ABU DHABI // A religious group with more than 1,000 members in the UAE is supporting its founder and spiritual adviser from afar as he takes his second shot at the Philippine presidency. Last February, the members of the Jesus is Lord (JIL) church in the UAE raised funds for the presidential campaign of Eduardo Villanueva, who is popularly known as Brother Eddie. Unlike in 2004 when he ran alone for the Bangon Pilipinas Party, Mr Villanueva has a running mate and a senatorial line-up in this year's national elections. Absentee voting has started.
"We have been distributing flyers in malls, labour camps in Musaffah and the Catholic church here in Abu Dhabi," said Luz Macabinquil, 45, an accountant in Abu Dhabi who serves as the group's UAE area pastor. "We also serve as poll watchers at the embassy in Abu Dhabi." JIL is a fundamentalist charismatic Christian church group in the Philippines with a presence in 48 countries. Apart from its Abu Dhabi church with 270 members, JIL has congregations in Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman, Jebel Ali and Fujairah. The Dubai church has 250 members and Jebel Ali has 120.
Miguelito Sitchon, 31, an accountant in Abu Dhabi and a first-time voter, said the UAE chapter of the JIL believes in Brother Eddie's promise that once elected president, he would eradicate corruption within 100 days in office. "For so many years, I haven't seen any passion among our government leaders to get rid of corruption," he said. "I worked in the government for two and a half years until 2006 and have witnessed it."
Mr Villanueva, who arrived in Manila on Tuesday night from various campaign sorties in Mindanao, southern Philippines, said he was overwhelmed by the support of UAE chapter of JIL for the entire Bangon Pilipinas slate. Since the start of the overseas absentee voting last Saturday, Bangon Pilipinas is the only party with volunteer watchers every day, he said. "The support of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is so important to our agenda," Mr Villanueva told The National by phone from Manila. "When I'm elected president, I will establish a leadership by example with moral authority. It would be a six-year corruption-free Philippines."
He considers the UAE, the second most popular destination for Filipino migrants in the Middle East, a "unique employer for the Filipino labour force". "The UAE embraces a wide range of Filipino employment: from the so-called blue-collar job to the professional where a Filipino could even hold supervisorial and managerial positions," Mr Villanueva said. "Our compatriots are relatively free to exercise their religious beliefs within the bounds tolerable for the nation and its nationals, as well as for the other nationalities."
Mr Villanueva said he would like to provide better employment opportunities in the Philippines so they do not need to go abroad to work. "An ultimate objective of the Bangon administration is to establish an economic environment where it will no longer be necessary for Filipinos to leave their families behind, with children growing up without their parents, or brothers and sisters," he said. Meantime, he says a Bangon administration will set up an overseas Filipino worker social security system, special assistance desks in Philippine embassies, consulates and main ports of entry and exit of OFWs as well as family-support programmes and entrepreneurship training for families left behind.
He said there would also be a comprehensive reintegration programme, a "presidential office on OFW action". A Bangon government would forge treaties with host governments for better protection of Filipino migrant workers, he said. email@example.com