President Arroyo appeared on Friday to have cornered the endorsements by major sects — Iglesia ni Cristo, El Shaddai, and now the Jesus Miracle Crusade.
The opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) is not cowed, however, and has warned that such sectoral religious support points to a serious possibility — that it becomes a “license for Palace operatives to kick their cheating mechanism into full gear.”
“Malacañang has now been given a credible pretext to rig the result of the elections. Dagdag-bawas and ballot switching, among others, are now credible instruments in the hands of Palace mercenaries to ensure the victory of Mrs. Arroyo,” said KNP lawyer Rufus Rodriguez of the endorsements.
He added, “Now, even if Mrs. Arroyo’s votes suddenly rocketed to unbelievable proportions and that of the opposition suddenly remains stagnant, the Palace could easily point to the INC and El Shaddai as the factors behind this development.”
Relatedly, evangelist Eduardo Villanueva, founder of the Jesus is Lord Movement, chided the leadership of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) and the El Shaddai Catholic charismatic movement for dictating on their followers.
“I respect the right of religious leaders to endorse. What I am against is dictating or resorting to religious bloc voting. Any religious leader who makes a decision of support for any political candidate must justify that before his right-thinking followers, before the eyes of history and before the eyes of God,” Villanueva said in a press conference after his ‘miting de avanc’ Thursday night.
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The INC and the El Shaddai both announced their support for Arroyo on the night that Villanueva gathered a crowd of close to four million at the Quirino grandstand. Both are said to be casting their votes in blocs during polls, but the El Shaddai leader said he only gave a “blessing” not an injunction to the members of the sect to vote for her.
Political candidates court the two religious movements every election season to ensure victory. In the 1998 presidential elections, INC and El Shaddai endorsed the candidacy of Joseph Estrada, who won a landslide victory against his closest opponent, then senator Raul Roco.
Villanueva said he is against “hero worship” whereby a religious leader dictates on his members. He noted if he wanted to, he can also impose on the 3.5 million JIL members, but vowed that he will never do it as a “full-blooded democrat.”
But KNP’s Rodriguez said that while that they are “disappointed and saddened” that their bet, Fernando Poe Jr. did not get the INC and El Shaddai blessings, they remain confident the people’s support for Poe and the KNP would be enough to propel them to victory.
Poe said there is nothing he could do and accepts the reality. “If that is the decision, I have to respect it.” He added these endorsements will not affect his standing with his supporters.
As this developed, many members of the INC were reportedly grumbling over the decision of INC leader Eraño “Ka Erdie” Manalo.
The KNP said that after the INC leadership announced its choice of Mrs. Arroyo, their campaign headquarters received a deluge of calls from INC local leaders assuring the KNP of their support for Poe and the rest of the KNP slate.
Sources at the KNP said the INC members were “aghast and disappointed” at Manalo’s decision because Mrs. Arroyo is a woman.
“It has long been a standing policy of the INC never to support a woman running for President as this is not in accordance with the teaching handed down to them by Ka Erdie. They are now baffled and disappointed that Ka Erdie would be the first one to break his own word,” said a KNP official who declined to be named.
The Jesus Miracle Crusade (JMC), claiming a “one-million strong” membership, said, meanwhile, they are also behind the President and his running-mate, Sen. Noli de Castro, citing their “battle against mass poverty and terrorism and for renewal.”
JMC leader Wilde Almeda, who was once held for months by the Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu hinterland, said prayer rallies were scheduled on Friday and Sunday in Metro Manila and key cities to announce their backing of the Arroyo-Castro tandem.
All the endorsements by these large groups does not faze opposition presidential bet Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who remained optimistic he would win the presidency notwithstanding the surveys and the flurry of endorsements. “It’s not over yet.” He added, “We will defy the odds, and we will emerge victorious. The fight goes on. No retreat, no surrender.”
“I want to leave behind as a legacy a government that is trustworthy, respected and followed by the Filipino people. If we can achieve that, we will be well on our way toward progress,” said Lacson.
Administration lawmakers are meanwhile, exalting already. “These endorsements will cement her victory and help realize the goal of delivering a majority win for her,” said Lakas-CMD Rep. Del de Guzman of Marikina City and Liberal Party Rep. Ernesto Nieva of Manila. With J. Cadacio, C. Jimenez, R. Padua