Bro. Mike Velarde keeps bets guessing
By Leila Salaverria, Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The top candidates came a-courting, but the object of their entreaties—influential TV evangelist Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai—continued to keep them in suspense.
A 12-hour Easter vigil on an open field bursting with songs, dances and hymns of praise for the Risen Christ ended at 7 a.m. Sunday with no clear word from the leader of the Catholic charismatic group on which candidates he would support in the May 10 elections.
Velarde, whose blessing is coveted by politicians, insisted he had yet to make up his mind, saying he would decide a week before the polls.
“Many are running for the presidency and vice presidency … Up to now, we are still studying and looking for what will do us good and will not harm us,” Velarde said before a crowd estimated by police at 400,000 in a sprawling private compound called “Amvel City” in Parañaque City.
Three suitors, all aspiring to be president, came at different hours to address the crowd—Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party, Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP), and Joseph Estrada of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
Some of Velarde’s remarks appeared to tickle the hearts of the NP candidates, such as his references to the need to eradicate poverty, which is at the center of Villar’s campaign slogans.
Villar and his party mates were the last to speak. Before they did, Velarde asked the crowd to blow out their candles, plunging the vast assembly into darkness and leaving the stage, where Villar and his colleagues stood, the only area awash with light.
Villar earlier this year got what some thought was a virtual endorsement from Velarde when the two spoke at a Valentine’s Day rally of El Shaddai members in Hong Kong.
At the Parañaque vigil, Villar appeared to be the most confident among the three presidential candidates. But it was Estrada who got the loudest cheers.
Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr. did not attend. El Shaddai officials said he had been to a previous rally of the group.
“That’s why we are sure that the surveys will change,” Estrada told reporters after his 15-minute extemporaneous speech that had the crowd laughing and cheering “Erap! Erap!”
In interviews, Aquino and Villar said they would leave it up to Velarde and the El Shaddai leadership to make the announcement on whom they would endorse.
Villar said he felt that Velarde had practically endorsed his candidacy during the Hong Kong rally. “But I still want the announcement to come from them,” he said.
“I don’t want to speculate. I am just happy that I was welcomed here and we were able to share points of views,” Aquino said.
Velarde told the crowd that he was looking for a leader who could pull the divided country towards one direction, and was independent and not dictated on by others.
The only candidate that received a clear endorsement was the Buhay party-list group, which has the El Shaddai leader as its fifth nominee.
Velarde, who later changed into a hot pink blazer and clutched an orange microphone, said there was a need to stamp out poverty.
At one point, he said that he left business because his aim was not to enrich himself, adding that had he wanted to be rich, he would have stayed a businessman—themes similar to those espoused by Villar in his campaign.
Velarde even referred to a “condominium unit in heaven” for followers of Christ. Villar is a real estate magnate.
Villar came with running mate Loren Legarda and senatorial candidates Pia Cayetano, Susan Ople, Gwen Pimentel and Ramon Mitra.
Velarde said he had known Villar from way back. “But that doesn’t mean I’m endorsing him … Of course, he has the advantage because I know him personally,” he told reporters.
Aquino was the first politician to arrive, accompanied by his sisters Ballsy, Pinky and Kris, who came with husband James Yap. Running mate Mar Roxas was also with them.
Velarde said there was no bloc voting in El Shaddai, although he said many members chose to follow his lead when he proclaimed his support for a candidate.