MANILA,  May 13, 2004
Malacañang warned supporters of President Arroyo yesterday that it is too early to rejoice as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has not yet started its official count of votes cast in Monday’s elections.

Speaking over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo is keeping a close watch on the unofficial tally of the pro-administration Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

"This is not yet the time for any celebration as the Comelec consolidates the results of the polls," he said. "Let us leave all electoral matters in the hands of the electoral body and let it finish its job."

However, Housing Secretary Michael Defensor, Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign spokesman, said the K-4 is confident that an exit poll conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) — showing Mrs. Arroyo leading opposition presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. — would more or less reflect the outcome of the polls.

"While we’re waiting for the actual results, (recalling) the 1998 SWS exit polls and its results... we’re happy that we would have the same results for our President that would give her the mandate to lead the country in this decade," Defensor said.

He said the accuracy of SWS exit polls was shown in the 1998 presidential elections when then Vice President Joseph Estrada won by a landslide, along with then Sen. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the vice presidency.

"We are showing this not only to make a comparison of the SWS exit poll, but also to show at this point, the President may even be able to surpass the votes garnered by then President Estrada in the 1998 elections," he said.

"So we are confident that we will be able to at least equal or surpass the ratings of the votes gathered by President Estrada in the 1998 elections."

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo’s first Cabinet meeting after she is proclaimed winner will focus on the following:

• Create one million jobs a year until 2010.

• Deliver clean water to barangays nationwide.

• Energize 1,500 barangays every year.

• Cut the cost of electricity.

• Triple loans to small business and the self-employed.

• Build 3,000 schoolhouses.

• Put computers in every school.

• Provide scholarship to every poor family.

• Cut the prices of medicine.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo has appealed to her rivals to "help reduce the political temperature" in the post-election period.

"The President is reaching out to all Filipinos to leave any residual rancor or animosity behind and buckle down to work and normalcy," he said.

"It is best to leave the counting syndrome behind because this only polarizes our people at a time when the voting is done and we should be getting back to the business of national development and nation-building," Bunye said

He said some opposition leaders are mobilizing their supporters for protest rallies against alleged cheating in Monday’s elections.

"As far as the Palace is concerned, we are lining up the priorities that were somewhat sidetracked by the elections, and gearing up for a big push in the governance agenda," he said.

Bunye called on Filipinos to bury their differences over Monday’s disputed polls and to wait patiently for the official results, expected to take up to a month.

"We have had enough of political bickering and desperate attempts to grab power over the last three years and we are hoping the election has already settled these political issues," he said.

Defensor said Mrs. Arroyo is ready to reach out to political leaders and ordinary Filipinos to push for a government of national unity.

"If and when the President is officially proclaimed as winner of the election, she would go out of her way to establish rapport with every sector and political camp," he said.

It is important to immediately heal the nation’s wounds so the government could start its programs to boost the economy, he added.

An SWS exit poll late Tuesday predicted Mrs. Arroyo would win 41 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Poe.

However, Poe’s camp rejected the SWS exit poll and continued to accuse Arroyo of trying to rig the count. It has also alleged widespread vote-buying, intimidation and other irregularities by the government.

Mike Romero, spokesman for the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), said their quick count showed Poe leading Mrs. Arroyo two-to-one.

"These are the actual results of the votes of the people and not just exit polls," he said in a television interview.

Rodolfo Reyes, KNP media bureau head, said deliberate efforts were underway to rig the vote.

"If there is massive cheating, people will protest," he said.

The Comelec has given no details of the progress of its laborious manual count.

On the other hand, the independent National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) has counted 1.33 percent of votes and gave Poe a slim lead with 170,749 votes compared to 136,195 for Mrs. Arroyo.

Namfrel chairman Jose Concepcion Jr. said the results were too small to indicate any possible winner.

ABS-CBN television said its own count had tallied 4.5 percent of the vote or 1.6 million ballots.

It gave Mrs. Arroyo 36.37 percent and Poe 34.88 percent. — Marichu Villanueva, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved