Brother Eddie, the outsider predicting an Almighty surprise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 May, 2004, 12:00am

Colourful campaign posters for congressmen, senators and presidential candidates line pavements and boulevards throughout Manila's sprawling suburbs ahead of today's general election.

'There is no point voting, they're all crooks,' said a taxi driver, pointing out a bright yellow billboard showing a smiling political hopeful giving the thumbs up, as he continued navigating his cab through the city's crowded, smog-choked streets.

Such cynicism among ordinary people is commonplace in a country seemingly paralysed by graft.

It also sets the stage for a candidate that a sector of the Philippine population believes could provide the answer to their prayers and the nation's problems: enter televangelist Eduardo Villanueva, popularly known as Brother Eddie.

When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo replaced Joseph Estrada as president nearly three years ago there was hope the hard-nosed technocrat would be able to lead the country to prosperity.

But, dogged by corruption, she has struggled to counter the effects of high unemployment, a loss of workers to jobs abroad, a weakening currency and one of the highest per-capita public debts in the region.

'This country is in crisis,' said Brother Eddie, who founded Jesus is Lord, the fourth largest independent church in the world, 25 years ago. 'What it needs is not a politician, it needs someone who can generate hope.'

The 57-year-old former student leftist leader, economist and student of law entered the race late and lags significantly in the polls, but he and millions of followers believe he is divinely anointed by God to become the country's next president.

The disdain for the political system is so strong that candidates such as Brother Eddie and Fernando Poe Jnr make a virtue out of their lack of experience. They campaign on the theme that, as they are not part of the remote political elite, they are more attuned to the needs of the everyday Filipino.

Brother Eddie refers to his followers as the 'silent majority', and there are a lot of them. About a million people attended a rally at Rizal Park in Manila on Thursday, convinced their man was going to win, despite opinion polls giving him just 5 per cent of the vote.

At his campaign office in Makati, hundreds of volunteers scurry around with purpose and optimism.

'It is the will of God and we are going to see a miracle come election day,' said one devotee, a software engineer giving up his spare time for the cause.

Brother Eddie resorts to an old cliche when explaining the groundswell of support he has generated. 'People are sick and tired of being sick and tired,' he said with a sigh.

He may significantly lag the frontrunners - in opinion polls he says are fixed - but Brother Eddie has far from given up hope. Like some Biblical prophecy waiting to be fulfilled, he and his followers believe they are their country's only hope for salvation. And they truly believe God knows it too.