MANILA,  May 15, 2004
By Mike Frialde  -  President Arroyo and her vice presidential running mate Noli de Castro continue to lead in the canvassing of overseas votes, the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said yesterday.

Reports from Hong Kong and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands were received yesterday at the Namfrel tabulation center in La Salle Greenhills.

The other day, Namfrel tallied the votes cast by overseas Filipinos in Brunei, Italy, Japan, Singapore and the United States.

As of 12 noon yesterday, Namfrel said Mrs. Arroyo got 47,718 votes out of a total of 100,482 votes from the different countries. De Castro, on the other hand, got 47,930 votes out of a total of 97,280 votes cast for vice president.

In this latest update, the President was closely followed by movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., who got 21,158 votes; evangelist Eddie Villanueva, 13,018 votes; Alyansa ng Pag-asa bet Raul Roco, 11,963 votes and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, 6,625.

Interestingly, Villanueva, who personally campaigned in Hong Kong, did not get the most number of votes in the former British colony. Villanueva only mustered 8,761 votes as compared with Mrs. Arroyo’s 24,431. Villanueva earlier said that many Filipinos working in Hong Kong are members of the Jesus Is Lord (JIL) fellowship, which he heads.

Lacson, who also went to Hong Kong to campaign, managed to get only 2,403 votes.

In the vice presidential race, De Castro was trailed by Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) bet Sen. Loren Legarda, with 43,004 votes; Alyansa ng Pag-asa’s Herminio Aquino, 6,012 votes; and Rodolfo Pajo, 334.

Meanwhile, the senatorial race was still dominated by action star Bong Revilla (57,097 votes). He was followed by Orly Mercado (52,129); Miriam Defensor-Santiago (52,055); Richard Gordon (47,662); John Osmeńa (46,876); Lito Lapid (46,244); Alfredo Lim (45,472); Aquilino Pimentel (43,167); Ernesto Maceda (42,859); Mar Roxas (42,610); Juan Ponce Enrile (41,732); Francisco Tatad (39,554); Heherson Alvarez (38,421); Rodolfo Biazon (38,356); and Ernesto Herrera (36,571).

Namfrel is still expecting reports from its volunteers in Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, Namfrel’s "slow count" has become even slower as more problems with the system are encountered by the poll watchdog.

Namfrel officials explained that they have to "reformat" the data coming from the provinces. Namfrel chairman Jose Concepcion Jr. said the format of the reports submitted by their partner schools in the provinces does not jibe with their program.

Since the first day of Namfrel’s Operation Quick Count, Namfrel volunteers also had to send precinct results via SMS (Short Messaging Service) or text as local election officers reportedly refuse to give them the sixth copy of the election returns as provided by law.

There were also instances when the number of registered votes and precinct numbers provided by the Comelec head office in Manila do not match the information in local precincts.

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairwoman Harriet Demetriou, who is Poe’s lawyer, met with Concepcion and Namfrel vice chairman Eddie Go yesterday to complain that votes for Poe from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, his known bailiwicks, were not reflected in the Namfrel tally.

She raised speculations that Namfrel could be holding back the results in areas where Poe is leading, thus influencing "trending" of votes.

Concepcion denied that they were preconditioning the minds of the public by setting a trend on the possible winners in the May 10 polls

"In fact, in the first two days, Poe was ahead because that was the data that we received," Concepcion said.

After the meeting, Demetriou said that she was satisfied with Concepcion’s explanation and would count on his promise to look into the results of the two regions in question.

"The sooner the results are in, the better because there is always the possibility of tampering," she said.

When asked if she would take legal action against Namfrel if it continues to delay transmission of favorable votes to Poe, she replied: "We would cross the bridge when we get there."

Legarda also visited the Namfrel center yesterday to seek clarification over reports that votes for the KNP in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog were not being shown in the Namfrel tally board.

In Namfrel’s bulletin released at 7 a.m., Legarda’s total votes only reached 1.4 million. "It’s too small," Legarda said.

Meanwhile, De Castro thanked his supporters in the Visayas and Mindanao for their overwhelming support in the polls.

In a press statement, De Castro said that partial results from the Comelec showed that he is winning in the Visayas, especially the provinces of Leyte, Cebu, Capiz and Negros Occidental. In Mindanao, he said he was strong in the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat and the Caraga region.

Meanwhile, Felix Villacastin, president of the Mindanao Media Association (MMA) and vice president of the Publishers Association of the Philippines, said that election results gathered by media representatives in the CARAGA region showed Mrs. Arroyo leading over Poe.

Villacastin said that the President was also leading in Regions 10 and 12.

— With Evelyn Macairan

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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