MANILA, May 6 (Kyodo) — A Christian sect in the Philippines that can reputedly deliver up to 4 million votes — enough to break a tightly contested race — has endorsed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for president in the May 10 election, her campaign spokesman said in a television interview Thursday.
”We would like to thank all our brothers in the Iglesia Ni Cristo, particularly Ka Erdie and Ka Eduardo, for the support and we assure you that the president will continue governing the nation with utmost sincerity and dedication,” said Michael Defensor during an interview with ANC-Channel 21.
The endorsement by Iglesia leaders Erano Manalo, the church’s executive minister, and his son Eduardo, the deputy executive minister, had been fervently sought by most of the presidential candidates given that up to 70 percent of church members vote for their leaders’ anointed politician, analysts have said.
One estimate shows that the secretive, tightly knit sect set up in 1914 has as many as 8 million members.
Iglesia’s headquarters in the Quezon City suburbs has refused to confirm or deny Defensor’s comment.
But an Iglesia sect member said elders in a chapter in Quezon City have been advised to make preparations for an information drive to members, possibly Friday.
The sect member said the Iglesia endorsement would be made known to the ”locales” and would not be announced during weekly worship ceremonies.
Benito Lim, a professor of Asian Studies and mass communication at the University of the Philippines, said the endorsement bolsters Arroyo’s chances of winning. But a victory will only be convincing if the elections are perceived as free of cheating, Lim said.
Meanwhile, Arroyo’s security adviser Norberto Gonzales said intelligence reports reveal opposition plans to gather forces and oust Arroyo if she is declared the winner.
”This will consist of protracted rallies and demonstrations, projected to last until business, the active military and police, and the international community will recognize an opposition president,” Gonzales said.
The opposition has denied any such a plan.
The nongovernmental National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), which will be conducting its own quick count of the votes, said the credibility of the elections will hinge on the political players’ behavior and on the military’s neutrality.
”I view the primary responsibility as lying with the political parties and the candidates themselves because it is their conduct which sends the cue to their own followers,” said Guillermo Luz, Namfrel’s secretary general.
Defensor’s announcement came a day after Arroyo appeared to be stretching her lead over popular film actor Fernando Poe, her main rival.
Independent survey firm Pulse Asia said Wednesday that 37 percent of 1,800 people polled between April 26 and 29 said they would vote for Arroyo.
Poe, the frontrunner for a faction of the divided political opposition, cornered 31 percent of the respondents.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is running for president despite a failed unification effort with Poe, got 11 percent. Former Education Secretary Raul Roco got 7 percent.
Christian evangelist Eduardo Villanueva, who showed his own sect’s force through a million-strong political rally on Thursday evening, got 5 percent.
Namfrel expects as much as 90 percent of the Philippines’ 43 million eligible voters to choose a president, vice president, senators and a host of local officials on Monday.