MANILA,  May 8, 2004
By Delon Porcalla  -  After getting the endorsement the country’s two large religious organizations, President Arroyo’s bid for a full six-year term got another major boost yesterday from another large religious group, the Jesus Miracle Crusade.

Last Thursday, the Iglesia ni Cristo and the El Shaddai, both at least two-million strong and believed to vote as a bloc, endorsed Mrs. Arroyo and her running mate Noli de Castro. The JMC has at least one million members.

"President Arroyo is God-fearing and the most qualified and the most pro-poor among the candidates," JMC founder and Christian television evangelist Wilde Almeda said in a statement.

Almeda said they supported Mrs. Arroyo because of her "pro-poor advocacies" such as providing housing, health care, education for the poor, among others.

Almeda’s group also endorsed most of Mrs. Arroyo’s senatorial candidates, including lawyer Pia Cayetano, former tourism secretary Richard Gordon, ARMM Gov. Parouk Hussin, Sen. Robert Jaworski, Pampanga Gov. Manuel Lapid, former senator Orlando Mercado, Sen. John Osmeña, former anti-piracy czar Ramon Revilla Jr., former trade secretary Manuel Roxas II, and independent candidate Heherson Alvarez.

The JMC backed Mrs. Arroyo and Speaker Jose de Venecia in the 1998 elections, in which Mrs. Arroyo ran as De Venecia’s vice presidential running mate.

Mrs. Arroyo won handily but De Venecia lost by a wide margin to Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in 2001 by a popular uprising following a massive corruption scandal. Estrada, a close friend and backer of opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr., was replaced by Mrs. Arroyo.

Almeda praised Mrs. Arroyo and De Venecia "for their efforts to bring about global Christian-Muslim cooperation and their much-applauded initiative to create an interfaith council as a new organ of the United Nations."

If the endorsements come through as expected, they could very well seal Mrs. Arroyo’s victory in next week’s polls, members of the President’s camp say.

"This proves that the support for President Arroyo is widening," Arroyo campaign spokesman Michael Defensor said.

"The religious endorsements will further expand the President’s bandwagon with the inclusion of the members of the INC, El Shaddai and the Aglipayan church, the undecided and opposition voters who finally opted for the President," said Marikina Rep. Del de Guzman.

The endorsements, De Guzman said, recognized Mrs. Arroyo’s capability to "govern physically and intellectually" and "political will to effect national unity, pro-life stance, anti-graft agenda" and many others.

"These endorsements will cement her victory and help realize the goal of delivering a majority win for her. They have bestowed their faith and confidence upon her ability to lead the country," he said.

Manila Rep. Martin Nieva said the endorsements were "tantamount to giving her a vote of confidence. The President has proven a leader of all Filipinos, regardless of their religious background."

As for the country’s dominant religion, the Roman Catholic Church, it has not endorsed a specific candidate but it did outline its criteria on the kind of candidates it would like to be elected.

Last month, one of its most influential leaders, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, urged Filipinos in an Easter Sunday message to vote wisely, saying "a popular vote does not always mean a popular choice."

"One of our rights in a democracy is to elect our leaders who will be tasked to lead us in the affairs of our country. We ask you then to consider the future of your family and country, when you make a choice for national leaders and public servants," he said.

The Catholic Church maintains it does not intervene in the affairs of state and does not endorse candidates in elections. It, however, gave its criteria on whom to vote for in past elections.

Before Rosales took over, top politicians lined up at the residence of then Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin — who was instrumental in toppling the Marcos dictatorship — to seek his endorsement during elections. — With Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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