MANILA,  May 13, 2004
By Nikko Dizon  -  It’s still too early for President Arroyo to smile, the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) said yesterday following an exit poll showing her winning in last Monday’s elections.

"Mrs. Arroyo is confident of winning in the exit polls but we are confident with the final results of the canvassing that Fernando Poe Jr. will be declared the winner," KNP spokesman Mike Romero said in a press briefing.

He said they are currently gathering evidence and affidavits to prove that the administration attempted to manipulate the results of the elections by disenfranchising voters and rigging power outages in polling areas as well as through harassment and outright fraud, among other anomalies.

"Our lawyers are now working on the affidavits. We’ll see what will happen in the coming days," he said.

An exit poll by respected pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that Mrs. Arroyo garnered at least 40.84 percent of the vote while KNP bet Fernando Poe Jr. got 32.26 percent.

The KNP gave more credence to another exit poll conducted by Proberz, a relatively unknown research group composed of University of Sto. Tomas professors. In its own exit poll, Poe won 38 percent of the vote and Mrs. Arroyo, 34 percent.

"The people should know that is not the end of it. There is competition unlike before. Let us look at the actual results rather than believe in the exit polls now," Romero said. "The real results show Poe is leading so far."

Romero also criticized the election watchdog group National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) for failing to "live up to its standards."

"Namfrel is conducting a very slow count. What can we say? The have nothing to show in these precarious moments," he said.

Namfrel traditionally conducts its own unofficial quick count tally to give the public an idea of the results because the Commission on Elections takes weeks to finish the official tabulation. The Namfrel tally is also meant to prevent fraud.

Citing sources at Malacañang, KNP senatorial aspirant Francisco Tatad claimed the administration has already decided how to divide the estimated 35 million votes cast among the five presidential candidates to make the final count appear credible.

Mrs. Arroyo would purportedly garner 17.5 million votes, Poe 10.5 million and the rest to be divided among Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Eddie Villanueva and Raul Roco.

Romero challenged SWS to prove its exit poll’s accuracy.

The KNP has so far recorded 40 incidents of poll manipulation in Davao del Sur and Albay, Romero said.

KNP candidate Claude Bautista was allegedly offered money to turn a blind eye while the count in the province was being rigged.

KNP senatorial candidate Amina Rasul said she received reports of troops in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi barging into precincts, ordering everyone out and frightening election officials into manipulating the vote tabulation.

Citing copies of election returns obtained by them, Poe’s camp said the actor-turned-politician has so far won in 35 provinces and six cities but the opposite was being reported in the media.

"Maybe somebody up there is manipulating the returns as a cover-up for the massive fraud," KNP senatorial candidate Juan Ponce Enrile said.

One unidentified Mindanao congressman told Poe’s camp administration emissaries twice tried to convince him to change the provincial tally in favor of Mrs. Arroyo, according to KNP official Ed de la Torre.

Soldiers in Awang, Maguindanao allegedly took ballot boxes to Camp Siongco and allowed only monitors of the ruling party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats to witness the count.

At a press conference last Tuesday, Poe virtually accused the Arroyo administration of cheating. "We are leading in the counting, but the opposite is coming out (in the media)." He assured supporters "in this fight, I’m with you all the way."

Later that evening, the KNP led a "victory march" of about 7,000 Poe supporters — mostly from the poor — on Makati City’s Ayala Avenue, tying up traffic in the business district. Poe did not attend. The KNP did not explain the reclusive actor’s absence.

"We believe that FPJ is the winner," Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, a KNP campaign official, said in the rally, which denounced alleged attempts by the Arroyo camp to manipulate the polls’ outcome.

Malacañang denied the allegations and called for sobriety and wait for the vote count to finish to avoid creating an atmosphere of instability.

But in yesterday’s press briefing, Romero said the Tuesday rally was a "thanksgiving" for the landslide victory in the city’s local elections — not a "victory march" for Poe. "Last night was not really a rally. It’s a spontaneous display of exhilaration over victory in Makati."

Before the rally, Romero told reporters that the march was meant to "denounce the trending process of Malacañang" or attempt to make it appear in exit polls that Mrs. Arroyo is leading in the count to cover up the fraud.

Also before the rally, Poe’s press office advised reporters that the KNP was organizing a "march to victory."

KNP senatorial candidates and showbiz celebrities gave inflammatory speeches during the rally. Romero said they have no plan of holding a similar rally in the near future.

Still Confident

Although the SWS exit poll showed she was behind administration rival Sen. Noli de Castro in the vice presidential race, Poe’s running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, remained optimistic of victory.

Legarda said tallies so far gave her a "wide lead" over De Castro, against whom she had waged a bitter war of words during the campaign.

"The unanimity of the results of the tallies and exit polls indicate that there is no room for any more doubt. For this reason, I am confident of victory. The people have spoken."

Legarda promised to "make a big difference in the life of our nation" as vice president. She urged the public to guard the vote, believing the administration would try to rig the outcome.

"Nonetheless, even as we see victory in the horizon, the quest for a new government is not over. There are those who are bent on subverting the will of the electorate through fraudulent means." She did not elaborate.

"I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for your overwhelming support. Let us now join hands and unite so that, with the blessings of the Almighty, the entire nation can finally enjoy the peace and progress that have eluded us for so many years." — With Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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