MANILA, April 12, 2004
By Nikko Dizon - While El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde has not endorsed presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., those who attended the Catholic charismatic group’s Easter overnight vigil celebration Saturday night gave the actor an enthusiastic welcome that Poe hopes may translate into votes in the May presidential polls.

Poe, standard-bearer of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), joined Velarde and an estimated 500,000 El Shaddai members at the Amvel Business Park on Sucat Road, Parañaque City.

The crowd cheered, chanted Poe’s initials, and flashed the KNP’s hand sign as Poe addressed them after a two-hour Mass officiated by El Shaddai’s spiritual leader, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, that ended at 2 a.m. yesterday.

Speaking in Filipino, Poe said the celebration gave him great joy and strengthened his faith. Poe, apparently carried away by the crowd’s enthusiastic response, referred to his ticket as the "NPC," as he acknowledged the presence of his running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda and the KNP’s senatorial candidates during his brief remarks. The NPC or Nationalist People’s Coalition is one of four political parties that comprise the KNP coalition.

He was accompanied by his wife, veteran actress Susan Roces, Legarda and senatorial candidates Boots Anson-Roa, Salvador Escudero III, Alfredo Lim, Amina Rasul, Francisco Tatad, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Ernesto Maceda and Juan Ponce Enrile.

Sharing the stage with Poe and other KNP bets were administration senatorial candidates Orly Mercado and Richard Gordon, who both told reporters they were unaware that the KNP ticket would be at El Shaddai’s Easter celebration. President Arroyo and other administration candidates had celebrated Palm Sunday with members of El Shaddai.

Speaking to reporters afterward, an upbeat Poe said the experience "makes me feel good, it makes me feel light, it makes me closer to God."

Asked if he felt there was an implied endorsement by the El Shaddai at the celebration, Poe said "there was no endorsement. We were just invited here. Every time naman at El Shaddai, everybody is given a warm welcome."

But several hints of an El Shaddai support for Poe apparently made up for the lack of a direct endorsement from Velarde.

Aside from several El Shaddai members wearing Poe’s campaign buttons and stickers, the group’s choir sang a hymn with the refrain, "He is King, the Lord, the One," after the actor delivered his short speech.

Bacani, in his homily recounting the passion and resurrection of Christ, alluded several times to corruption in government, criticized the people running it, and made descriptions of Jesus that reminded people of Poe.

"Nang siya’y nilitis, bahagya lamang siyang nagsalita pero nag-alay siya ng kanyang buhay. Nanindigan siya sa katotohanan at siya ngayon ang buhay (When he was put on trial, he said very little but gave his life. He stood up for the truth, and now he is alive)," an impassioned Bacani, who endured a sexual harassment scandal last year, said.

"Sino ngayon ang sasamahan natin? Si Kristo ba at ang kanyang paninindigan o ang mga Hudas at Pilates na ipinako sa krus si Kristo? Sino ang sasamahan natin? Si Kristo (Who will we support? Christ and his standing up for the truth or the Judases and Pilates who nailed Christ to the cross? Who will we support? Christ)!" he continued, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

Bacani later laughed and commented, "Ewan ko bakit kayo palakpak nang palakpak, kinukwento ko lang naman ang ebanghelyo (I don’t know why you keep on clapping, I was just telling you about the gospel)."

Pimentel later told reporters that for him, the "most significant" part of Bacani’s homily was when the bishop recalled how Christ hardly said anything even when he was being tortured, apparently alluding to Poe.

"This (El Shaddai gathering) was a golden opportunity for Poe to touch base with this kind of faithful of the Church. You saw for yourself how the people empathize with him without preliminaries when he was called on stage," Pimentel said.

Legarda, for her part, added that the crowd had spontaneously shouted "FPJ."

"It’s a prayer rally, not a political rally, but you can’t stop people from expressing what’s in their hearts," she said.

Minutes after Poe left with his wife, independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson arrived at 3 a.m. and addressed the crowd an hour later.

At around 5 a.m., Velarde came on stage to give his own remarks and urged the release of ousted President Joseph Estrada, saying that his release will be the solution to the country’s pressing problems.

eyeing votes from the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and El Shaddai. Both religious groups claim to have 10 million members.

The Commission on Elections estimated that the potential number of voters in the May elections will be 38 million, making an El Shaddai or INC vote crucial if the members of each group vote as one.

With less than one month to go before the May 10 polls, the INC and El Shaddai have yet to endorse a presidential candidate.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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