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El Shaddai head
flip-flops anew
By Ernie U. Sarmiento
Philippine Daily Inquirer

EL SHADDAI leader Bro. Mike Velarde yesterday issued a statement denying he had endorsed a presidential candidate in today's presidential election.

Velarde's statement was to be read at a press conference in a Japanese restaurant at the Ayala Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City, but Gina de Venecia, wife of Speaker Jose de
Venecia Jr., Lakas standard-bearer, stole the show.

Ms De Venecia gate-crashed the press conference of the El Shaddai leader. Once inside the restaurant, she read a statement of the Preachers Council of El Shaddai which earlier endorsed
the Speaker.

But in his signed statement, Velarde insisted that he had not endorsed anyone.

''I have already officially stated that I will not endorse any particular candidate for any elective position... ''I have said time and again, that the members are to vote freely and according to
their conscience as it is their right to do so,'' Velarde said.

He confirmed that majority of the council of elders of the El Shaddai ministry had issued a statement expressing its support for De Venecia.

''I have allowed them to do so as it is their right to freely express who they believe would be the best candidate for them,'' Velarde said.

He clarified that he was maintaining his neutrality and that the council's statement should not be misconstrued as his official position or the ministry's.

''I have given equal opportunity to all candidates to present themselves to this ministry so that the members can freely choose who among them to vote for,'' he said.

Before Ms De Venecia's sudden appearance, Ike Gutierrez, spokesperson of the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino, announced that the Speaker's wife had prevented Velarde from
attending the press conference. Velarde lives in a nearby subdivision.

After reading the statement, Ms De Venecia looked for Gutierrez, who was relegated to the background as TV cameramen and photographers trained their cameras on her.

When they came face-to-face, the Speaker's wife said, ''O umorder ka ng sushi para sa lahat, Ikaw ano ang gusto mo? (You order sushi for everybody. You, what do you want?)''

''Fruit juice na lang ho (Just fruit juice),' Gutierrez answered. They appeared civil to each other. Ms de Venecia said she admired Gutierrez for his handling of the media. ''Matagal na kitang idol (I've been your idol for a long time),'' she told the LAMMP spokesperson.

In return, Gutierrez thanked Ms De Venecia for the cake she had given Vice President Joseph Estrada on his birthday.

Rod Reyes, LAMMP media bureau chief, joined in the charade ''I appeared once in a movie produced by your father,'' Reyes told Ms De Venecia, whose father is Jose Vera Perez of
Sampaguita Pictures.

While this was going on, members of the LAMMP media bureau were giving secret notes to reporters that there would be a change of venue.

As everybody jumped to their vehicles, Ms De Venecia and her aides rushed to her van, a RAM 3500.

Ploy sensed

When Gina's van started moving, Gutierrez signalled everybody to return to the restaurant. Sensing the ploy, Ms De Venecia went back to the restaurant.

Exasperated, a LAMMP staffer announced that the eldest son of Velarde would come to read the El Shaddai leader's statement.  Another round of sushi and drinks were ordered on Ms De
Venecia's prodding. ''Sagot ko ito (It's on me),'' she told Gutierrez.

Because she was not about to leave the restaurant, Gutierrez directed everybody to make a go and proceed to another venue.

A convoy of some 20 cars left the Ayala Alabang Town Center and entered BF Homes in Parañaque. The route was circuitous so as to lose Ms De Venecia's van.

When all the media cars entered the village, a member of the LAMMP media bureau gave orders to the security guards not to let the van enter the MHFDS village.

The gates of the house where the press conference were to be held were also locked and only members of the media were allowed inside.

Dr. Franklin Velarde, eldest son of the El Shaddai leader, then read his father's statement.

As everybody was leaving the closed-door press conference, the RAM 3500 van was seen trying to park in the garage of an adjacent house, which happened to be the house of Today
columnist Alvin Capino.

In a statement she delivered personally to the Inquirer, Ms De Venecia said she attended the press conference to find out what LAMMP would say about him.

''I thought that if they will be telling nothing but the truth, they will not be scared (by) my presence. My fears were not misplaced and I found out that they've tried to twist things in
what they've been telling the media even before the start of the press conference,'' she said.

Ms De Venecia belied the allegation that she was trying to bribe Velarde and other El Shaddai elders. She instead accused Estrada of pressuring Velarde into endorsing him.

''Uneasy with my presence and knowing that I'll be there to correct whatever outright lies and misstatements that they will say, they decided to change the venue of the media meeting to
the house of Jimmie Policarpio'' she said.

Policarpio is the former chief of staff of Sen. Ernesto Maceda, now mayoral candidate of Manila.

Ms De Venecia said she was barred from entering MHFDS subdivision.

At the Inquirer, the Speaker's wife had a chance meeting with Gutierrez who, like her, delivered Velarde's signed statement.

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