FAREWELL, FRIEND. Even during his trials, former President Joseph Estrada said his friend, Eraño Manalo, was always there to support him. Joe Galvez file photoFormer President Joseph "Erap" Estrada has joined the nation in mourning the death of Iglesia ni Cristo leader Eraño "Ka Erdie" Manalo.

Estrada's spokesperson Margaux Salcedo said the former president had wanted to fly back to Manila Tuesday, after learning of his friend's death but failed because of a conflict in flight schedules. Estrada is currently shooting his new film in General Santos City in Mindanao.

"I have not only lost a spiritual leader but also a dear friend who I will miss dearly," Estrada was quoted by Salcedo as saying.

Estrada noted that Manalo was "one of the greatest religious leaders of our time" and that he lived in "humility and compassion."

"He has been an inspiration to me personally, throughout my political career," he added.

According to Salcedo, Manalo and Estrada have been friends since the latter's career as mayor of San Juan, then a municipality. At first, Manalo's INC did not support Estrada's first term as mayor.

But eventually, Salcedo said Estrada was able to win the heart of Manalo and his flocks' support in the polls.

When Estrada sought the presidency in 1998, he got the backing of the INC. Through Manalo’s support, Estrada was able to gain enough support to win the polls with over 10 million votes.

Even after Estrada stepped down in 2001, Manalo’s support for him was unwavering. During the so-called "EDSA Tres" - the failed attempt of Estrada's civilian loyalist supporters to topple the Arroyo administration via a "people power" revolution - the INC-run Net 25 gave a blow-by-blow account of the event.

In February 2006, while Estrada was facing trial for plunder, then Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor disclosed that three religious leaders, including Manalo, had expressed willingness to serve as Estrada's guarantors if he applies for his release on recognizance.

At the time however, Malacañang maintained that the decision to grant Estrada temporary liberty was up to the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. - GMANews.TV

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