ABU DHABI // A religious group in the UAE is supporting its leader's bid for the Philippine senate in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Eduardo Villanueva, popularly known as Brother Eddie, is the founder and spiritual adviser of the Jesus is Lord (JIL) church. He is now trying a political comeback after running unsuccessfully for president in 2004 and 2010.
"Brother Eddie is aware of the mistreatment of Filipinos in the region," said Luz Macabinquil, 47, an accountant in Abu Dhabi who serves as JIL's Middle East regional pastor. "He said many of us spend long years outside the Philippines and we need the government's help."
His fourth visit to the UAE was in November last year when he attended JIL UAE's 10th anniversary celebrations at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Last month, members of the JIL church in Abu Dhabi began preparing posters, flyers, pocket-sized calendars and bookmarks. The campaign period in the Philippines started on February 12. JIL is a fundamentalist Christian church group in the Philippines with a presence in 50 countries.
Apart from its Abu Dhabi church with 372 members, JIL has congregations in Dubai, Jebel Ali, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman, and Fujairah. The Dubai church has 280 members, Jebel Ali has 160, and the Northern Emirates has 407.
Marilyn Frivaldo, 43, the group's campaign manager in Abu Dhabi, said posters had been put up inside a villa in Khalidiya, which serves as their headquarters.
"We will be distributing flyers in malls, offices, Filipino restaurants," she said.
"We'll reach out to as many Filipinos as we can but it will be done discreetly."
The twice-defeated presidential candidate has a "fighting chance" in the senate, Ms Frivaldo said. "He's is in a better position to make laws," she said. "His image in the public eye remains untarnished."
Jose Bugay, 40, a member of the campaign team and a poll watcher at the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi in 2010, set up a Facebook group page called "JIL Church Worldwide Support Senator Brother Eddie Villanueva".
"We hope our countrymen will give Brother Eddie a chance to sit in the senate," he said.
Mr Villanueva's platform for government includes introducing legislation to protect the rights and interests of Filipino workers overseas.
If elected, he wants to reduce staff at embassies, consulates and labour offices in some countries and transfer personnel to other countries with a larger concentration of Filipinos without affecting the budget of Manila's foreign affairs department.
He also wants the government to prepare for the eventual return and reintegration of expatriates so they can invest their earnings and apply their expertise.
"Brother Eddie stands a chance because there are 12 senatorial slots," said Ramon Casiple, a political analyst in Manila.
"But he does not have a wide reach outside JIL. He needs to get votes outside his religious group."
Overseas absentee voters worldwide are given one month to cast their votes for 12 senators and one party list group beginning on April 13, while those in the Philippines will vote on May 13, election day.