A Reminder of Realpolitik in the Philippines: Church and State – From Governor Bustamante and the INC at EDSA

The ongoing serial rallies by the Iglesia Ni Cristo in Metro Manila and soon around the country has compounded an already tangled traffic problem and disrupted the lives of other citizens. Prompting a flood from a number of those affected – focusing more or less on the separation of State and Religion. However, I am not writing this post to join the debate. I am here to talk about how the present INC episode shows the Philippine Realpolitik- the politics and diplomacy of power in the Philippines – beyond ideals and propaganda – and you might not like to be reminded of it. If so stop reading this post or why is the INC still there despite the problems caused for days.

The Philippines: The Cross and the Crown: The Church and State

The Archbishop of Manila was in jail Governor-General Bustamante placed him their for offering asylum to the Treasurer of the Colony. The bells of the churches inside the walled city Intramuros tolled but instead of a call to prayer it was a call to action. Members of the religious order poured from their houses and began to head towards the Governor General’s Palace. They were net with little or no resistance. Among those who resisted them were the Bustamante and his son. Both were killed by a mob composed of members of the religious orders. The Archbishop was freed from the confines of his jail and celebrated a mass and the Te Deum was played. Governor Bustamante’s and his exited the Philippines in a coffin, the Archbishop became the acting Governor General and no one was ever convicted for the Assassination of Governor General Bustamante. The story is immortalised in a painting by Filipino Painter Felix Hidalgo.

Our Spanish Colonial history is studded with stories with the conflict between the Crown and the Cross. Interestingly enough the arrangement between the Pope and the Spanish Monarchs made them the head or representative of the Catholic Church in their country and colonies, this was called the Patronato Real. Thus the Governor General as the King’s representative was also the head of the church in the colony at that time. However, because of the distance between Spain, Mexico and the Philippines; the effective ruler was the one who was more or less the one who stayed longer in the country, the Archbishop. It was the Catholic Church that was true power in the Philippines. What is the first stone and stately building in a town or city and occupies the central place along the town plaza? The church.

Then there is that urban legend that arose from Martial Law Years, when President Ferdinand Marcos implemented Martial Law everything was padlocked, but Marcos was more tactful when dealing with the INC.Instead of force, diplomacy was used.


There is no separation of the state and religion in the Philippines and despite the distance of time between then and now. The Catholic Church’s power may have weakened but in certain aspects it still a force to reckon with and other religions have arisen.

Near the end of World War II, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin were having a conversation about the Pope and the Catholic Church. Churchill advised Stalin to treat the Pope with respect and Stalin looked at him and asked him “Why? How many divisions does the Pope have?”.

However, Stalin was wrong. Religious leaders might not have armies and divisions since Pope Julius II but they do have followers. And followers can do several things for its religion and its leaders: (i) They can lend support; (ii) They can be missionaries; (iii) They can be zealots and (iv) they can be voters.

And I believe this is the reason why political leaders and government have courted the favour of religious leaders for years. In the Philippines, the ability of a religion to influence its members and deliver the vote is the reason they are courted and treated with kid gloves. It is even said in one island home sprung religion plays an important tool in holding political power.

And It is possible then that present problem with the INC is a case of mismanagement and not having thoroughly thought a more effective implementation of the law by the Justice Secretary. I am not saying the ministerial function should not be followed but it begs the question could things have been better handled?

There is a story being said in print and in conversation that certain parties in government were using the issue with the INC to get some political concessions. I do not know if this is true or not. And it is not important and only adds to the confusion and conflict. But similar to the preceding paragraph it does begs the question could things have been better handled?

But lets leave the realm of the could have been. At present the government is showing mega-maximum constraint in dealing with the INC protest and rightly so. What should they do? Given the force before them? Most aggressive comments about the issue comes from: social media and media: from the relative safety of the Internet. I doubt any of those commenting would actually confront those rallying and rightly so – nobody wants to get mauled and killed.Unfortunately, The political power dynamics between Church and State in the Philippines make it so that politics and diplomacy is needed.

In terms of power there is no separation between Church and State in the Philippines . It might be in the constitution written elegantly but in practice it is not. Edsa I and Edsa II was partly organised and powered by he Philippine Catholic Church. The RH Bill was bitterly contested by the liberals and the religious conservatives. There is a cross or a picture of the Virgin Mary in nearly all government offices, The President and other candidates have attended special celebrations of the different religion, more so when election time is near.. Consider what is going on with the INC – if it were another group of protestors would they have been dispersed or stopped? Remember the people of EDSA 3, what happened to them? Dispersed and put to jail. But since this is a big organised religious group the government is very much distant. Secularisation of the Philippine is incomplete and in reality there is no separation between the Church and State.

This entry was posted in Opinion, Stories and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.