CEBU CITY, March 28, 2004
By Nikko Dizon - The Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino is eyeing votes from the El Shaddai and Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), two influential religious groups that may provide swing votes for KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

"I don’t know if they would be swing votes or not, but definitely the INC vote cannot be discounted because it’s a solid bloc," KNP media bureau chief Rod Reyes told reporters here yesterday.

Candidates never fail to woo the leaders of the INC and El Shaddai, which claim to have 10 million members between themselves.

The Commission on Elections estimated that the potential number of voters come May will be 38 million, making an El Shaddai or INC vote crucial if the members of these two religious groups vote as one.

With less than two months to go before the May 10 elections, the INC and El Shaddai have yet to endorse a presidential candidate.

The KNP officials maintain that Poe already has the strong support of most of the voters so they do not mind if the coalition has few local candidates.

Reyes said that while some mayors and governors may support the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party, "their constituents are not really for Lakas-CMD. The voters are going for Poe. As far as I know, the machinery will account only for five percent of the voters."

He added that while President Arroyo goes to various parts of the country to inaugurate patubig projects to give people access to clean, potable water, the people may not necessarily vote for her.

But all those who swarm around Poe during the KNP rallies may not necessarily vote for him, either. At the Mactan International Airport where Poe and actor Eddie Garcia were greeting supporters, The STAR overheard a woman tell her friend that she just wanted to have her picture taken with the two celebrities.

"Why? Are you going to vote for FPJ?" the woman’s friend asked as they excitedly made their way to Poe and Garcia.

"No, I just want to have my picture taken with him!" the woman replied.

Earlier reports said that despite Mrs. Arroyo’s attempts to get the support of El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde, he said he does not see "any candidate we could support" in the May elections.

Velarde also said he has not found anyone in the present roster of choices who would fit his requirements for a good president.

For him, the ideal presidential candidate is one who can unite the country and is competent in handling crises. Intelligence is not a high-priority presidential quality, Velarde added.

But the El Shaddai will "decide at the last hour," who of those vying for the presidency it will support, Velarde said.

Meanwhile, the KNP also said Mrs. Arroyo should start preparing herself for a long prison term if she is truly ready to go to jail over the controversial bailout of Maynilad Water Services Inc., which is grossly disadvantageous to the government.

KNP senatorial bet Francisco Tatad said since the President did everything to preempt the Supreme Court from ruling on Maynilad’s case, "she is not likely to escape criminal liability."

Tatad was referring to reports that Malacañang pushed hard for the bailout plan even before the high tribunal was able to rule on whether the government can draw from the firm’s $120-million performance bond, which could lead to a default of the loans taken out by several Lopez-owned companies.

He also pointed out that Justice Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee reportedly "convinced" the board of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Severage System (MWSS) to approve the bailout plan.

Tatad added that Teehankee was present in these meetings even though he is not a member of the MWSS board.

Earlier, the KNP slammed the decision by the Department of Justice not to contest the gag order issued by the Quezon City regional trial court on the bailout plan, saying the move was further proof that the Arroyo administration was behind this "sweetheart deal" with the Lopez family.

KNP senatorial bet Ernesto Maceda said at least three government officials reportedly participated in drawing up the proposed financial restructuring plan for Maynilad, which will settle about P20 billion of the company’s debts.

He said this clearly shows that Malacañang was heavily involved in the deal, contrary to the Arroyo administration’s claim that the Lopezes’ move to give up Maynilad was "purely a business decision" reached without government intervention.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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