[PHOTO AT LEFT: SHEPHERD’S BLESSING: El Shaddai spiritual leader Bro. Mike Velarde welcomes President Arroyo aboard his specially fitted vehicle at the Tarlac provincial capitol in Tarlac City last night where he extended his ‘blessings’ to the President’s candidacy on Monday. - Revoli Cortez ]

MANILA,  May 7, 2004  (STAR) By Marvin Sy and Marichu Villanueva  -  It’s official.

The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and the El Shaddai charismatic movement have endorsed the candidacy of President Arroyo in Monday’s general elections.

In a statement released to the media last night, the INC announced that Mrs. Arroyo and her vice presidential running mate Sen. Noli de Castro were its choices for the May 10 elections.

INC spokesman Bienvenido Santiago said in a faxed statement to The STAR that INC executive minister Eraño "Ka Erdie" Manalo made the final decision after consultations with ministers of the church all over the country and "after much prayers and reflections."

"In making its decisions whom to vote for, the Iglesia ni Cristo takes into account the general well-being of its flock and commitment of the candidates to guarantee the untramelled exercise of religious freedom," the statement said.

Capability to govern - both physically and intellectually — and political will to effect national unity and peace are also factors considered, Santiago added.

The El Shaddai movement, on the other hand, also gave its blessing to Mrs. Arroyo last night in Tarlac City, where the congregation held an anniversary prayer rally.

In an official statement issued on behalf of El Shaddai charismatic leader Bro. Mike Velarde, El Shaddai spokesman Mel Robles said: "Bro. Mike Velarde gave President Arroyo the El Shaddai shepherd’s blessing."

Robles cited that the President has always been a regular attendee and follower of the El Shaddai since 1992.

Though Mrs. Arroyo did not appear in the prayer rally held at the Maria Cristina Park in front of the provincial capitol in Tarlac, she had a close-door meeting with Velarde.

Robles disclosed that the President and Velarde had agreed on four positions, which the El Shaddai supports — a pro-life stance, fighting graft and corruption, convening of a constitutional convention immediately after the May 10 elections, and the pursuit of national healing and reconciliation to address the widening gap between EDSA II and EDSA III forces.

However, while the INC is also endorsing the candidacy of Mrs. Arroyo’s running mate, Sen. Noli de Castro, the El Shaddai did not carry the campaign posters of De Castro during rally in Tarlac. Instead, the campaign posters of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) vice presidential bet Sen. Loren Legarda were there.

De Castro’s campaign manager, Cesar Chavez, told The STAR that De Castro has been invited by the El Shaddai to attend their prayer rally tomorrow and they are expecting that he would be formally endorsed by Velarde.

Asked by The STAR to comment on this, Robles replied: "It’s open to all because it is a mass. I think everybody is invited in the mass including candidates. I’m sure if it is for everybody."

He also clarified that it’s not for them to say who can come up to the stage with Velarde because it is up to the priest celebrating the mass to decide.

Robles, however, refused how many votes the El Shaddai can deliver to their chosen candidates but the President expressed her confidence that El Shaddai’s endorsement could also provide the providential margin of votes that would add up to her victory in the polls.

Aglipay Church Also Backs GMA

As this developed, the Philippine Independent Catholic Church (Aglipayan Church) also formally endorsed Mrs. Arroyo’s candidacy yesterday, with Supreme Bishop Armando de la Cruz presenting the resolution of the Aglipayan Church to Presidential Assistant for Resettlement Nestor Ponce Jr.

Last month, the church’s national president of the laymen, Pepito Pico, personally presented to Mrs. Arroyo their manifesto of support stressing the need to continue the programs she had initiated.

Meanwhile, aside from Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro, the INC has likewise chosen 12 candidates for the Senate — six from the K-4 (Mar Roxas, Robert Barbers, Miriam Santiago, Rodolfo Biazon, John Osmeña, and Bong Revilla) and six from the KNP (Aquilino Pimentel, Alfredo Lim, Jamby Madrigal, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ernesto Maceda.

In a Palace briefing yesterday Defensor thanked the INC leadership, specifically Ka Erdie for their support to Mrs. Arroyo in Monday’s elections as well as in past elections.

"We are thankful that they support President Arroyo. We are grateful for the support that they gave in the previous years and the forthcoming elections and they expect that we will continue to fulfill our duties and pursue our objective of unity and peace for our country," Defensor said.

He admitted that the INC endorsement will be a big help for the candidacy of the President as the members of the religious group are known to strictly follow the instructions of their leaders and cast a significant bloc vote for chosen candidates.

Mrs. Arroyo herself expressed belief that the INC endorsement would be ultimately reflected on election day.

Defensor said that the history of Philippine elections will show that the INC endorsement plays a major role in ensuring the victory of those running for public office.

Not only do the candidates get the votes of the congregation but also the individuals within the sphere of influence of the members such as relatives, he said.

The Iglesia sect was founded in 1914 by Felix Manalo, a disaffected former member of the Seventh Day Adventists. Politicians, especially those running for the presidency, have traditionally sought the church’s backing.

Mrs. Arroyo has said the sect helped her top the senatorial race in 1992 and again in 1995.

According to Defensor, Ka Erdie told the President to reach out and unify the people and address the healing of the political strife that occurred in the past.

Meanwhile, Legarda said yesterday that she respects the decision of the INC but appealed to the people to follow their conscience in making their vote on May 10.

"Nirerespeto ko ang kanilang desisyon at tinuturing ko pa rin sila na matalik na kaibigan (I respect their decision and still consider them my best friends)," Legarda told reporters during a break during the KNP’s day-long motorcade in Quezon City yesterday.

She, however, declined to comment further on reports that the INC has also endorsed De Castro. KNP spokesman, former Rep. Mike Romero, also declined to comment until he said they have received official word from the party.

Legarda remains optimistic, though, saying she already "sees a victory party" for the KNP in two weeks’ time.

"I still would want to believe in our institutions including its people. I hope and pray (Commission on Elections) Chairman (Benjamin) Abalos whom we confirmed in the Commission on Appointments in the Senate would live up to the mandate, the responsibility given him," Legarda told reporters when asked for comment on the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that majority of voters distrusted the Comelec chairman.


Exuding confidence that she’ll win in Monday’s polls, Mrs. Arroyo promised yesterday to have a "fresh start" for the Filipino people, beginning with her official family.

All Cabinet members and presidential appointees would have to turn their individual courtesy resignations on or before June 30.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, however, told The STAR that even before he could submit his resignation, the President had already given him programs and projects to start now.

Lorenzo said he was specifically tasked to implement the intensified rehabilitation of the old coco mills and further promote the use of "Gloria" hybrid rice all over the country.

Mrs. Arroyo herself has expressed confidence that she would be able to continue in office and serve a full six-year term.

In her speech on Wednesday night at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila where she attended the end of "Biyaheng Gloria" — a 45-day caravan organized by her supporters — Mrs. Arroyo was already talking about what she intends to do after the elections.

"We shall unify the country and heal the wounds and we shall start the hard work ahead with your support. This is the true work that begins after the elections because we will eliminate poverty and unify the country," she told the crowd.

Although the six-million INC bloc vote has been secured, Mrs. Arroyo went on to campaign as hard as ever yesterday. Accompanied by De Castro, she led the motorcade from Pangasinan to Tarlac City provincial plaza where El Shaddai charismatic leader Bro. Mike Velarde formally endorsed their team. — with Nikko Dizon, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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