Updated: May 06, 2016 09:30 AM GMT
El Shaddai leader Mariano "Mike" Zuniega Velarde walks with President Benigno Aquino during the movement's 31st anniversary last year. (Photo by Gil Nartea)
The leader of the Philippine's largest Catholic charismatic movement has decided not to endorse a presidential candidate in national elections on May 9.
Mariano "Mike" Zuniega Velarde, head of the influential El Shaddai Charismatic Renewal Movement, is letting the group's members choose who they want for president.
"The faithful are free to choose," said Willie Villarama, a leading member of El Shaddai, which claims a following of 3 to 8 million Filipinos.
"There will be no endorsement [for president]," he said, adding that the result of a survey among members was not conclusive.
The charismatic movement, however, endorsed the vice presidential bid of Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator who ruled the country for two decades.
The group also endorsed 12 senatorial candidates, including two non-Catholics: Joel Villanueva of the Protestant Jesus is Lord movement, and world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, a born-again Christian.
Other Catholic "pro-life" groups have since declared support for the candidacy of current Vice President Jejomar Binay for the top job and Marcos as his deputy because of their anti-death penalty and anti-abortion stance.
Church not supporting anyone
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila said the church's obligation is "to promote an informed and conscience vote, not to impose who to vote for."
"We rather respect the people’s discernment and form their conscience than to endorse a candidate," Bishop Pabillo said on May 6.
The prelate encouraged voters to choose leaders who have the "political will, moral courage, and proven track record" to put forward genuine development.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat of the bishops' conference, said the church and church groups should "empower the voting public by helping them access information about the candidates."
The priest said endorsing or imposing a candidate who is selected by leaders of a religious organization or sect "only shows disrespect toward the intelligence of the faithful and their own free will."
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