The Philippines' homegrown Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), whose adherents are said to vote as a bloc during elections, is now competing with Evangelicals and charismatic groups in putting forward candidates for elected government positions - writes Maurice Malanes.
The Iglesia's bloc vote was said to be evident in this northern Philippine city of 350,000 when all but three of its endorsed candidates, including a congressperson, a mayor, vice-mayor, and 12 councillors, won in elections held two weeks ago.
Lawyer and incumbent city councillor Faustino Olowan, who ran as vice-mayor, believed he would win handsomely against five other candidates because he banked on what was acknowledged as the ethnic "Igorot vote" in this city. Olowan belongs to the Igorot indigenous group who comprise a third of the city's electorate. He was the only Igorot vice-mayoral candidate.
"There's no doubt I got most of the ethnic Igorot votes, but the Iglesia ni Cristo factor did me in," said Olowan, who lost by a slim margin of 1283 votes to lawyer Daniel Fariñas, who was endorsed by the Iglesia.
The same happened in the contest for congressional and mayoral seats.
Iglesia ni Cristo leaders say their church's bloc voting in national and local elections is based on its "one-body-of-Christ-one-will" doctrine, which the church has promoted since Felix Manalo, a former Presbyterian and Adventist pastor, founded the Iglesia in 1914.
Evangelical and renewal groups, which the Iglesia ni Cristo acknowledged as its competitors in proselytising, also endorsed certain candidates such as Cosalan, but their members were not obliged to vote as a bloc, say Evangelical and charismatic group leaders.
The Roman Catholic and traditional Protestant churches, however urged their members to vote according to their conscience, without naming candidates.
City council candidate Isabelo Cosalan Jr, told Ecumenical News International: "I was not endorsed by the Iglesia ni Cristo, but [I won] thanks to the other churches." He added: "Without the other churches' support, I wouldn't have made it to the council."
A geodetic engineer and associate pastor of the Good News Community Fellowship, an Evangelical group, Cosalan was not only endorsed by his church but also by others and by renewal groups within both Protestant and Roman Catholic circles.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]