Estrada’s spiritual guru flees


President Joseph Estrada’s spiritual adviser left the Philippines on Tuesday after casting his lot with the impeached Philippines leader, in the process earning the ire of the dominant Roman Catholic Church.

Popular preacher Mariano “Brother Mike” Velarde flew to the United States to seek treatment for his wife’s hypertension, said Mel Robles, spokesman for his “El Shaddai” television ministry.

He released Velarde’s letter to Manila archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin, in which the couple asked for “prayers from Your Eminence for our safe and successful trip and the speedy recovery of my wife Belen.”

However, El Shaddai sources said Velarde would be gone two weeks to avoid the rock and the hard place. “It was a consensus reached by the El Shaddai since they want to stay neutral in the on-going political crisis,” one of these sources said.

Velarde earlier spurned Sin’s request to throw his group’s support behind the institutional church’s campaign to pressure Estrada into resigning.

The president goes to trial on corruption and other charges in the Senate on Thursday. A guilty verdict would disqualify him from any government post.

Aides said Velarde told El Shaddai members last weekend that the group would serve to keep the church and state from clashing, adding: “We do not need to remove the president.”

Cardinal Sin has threatened to order dioceses and churches nationwide to pull support for the lay preacher if he remained loyal to Estrada.

Velarde, who claims a following of several millions and is known for holding massive prayer rallies on the weekend, is nominally Catholic.

Estrada, who describes the charges against him as “baseless,” said Tuesday that he spoke to Velarde by telephone after the latter made his choice.

The president said Velarde “is not involved in politics. He is just following his conscience and he is after constitutional processes.”