V. Ordonez: Charismatic Religious Groups to Play Big Role in Philippines Election

Date: 05-06-2004

More Focus on 'Winning Credibly than Winning Itself'

HONOLULU (May 6) -- Charismatic religious groups will play an important factor in Filipino elections for the first time and may swing the vote in favor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo next week, an East-West Center specialist said.

"Charismatic groups have never figured this significantly in elections before," said Victor Ordonez, a senior fellow in the East-West Center's Education Program. "Arroyo has been bending over backward to these groups and they will help her win."

This week the religious group Iglesia ni Kristo, which Ordonez estimated has 1.2 million followers, threw its support behind Arroyo. Ordonez said the leader of El Shaddai, another charismatic mass movement, has made his friendship with Arroyo known among followers. Eddie Villanueva, the head of another charismatic group, the Jesus is Lord Movement, is himself running for president.

Ordonez, a former UNESCO director and chair of the Presidential Commission on Education Reform in the Philippines, said "great disillusionment" has grown among Filipino Catholics, about 85 percent of the population, and no one has replaced the outspoken leadership of Cardinal Jaime Sin.

Although Filipinos still attend Mass, they "have a thirst for religion" that is not being filled by traditional religious organizations, Ordonez said. Prayer groups that were "little pockets here and there have become mass movements."

Ordonez also believes this election "will be more about winning credibly than winning itself." He described protecting ballot booths as "just window dressing" and that the opportunity for any significant fraud would have to involve the central computerized counting center of the COMELEC, the constitutionally mandated election commission.

"It's so important that the credibility of the Center and COMELEC be inviolate," Ordonez said, adding that counts by the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and media will serve as credible "gauges."

"As Arroyo gets more and more comfortable with her lead, there will be more and more concern about the credibility of the count. The more people that count, the better."

Victor Ordonez can be reached at (808) 944-7641 or ordonezv@eastwestcenter.org

This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center