MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Iglesia ni Cristo leader Eduardo Manalo on Wednesday officially endorsed the Liberal Party tandem of Senators Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Manuel "Mar" Roxas II.
Manalo announced the names of the candidates through a "palibot liham" distributed during Wednesday's worship service at the INC central temple in Quezon City.
Roxas told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda in a phone interview that he had been informed by Manalo of the INC leadership's decision ahead of the official announcement.
"Nag-usap po kami ilang araw ang nakalipas. Si Ka Eduardo po ay nagpaabot ng impormasyon na iyon ang napagpasyahan ng Iglesia ni Cristo (We talked several days ago. Ka Eduardo informed us about this decision)," the senator said.
The INC leader also told the members to vote for senatorial candidates:
- Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano "Ruffy" Biazon
- Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.
- Sen. Pia Cayetano
- Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago
- former Sen. Franklin Drilon
- Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile
- Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada
- Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto "TG" Guingona
- Sen. Manuel "Lito" Lapid
- Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
- former Sen. Ralph Recto
- former Sen. Vicente "Tito" Sotto III.
The letter also mentioned that INC members should re-elect Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor Jr. and vote for Herbert Bautista and Maria Josefina Belmonte for mayor and vice-mayor, respectively.
The INC head also advised members in the letter to vote early and go home right after casting their votes.
The support of the religious group is courted by many candidates, both national and local, since the INC votes as a bloc. The practice is rooted in the INC's belief in the principle of unity.
INC voters account for around 3% of the electorate or between 1.5 million to 2 million votes.
The INC previously endorsed the candidacies of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo in the 1998 and 2004 presidential elections, respectively.
In a close election, such as the 2004 race between President Arroyo and actor Fernando Poe Jr., INC's support can spell the difference between victory and defeat.
Many local politicians who need the support of the INC also often support the presidential candidate chosen by the INC leader.
Aquino admitted on Saturday that he and his sisters had met with INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo and sought the INC’s support for his presidential bid. They also thanked him for his prayers for their late mother, Corazon Aquino, who died August 1, 2009 from colon cancer.
Impact on Noynoy, Erap
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, in an interview, said that some estimates indicate that the INC can deliver more votes.
“I don’t know. Some say 3 million. Some say 4 million,” said Enrile, who is running for reelection with former President Joseph Estrada under Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).
Enrile said INC's support for Aquino could widen his lead over Estrada, who, in a recent survey of the Manila Standard Today, had already overtaken Nacionalista Party presidential bet Sen. Manny Villar.
“That will have an effect on Noynoy’s candidacy, but that will not change the position of Erap in relation to Villar. It is now between Noynoy and Erap. I do not know how much Erap had increased his votes at this point, because every day nagbabago ‘yan. Last night we were in Malolos, the crowd was very big,” said Enrile.
In an interview with dzMM on Tuesday, Prof. Prospero de Vera, issues adviser of Villar, said an INC endorsement can be a game changer in an election, especially if the other influential religious group, El Shaddai, backs the same candidate as the one chosen by the INC.