By Bryan Manabat
Saipan—In a last-ditched effort to clinch the vote of the growing population of Filipino-Americans in the CNMI, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres traveled to the Philippines to reach out to Iglesia Ni Cristo, an influential religious group often courted by Philippine politicians.
In a press release issued on Nov. 3, the governor’s office said Torres met with Eduardo V. Manalo, Iglesia Ni Cristo’s executive minister, Philippine House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez and Philippine Congressman Sandro A. Marcos during a courtesy call at Iglesia Ni Cristo’s central office in Quezon City.
In the Philippines, the church sector is part of the political landscape. Politicians typically dance around proposed policies shunned by the Catholic Church such as divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage.
Iglesia ni Cristo is an independent Nontrinitarian Christian church founded in 1913 and registered in 1914 as a unipersonal religious corporation. They are known to vote as a bloc.
While Iglesia ni Cristo has a significant number of followers in the CNMI, members typically vote independently rather than as a cohesive political group.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to have met with Executive Minister Eduardo V. Manalo, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines Martin G. Romualdez, and Philippine Congressman Sandro A. Marcos to discuss the important contributions that the kababayans have made in the Commonwealth,” Torres said.
“Our Filipino community is an important part of the Commonwealth’s history and success, and to meet with these distinguished officials is something that reaffirms our bonds and ties together as a community as we look to address and find solutions for issues that affect our islands’ Filipino community,” Torres said.
Some political advertisements on radio are delivered in Filipino, specifically seeking support from Filipino-Americans, who are considered "swing voters."
Torres, who survived an impeachment attempt, has been assailed by his critics for his off-island travels.
Other than meeting with Manalo, the governor's office did not mention the official purpose of the governor's trip to the Philippines.
Torres is seeking to gain the upper hand in the three-way Nov. 8 general election. He is being challenged by Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios and Rep. Tina Sablan for the top executive position.
Torres is running with Sen. Vinnie Sablan under the Republican Party banner. The Torres-Sablan tandem promised to expand tourism markets for the CNMI "to promote employment, business development, and growth," to help the economy.
Palacios is running with Saipan Mayor David Apatang, under the Independent Party. A Palacios-Apatang administration will emphasize prioritizing the military, tourism, and Covenant funding.
Sablan, a Democrat, is running with Rep. Leila Fleming Staffler. They vowed to revive the local economy by being diligent in planning and faithful to the law. Their plans include increasing local participation in tourism and fostering investments in other industries that are compatible with tourism.