Palace sources on Saturday said the Iglesia ni Cristo, a Christian sect which is known to vote as a bloc and is believed to command from 2 to 4 million votes, has given its nod to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo despite the widespread perception it would support the opposition, and would likely make known its decision on Monday.
The INC endorsement of Ms Macapagal was confirmed by jailed ex-President Joseph Estrada, who said he got the news early Saturday.
“I heard it is GMA [Ms Macapagal]. I got a call before lunch,” Estrada said, but declined to identify the caller.
Opposition sources said Estrada had received the confirmation from an INC liaison, Colonel Filemon Cuevas, who is a brother of former Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas, an INC member.
Estrada said the news had left him “depressed” because of his close friendship with the main opposition presidential candidate, Fernando Poe Jr.
“I cannot do anything because I’m in jail. All I can do is give my own support to FPJ (Poe). I remain optimistic that FPJ will still win. I hope so,” he said.
They said that the El Shaddai, the Catholic charismatic group headed by Bro. Mike Velarde which is known to go along with the INC’s choice, would announce its endorsement of Ms Macapagal on Monday.
Estrada was said to have pleaded with Manalo to wait for the last-ditch effort of his protégés, Poe and Senator Panfilo Lacson, to come to terms and agree to unite behind one standard-bearer.
According to a Malacañang official, Eraño Manalo, the reclusive executive minister of the INC, had already made the decision and it was being disseminated to INC members although there was no written circular yet.
Ms Macapagal is reportedly scheduled to visit the INC’s Central Temple in Diliman, Quezon City, on Monday morning to call on Manalo who, the sources said, had sent word that any announcement of the INC’s support for the President must come from him.
The sources said that the INC election circular and the sample ballots containing the chosen candidates could be issued during the sect’s pagsamba (church service) on Thursday and Sunday, the last services before Election Day.
A Palace official said they were awaiting the INC summons and the El Shaddai’s “magic word.”
“T’yak ‘yon’ (That’s for sure)” were the magic words that Velarde had uttered to indicate the group’s choice in the previous election.
The Malacañang official said the INC usually invites the chosen presidential candidate to its central office to be formally informed of the INC’s support.
“We are expecting that [invitation] anytime this week,” the official said.
But an INC source told the Inquirer that no final choice had been made yet.
“It’s still anybody’s game. It’s like in basketball when the ball gets snatched at the last minute,” the INC source said.
Opposition sources told the Inquirer that Estrada had called Manalo a few days ago amid talk that the INC would endorse Ms Macapagal in the wake of Poe’s and Lacson’s failure to decide who between them should be the standard-bearer of a unified opposition.
Lacson had previously sought Estrada’s endorsement but the detained leader told him that he (Lacson) would only get it if Poe, who is Estrada’s bosom friend, would stand down.
Estrada on Saturday denied that he ever talked to Manalo either by phone or in person.
“That’s impossible. He will not come here. I [would] go to him when I was still President. I don’t talk to him by phone out of respect for who he is,” he said.