MANILA,  May 12, 2004
By Paolo Romero  -  A day after the presidential elections, the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), led by its standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr., accused President Arroyo of engaging in massive electoral fraud and intimidation to thwart "the will of the people."

In a hastily called press conference at a campaign office in Greenhills, San Juan hours before the KNP launched a rally in Makati City to protest the alleged cheating, Poe lamented the Arroyo administration’s scheme to cheat him of victory.

Poe, also called "Da King" of Philippine movies, expressed surprise he was trailing Mrs. Arroyo by eight percentage points in Metro Manila, where 5.5 million voters make up 13 percent of the national total and offered the actor a large chunk of his support among the poor.

"We are leading in the counting, but the opposite is coming out (in the media)," Poe said, assuring his "supporters, volunteers and the Filipino people that in this fight, I’m with you all the way."

KNP spokesman Mike Romero later said Poe will not attend the rally, dubbed a "victory march." The day before the elections, Poe had refused to comment on his chances of victory and instead called for peace and sobriety.

A Palace spokesman, however, cautioned opposition leaders from linking the Arroyo administration with the quick count by media outlets.

"These accusations by Poe were largely directed at the media entities which are releasing these exit polls. We respect these exit polls in media even if some of them showed the President was losing in some regions," official campaign spokesman Michael Defensor said.

He noted that most of Poe’s complaints were the usual problems that take place during elections in the Philippines.

"We know in any elections, these are the usual problems. They cannot accuse us of widespread cheating," Defensor said.

Defensor said "it is not fair" to accuse the organizations conducting quick counts since they "ensure orderly and clean elections through monitoring and release of early results." He cited the exit poll by the Social Weather Stations showing the President in the lead with 41 percent of votes compared to Poe’s 32 percent.

Defensor appealed for the opposition to wait for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to release the official results instead of reacting too early in the game.

"It seems they are in a panic already by their irresponsible calls to action among their supporters. Let’s not resort to destabilization because it would be detrimental to our country and people," he said.

At the press conference, Poe called on his supporters to monitor the canvassing of ballots.

"The government should not resort to using money and threats against the people because what we are doing is for the country," he added.

Poe also appealed to the media that "for the sake of our country, for once and for all, please report the truth."

Poe said reports of an 80 percent voter turnout were not true since many registered voters were unable to vote. He did not elaborate.

He refused to answer questions from journalists but promised that another press conference will be held soon. He immediately left the building after the press conference.

Earlier in the day, KNP senatorial candidates and a retired general said in a press conference that the elections are close to becoming a farce because of massive cheating by the administration.

Retired Philippine Constabulary general Tomas Diaz said Malacañang might be preparing for a "no election" scenario following reports that Senate President Franklin Drilon asked the Comelec for 80 empty ballot boxes.

Diaz said Congress, which will canvass the votes for president and vice president, will have their own certificates of canvass (COC).

He said there will most likely be discrepancies between the COCs of the KNP and Congress. When that happens, he said, the 250,000 ballot boxes will have to be checked manually, a process that may delay the proclamation of the president and vice president scheduled on June 30.

Tatad, for his part, warned the country "is in a serious political crisis" as a result of the electoral fraud by the Arroyo administration.

"Media, polling, and computer firms affiliated with the Arroyo campaign have gone into the trending activity, with the obvious intent of conditioning the mind of the public to accept an unearned Arroyo victory," he said, adding that today’s media outlets are Mrs. Arroyo’s "spinmeisters and mouthpieces."

But asked for his comment on the early lead by KNP vice presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda in the media quick counts, Tatad merely replied, "That’s not an easy question to answer."

Tatad said the present situation is a reminder of the post-election scene in 1986, wherein the opposition "condemned the conduct of the elections in a formal statement that provided the moral basis for the EDSA revolt" that toppled the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

He noted that the 1986 statement mentioned the "systematic disenfranchisement of voters, widespread and massive vote-buying, the deliberate tampering of election returns, and intimidation, harassment and murder."

"Every single offense committed in 1986 appears to have been repeated on a grand scale in these elections," Tatad said.

He also cast doubt on the Comelec’s report that the turnout of voters was a high 85 percent, saying that "in reality, only about 60 percent voted."

Tatad said there were three million disenfranchised voters nationwide, which the Comelec "has been slow to report... or has tried to minimize its magnitude."

Among the disenfranchised voters is KNP senatorial bet Amina Rasul, who said she was surprised to find that her name, along with the names of her two brothers, was missing from the voters’ list in Quezon City. She said the three of them had their registration revalidated last year.

Rasul added that she is still consulting with her lawyers on the proper course of action to take.

Don’t Spook Markets

Meanwhile, Philippine Association of Securities Brokers and Dealers Inc. (PASBDI) chairwoman Vivian Yuchengco and president Nestor Aguila called on all political parties to refrain from partisan politics and destabilization measures that can lower business and investor confidence and cause uncertainty, anxiety and divisiveness among Filipinos. — With Nikko Dizon, Marichu Villanueva, Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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