MANILA, April 2, 2004
By Jose Aravilla - Two new disqualification cases were filed yesterday against President Arroyo, including allegations that she consumed some 315 television air time minutes at a whopping cost of nearly P80 million supposedly even before the campaign period started.

The President, who is seeking a full six-year term in May, is now facing 11 disqualification suits since official campaigning for national candidates began Feb. 10.

A petition was filed earlier by two Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) senatorial contenders against the President before the Supreme Court, seeking to declare her resigned or on official leave upon the filing of her certificate of candidacy. This was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and cause of action.

In separate petitions seeking Mrs. Arroyo’s disqualification from the presidential race, Alyansa ng Pag-asa senatorial candidates Bong Coo and Nicanor Gatmaitan and Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) congressional candidate Mike Planas lodged their cases before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday and yesterday, respectively.

Coo and Gatmaitan alleged that Mrs. Arroyo, through Commission on Higher Education (CHED) acting chairman Manuel Punzal, issued a memorandum to schools requiring a brief statement from the President to be read before graduating students.

The petition questioned why the speech was only read to graduating students who are of voting age, and not to their high school and elementary counterparts.

The speech indicated the President’s resolve "to turn the economy around" and the need to "continue the fight" for change.

"Let us not imperil that future," the speech read. "The nation is best served by strong and tried leadership."

Mrs. Arroyo has repeatedly stressed that "experience" as incumbent president for three years is her edge over her four other rivals for the presidency.

The petitioners accused CHED of allowing itself to be part of partisan politics, which they noted is prohibited under the law.

A temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction were requested against CHED.

In the 11th disqualification case, Planas accused the President of having 466 television spots that advertised her achievements and projects between Jan. 21 and Feb. 9.

Under election rules, official campaigning is only to start on Feb. 10.

Planas, who is running as congressman in Quezon City’s third district, said Mrs. Arroyo is guilty of "premature campaigning."

"The continued airing and showing of the television advertisements and the continued failure of respondent Arroyo to remove, discard, stop or do away with these television advertisements, which carry her name, picture and image, which trumpet her so-called achievements, make her liable for premature campaigning," the 21-page petition said.

Planas was quick to deny any political motive behind the filing of the case. He, however, acknowledged he is running against Matt Defensor, father of the President’s official campaign spokesman Mike Defensor.

But Planas stressed he is filing the suit as a member of the Pro-Con (Pro-Constitution) group, the same organization which filed two other disqualification cases against Mrs. Arroyo.

The advertisements take the form of "infomercials," which are supposed to show the government’s programs.

But based on the petition, the advertisements computed at the prevailing air time rate of P250,000 per minute cost P78,562,500.

The same petition also cited newspaper advertisements and "expensive" streamers as part of the President’s premature campaigning.

"Premature campaigning is what the respondent Arroyo has engaged in without regard to decency and the law and without any reservation as to its ill-effects on the bureaucracy and state of funds of the government she is supposed to lead," said the petition.

"Respondent Arroyo is guilty of blatantly skewing the playing field in the May 10, 2004 elections," it read. "To advance her candidacy, she has used and continues to use government funds... to the greatly lopsided disadvantage of her fellow candidates who are unable to equal her humongous war chest for the campaign."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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