MANILA, Philippines?Christian evangelist Eduardo ?Brother Eddie? Villanueva kicked off his second quest for the presidency at Luneta Park in Manila with an unfurling of one of the biggest Philippine flags ever made.
Villanueva, head of the Jesus is Lord Church, led other Bangon Pilipinas party candidates and about 5,000 supporters in unfurling the 180 x 92-meter flag.
First displayed in 2006, the 3.8-ton flag was created by businesswoman Grace Gupana, a supporter of Bangon Pilipinas.
Gupana?s group, PG Tower Ministries International, attempted on Sept. 16, 2006, to clinch the record for the world?s biggest flag. The group failed because strong winds tore apart the giant Philippine flag as it was being unfurled in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya.
Washing of feet
?We want to revive genuine patriotism and nationalism. We need new politics with moral leadership for a new, better Philippines,? Villanueva later told reporters.
During the rally, Villanueva also performed the ?washing of the feet? on his running mate Perfecto Yasay Jr. and seven senatorial candidates.
Christ once washed the feet of his disciples to demonstrate how it is to be a servant-leader, according to the Bible.
Unlike in the 2004 presidential campaign when he ran without a slate, Villanueva has a running mate and seven senatorial candidates?Zafrullah Alonto, lawyer Reynaldo Princesa, lawyer Ramoncito Ocampo, broadcast journalists Kata Inocencio and Alex Tinsay, Adz Nikabulin and Israel Virgines.
Villanueva said his slate would run on the platform of ?six years of zero corruption.?
His team chose to start the official campaign at Luneta Park to signal the ?hope for a new Philippines? since the national park is regarded as ?Kilometer Zero,? he said.
In the country, all distances from Manila starts its reference to the kilometer marker in the flagpole beside the Rizal Monument where national hero Jose Rizal was shot by a firing squad in 1896.
Villanueva told reporters that the political rally in the park nearly did not push through because of ?political discrimination? under the Arroyo administration.
Bangon Pilipinas organizers were preparing for a proclamation rally cum ?show of force? on Feb. 13 on the Luneta grounds to accommodate the expected massive turnout of supporters.
But the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), an agency under the Department of Tourism in charge of Luneta Park, turned down Bangon Pilipinas' request, saying the park should not be used for ?politically related rallies.?
?In line with our thrust in maintaining security and the safety of the public, we regret to inform you we don't allow politically related rallies here in Luneta Park,? executive director Salome Habal wrote Bangon Pilipinas on Feb. 4.
But ironically when Bangon Pilipinas made another request for the use of Luneta Park on Feb. 9?the official start of the national campaign period?this time saying it would be for a ?patriotic rally? where they would unfurl the biggest Philippine flag made on record, the NPDC agreed.
Organizers said they were only able to inform their supporters of the change of date on Saturday.
?We would have wanted to hold a proclamation rally on Feb. 13 but it was canceled. The (Luneta Park) staff said ?Ma'am got angry because it might become a political rally,?? Villanueva told reporters.
?But of course it's a political gathering. Why do they have to prevent the use of Luneta Park? Are they afraid to see that we can fill Luneta Park and disprove what the (pre-election) surveys say?? he added.
Villanueva has been at the tail end of pre-election surveys in a field of 10 presidential candidates.
Yasay said the group would question the constitutionality of Luneta Park's policy against political rallies. ?(Luneta Park) was used before in political rallies. We feel very strongly this is a political discrimination, so our party can not show its strength in winning the elections,? he said.
Princesa said the group would file a petition for injunction before a trial court to stop the NPDC policy.
?We'll test the constitutionality of a state-compelling interest against freedom of speech and assembly,? he said.
Princesa said that a political rally was held at Luneta Park in 2004, and that former President Corazon Aquino led an anti-Marcos rally there to launch her civil disobedience campaign after the 1986 snap election.