Sen. Grace Poe confirmed she had met with an official of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) in a courtesy call, becoming the first presidential candidate in this year’s elections to have an audience with the massive religious group that has become a politically influential bloc.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd said all other presidential candidates are set to follow suit. He said on Sunday all presidential aspirants in the May 2016 local and national elections will be meeting with the INC, hoping to get its support in the coming polls.
The INC is known to practice bloc voting, with its millions of members carrying it out without questions.
Poe, according to reports, met with the INC executive last week, or a few days after she was endorsed by former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who is reputed to be close to the religious sect.
On Saturday, she confirmed paying a courtesy call on the INC but pointed out that there was no commitment made.
“There was no commitment. Every time we visit a place or a religious or private organization, we always pay courtesy to them,” Poe said, adding that she never asked for the support of the church.
She maintained that it was mostly an exchange of ideas between them and she did not ask for the religious organization’s electoral support.
The INC endorsed Estrada when he ran for Vice President in 1992 and for President in 1998, winning on both occasions.
She is leading in the more recent surveys on the voters’ preferred new leader to succeed President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Osmena said it is normal for candidates to ask for the backing of the Iglesia ni Cristo since it is known to deliver votes for the candidates whom it endorses.
According to the senator, he expects Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas 2nd to also meet with the officials of the INC in a bid to get their endorsement.
In 2010, the church “anointed” the tandem of then-Sen. Benigno Aquino 3rd and Roxas.
But it seemed that the bloc-voting power of the religious group was not enough to help Roxas win the vice presidential race.
Binay bagged the country’s second-highest post.
Meanwhile, Osmena admitted that the endorsement of Estrada is still a big factor in the candidacy of Poe.
He said with way the presidential contest is shaping up, all the candidates need all the support they can get.
“He [Estrada] has been a big factor since 1986 when he ran as senator, so you cannot downplay the influence of Erap,” Osmena said, using the Manila mayor’s nickname.
Although it is not as big as 30 percent, he added, Estrada’s influence is still sizeable and enough to make a difference.
The Manila mayor has endorsed Poe, her goddaughter, instead of Binay, his running mate during the 2010 presidential elections.
For Vice President, he vouched for Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.