Eddie Villanueva

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 5:26am

LOSING MY RELIGION I was born in a very religious family. When I was young, my parents were considered well-to-do - they had big fish ponds in Bulacan [province] and they had a photographic studio. My father was a former military man and a former sprinter, [he represented the Philippines in] the Far Eastern Games of the 1930s.

My parents could not support my transport expenses to UP [University of the Philippines], in Quezon City. I was forced to stop [in the first semester] and I enrolled in the University of the East with the help of my elder brother. After one semester, some friends led me to study at the Philippine College of Commerce, which was branded the Philippine College of Communism at that time, because the president, Dr Nemesio Prudente, opposed [President Ferdinand] Marcos fearlessly. I was exposed to social injustices, the teachings of Marxism and Mao Zedong - and I was converted from Catholicism to atheism. For several years, I was a radical activist. I majored in economics and minored in finance and I taught economics, finance, political science and political economy for seven years.

I was twice imprisoned during Marcos' time, fighting for the cause of students and workers.

RADICAL CHANGE I used to teach that there is no God - if there [were], how come millions of people are languishing in abject poverty? I told the people that what we needed was to unite the masses and spark a democratic revolution. I was very sincere, but sincerely wrong, because there is God.

My parents [and others] were victims of a land-grabbing syndicate. The backers were generals, cabinet members and congressmen. [Opposing them] I was alone as a student leader.

The complainants used to cry every morning in our house. And I told them, 'Don't feel hopeless - if we cannot get justice, I'm planning to go up to the hills and join the New People's Army; [the armed wing] of the Communist Party of the Philippines. But once in a while I'll come back and assassinate the people responsible for the suffering.' That was my plan, until my sister in the [United] States, who used to be an activist at UP but had been born again, started writing to me: 'Eddie, change your attitude. Once you are killed as a radical activist atheist, you'll be damned to hell.'

NATURAL REBORN LEADER In May 1973, I received another letter - I was really entertaining the idea of going up to the hills. It read: 'Eddie, please, surrender your life to Jesus. Say this simple prayer from your heart, there will be a miracle.' I literally did that, from 9.30 in the evening until 2.30. That evening I [also] read the [Gideon's Bible] - after one hour, my hair stood on end, I felt I was asleep, walking on the sky - I was experiencing the born-again experience, which I didn't understand.

All the land-grabbing syndicate leaders - two wealthy people, a judge, a prosecutor and four lawyers - suddenly were arrested and put in jail. It opened my mind to the Bible. The victims got justice - the stolen lands of the poor were restored. I devoured the Bible day and night.

I went back to university; I taught the students about Jesus Christ. In two years, 42 schools, high schools, colleges and universities were penetrated by this ministry [of my students] and we adopted the name Jesus is Lord. All kinds of people were attending; Catholics, Protestants - it expanded, now we have churches across the provinces and chapters in 44 countries.

The Lord spoke to my heart sometime in 1980 to resign from my teaching job and become a full-time minister of the gospel.

RUNNING TO WIN For the 2004 election, I was challenged to run for president by the Taskforce for Change movement. They were Christian leaders, business leaders, ex-communists, ex-military generals. I told them I wanted to support Fernando Poe Jnr, the movie actor, but they just laughed at me - 'Brother Eddie, he's another Joseph Estrada' - and I told them, 'I'm fed up with brainy politicians - Marcos was a genius guy, [Gloria] Macapagal [Arroyo] is a very bright economist - we have tested military generals, actors, housewives, engineers, teachers - what happened? The Philippines used to be No1 in Asia, it's now at the bottom.' They said, 'We believe you are the most ideal candidate.'

I said, 'I'm not stupid - why should I leave my comfort zone when ... almost all political leaders of this country come to our house or my office, just to be friendly with me?'

[So] I imposed seemingly impossible conditions. [The taskforce met all four, three of which involved getting men of principles to join the election team]. I accepted the challenge [on my daughter's] birthday, November 24, 2003.

THE NUMBERS GAME Our party's name is Bangon Pilipinas - Arise Philippines. In February 2004, we held a political rally in Rizal Park [in Manila]; it was full packed. We were challenged to repeat it. May 10 was the election, we had a [rally] on May 6, a normal working day - the people extended beyond the Rizal Monument, up to Taft Avenue. The police estimated the crowd at five million, the newspapers at 3.8 million - but after the election, the commission of election registered my votes, from all over the Philippines, at only 1.9 million. You know why; a [one-time] blind loyalist of the president told me, 'Brother Eddie, I was present in a small caucus when the first gentleman ordered his two lieutenants [cabinet members] to be sure that Brother Eddie, among presidential candidates, is at the bottom and do not allow his votes to exceed two million, or else all of us will be in danger.'

An undersecretary, who is now living in Las Vegas [in the US], told one of our leaders: 'We stole the votes of Brother Eddie because we thought he's just a pastor and he would not complain. The real battle was between Brother Eddie and Fernando Poe Jnr, neck-to-neck. GMA was about third or fourth.'

We received reports that almost all embassies and consulates were ordered by the government to rig the elections - [including those] in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

SECOND CHANCE This election [on May 10], I refused at first - but I'm aware of the political economy of the nation. I know that 60 per cent, 70 per cent of people who die [do so] without medicine. Good medicine in the Philippines, for example, costs 150 pesos [HK$25] per tablet; in India it is only 15 pesos. And I'm aware of the unabated gargantuan political corruption. The natural resources of the Philippines are much [more] than those of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Brunei and Korea combined, but the Philippines is at the bottom.

[Officials] admit around 30 per cent of the election will be manual [this will be the country's first 'computerised' election] - and shaving and padding of votes usually happens when the election is manual. We pray and hope the people perennially involved in rigging the election will think twice. If the people who are controlling the political power in the Philippines do again what they did in 2004, many political analysts believe this would drag the nation to revolution.