tightly organized church composed mainly of poor members."

Its membership has been estimated at between two and eight million members concentrated in Tagalog-speaking regions of Luzon. But its churches are reportedly located in over 60 countries.

The INC's influence on state affairs can be traced back to its founding in 1914, when Manuel L. Quezon, Commonwealth president and a mason, cultivated a relationship with the then-obscure church as a foil to the Roman Catholic church. Its sway reached a new peak during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, who rarely failed to attend important INC events, including "Ka Erdy" Manalo's birthday, and gave an INC-affiliated company major Land Transportation Office contracts.

It is widely known that the INC's power lies in the tagubilin emanating from Manalo and other church leaders, orders that cannot be disputed by members and can be used to command voting blocs around the country.

While Manalo often used his power to support certain candidates in the past - aside from Marcos and Estrada, he also backed Eduardo Cojuangco in 1992 - he famously wielded his clout during the EDSA Tres demonstrations that reached the gates of Malacañang, arguably still the most serious threat the Arroyo administration has faced. Three out of four of the demonstrators were reportedly INC members.

But President Arroyo eventually won Manalo to her side. When she ran in 2004, the Iglesia ni Cristo threw its support behind her. Pollster Mahar Mangahas told GMANews.TV that he estimates that the INC actually can command only about 75 percent of its members to vote for a particular candidate. But in a closely fought contest, that could be the margin of victory.

With Manalo now dead, it remains to be seen how his successor will use the church's influence in the coming elections. But if history is any indication, the INC will certainly play a role.

Arroyo, Estrada mourn

On Tuesday, Malacañang, through deputy presidential spokesperson Anthony Golez Jr., extended its sympathies to Manalo’s family and to the INC community.

“Nakikiramay po ang First Family at administrasyon sa pagpanaw ni Ka Erdy Manalo. He has been very instrumental sa simbahan, sa pagiging charismatic at pag-unite ng mga tagapagsunod. At nakikriamay po kaming lubos sa pamilya," Golez told dzBB radio in an interview.

(The First Family and the administration condole with Ka Erdy Manalo’s family. He has been very instrumental in the church, in his being charismatic, and in uniting his followers.)

Estrada also expressed his sadness over Manalo’s death.

“President Estrada joins the nation in mourning the loss of one of the nations’ greatest religious leaders," Estrada’s spokesperson Margaux Salcedo told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

In February 2006, while Estrada was facing trial for plunder, presidential chief of staff Mike Defensor disclosed that three religious leaders, including Manalo, had expressed their willingness to serve as Estrada's guarantors if he applied for his release on recognizance.

Estrada was later convicted of plunder in September 2007, but President Arroyo granted him executive clemency a month later.

Religious leaders sympathize

Meanwhile, other religious groups also extended their sympathies to those left behind by Manalo.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said that despite differences in their religious views, Manalo was a good man.

“Masasabi natin na mabuting tao po yan, bagaman, magkaiba kami ng pananampalataya (I can say that he is a good man even if we differ in religious beliefs)," Cruz said in an interview on dzBB.

Another religious leader, Bro. Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus Is Lord Movement, also expressed sadness.

“Ang aming buong pamilya at Jesus is Lord (members) worldwide ay buong pusong nakikiramay at nakikidalamhati sa pamilya ni Ka Erdie at sa ating kaibigan sa INC. Nawa’y maramdaman ng pamilya ni Ka Erdie at lahat ng INC ang kapayapaan ng ating buhay na Diyos," Villanueva said.

(My family and the Jesus is Lord worldwide wholeheartedly extends our condolences to Ka Erdie’s family and our friends at the INC. I hope they feel the Lord’s peace.)

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