MANILA,  April 30, 2004
By Edu Punay  - Television evangelist and Bangon Pilipinas Movement (BPM) standard-bearer Eddie Villanueva once again proved he has drawing power as thousands of his supporters trooped to the heart of Makati Cityís central business district yesterday.

In an attempt to show huge support and disprove surveys, Villanueva led his "Josiahís Army" by marching from Salcedo street in Makati City to the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas, where he delivered his speech in front of the statue of late Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.

Organizers of the rally led by Harry Limtong placed the crowd at 100,000.

Authorities, on the other hand, said only 10,000 people were present. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), with the Makati Public Safety (Mapsa) and the Makati Parking Authority (MAPA) had the same conservative estimate.

The gathering was generally peaceful, police said.

The rally tied up traffic in Makati for hours and forced motorists to use alternate routes. Some of the rallyists parked their vehicles near the Makati fire station, along Ayala Avenue and near the Makati Medical Center.

Organizers said they failed to attain their target of 200,000 people due to time constraints. They said two days is not enough to muster more people for the rally.

Shouting "Diyos at bayan (God and nation)," supporters of Villanueva clad in yellow shirts strewed confetti and used balloons, flags and even masks of their leaderís face urging employees and businessmen to join the rally.

Bangon spokesman Luis Sison told a news conference shortly before the rally started that their supporters in the business district refused to go public and opted to remain anonymous.

Sison also presented survey results, particularly radio text surveys from radio dzRH and the online polls of Mindanao Times website, which they said, are more credible.

"The people should not be deprived of the truth about the real sentiments of the people," Sison said.

Sison said their main objective is to rally to be vigilant and watchful against cheating during the elections.

Villanueva caught the attention of the crowd when five muscular men carried him on their shoulders from Salcedo street to the stage.

In his speech, Villanueva urged the people not to be cowed by threats from groups plotting electoral fraud.

"I stand before you here, a place symbolic of the Filipino peopleís fight for change. And together, we will transform this clamor into a mandate for renewal, righteousness and reform," Villanueva said.

The preacher directed his appeal to the businessmen in the district, saying they would regain their rightful title as engine of growth under a morally upright, credible and unifying leadership.

"We need a leadership that is determined to implement reforms and committed to combat corruption for the interest of the nation. With all humility, I offer myself to be your leader," Villanueva told the crowd.

He warned his followers against being influenced by surveys in choosing their leader.

He said the heavy turnout for his rally cast doubt on the results of the opinion polls showing him fifth and last with a little more than five percent of voter support.

"The government is conditioning the minds of our people that we will lose," he told the crowd chanting "Brother Eddie" as gold and yellow confetti rained from office towers.

Villanueva said the recent surveys indicate he has the support of only 1.5 million to two million of the estimated 43.45 million voters.

But he disputed those numbers, saying his own Jesus Is Lord (JIL) movement has about 3.5 million members aside from the seven million from the other Christian evangelical groups openly supporting his candidacy.

Speaking from a flat-bed truck, Villanueva said he is confident he would win in the May 10 elections despite his poor showing in the surveys.

"Filipinos want change. We will prevail," he said. "We have God and the people on our side."

Meanwhile, Bangon officials said they scheduled a larger rally on May 6 at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. They said they will surpass the one million people who attended the rally last February. But police then estimated the crowd at around 100,000.

It would be larger, they claimed, since it will be attended by supporters from all over the country. - With Evelyn Macairan

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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