MANILA,  May 18, 2004 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  - Go ahead and sue.

Malacañang challenged the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) yesterday to go ahead and file its poll fraud charges against President Arroyo and stop her proclamation as winner of the May 10 presidential elections.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye issued the challenge to the KNP during his daily press briefing at the Palace in reaction to the claims made by the opposition coalition that it has collected evidence to back their allegations of "massive" cheating committed against its standard-bearer, action star Fernando Poe Jr.

The President has "said her piece on this particular matter." Bunye said. "The President is concerned about the cases of poll fraud and violence. For as long as these (allegations) are specific and substantiated, then these would be looked into."

"As for the threat of the KNP to file a protest, so far they have not really come up with substantiated evidence of poll fraud or violence," he said. "All the reported incidents have been isolated and they do not confirm widespread massive cheating which would materially affect the outcome of the elections."

Both the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the poll watchdog National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) have said there have been no evidence of widespread poll fraud and international observers monitoring the elections have not raised any alarm over the matter, either.

Bunye said the President’s lawyers in the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4) are ready to face their counterparts from the KNP before the Comelec or any forum where the opposition may choose to file pre-proclamation fraud cases against her.

However, Bunye could not predict the scenario if such cases filed against the President were not resolved by June 30, which is the end of her term.

"Frankly, I don’t have specifics, but I’m sure that these will be handled by our legal people and we are confident that any contest or protest that they will lodge... will be answered very satisfactorily by our legal panel," he said.

The KNP, he said, has to "substantiate their allegations... so far we have not seen any solid evidence that they have presented. All they’re presenting are hearsay and rumors."

"If there had been systematic cheating and massive fraud as painted by the opposition, I’m sure, at the very least, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting will be raising a howl right now," he said, adding that neither the PPCRV nor Namfrel has complained of cheating at the polls.

He also pointed out that the Namfrel quick count is unofficial, though it shows that the President is leading Poe by over a million votes.

The official canvassing of votes for the presidential and vice-presidential elections has yet to begin on May 24, when a joint session of Congress will canvass them at the Batasang Pambansa. The official canvassing of votes for president and vice president will be led by Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia.

Bunye said that while Malacañang and the rest of the country will "have to maintain our vigilance over the election process ... we’re still focused on governance and the earlier we take our minds (out of) election mode, the better for all of us."

Meanwhile, Bangon Pilipinas Movement (BPM) standard-bearer Eddie Villanueva renewed his warning that massive street protests may erupt as a result of poll fraud allegedly commited by the administration.

"We can’t discount the possibility of street protests," Villanueva said in a radio interview. "There are actually demands among my followers for such massive action."

Villanueva is lagging behind in the presidential race, despite having drawn three million supporters to his "miting de avance" at Quirino Grandstand at Manila’s Rizal Park, just days before the May 10 elections.

He said BPM has created a fact-finding committee that will consolidate evidence and complaints of poll fraud as part of the party’s "absolute, unwavering commitment to truth and justice."

The fact-finding operation initiated by BPM has been dubbed "Operation: Be Counted!" and is led by Tricie Sison, a former Namfrel official.

He said he was shocked to learn that he earned zero votes or only one vote in many precincts where his supporters were registered, particularly in Bacoor town in Cavite province.

He believes that these results are impossible because thousands of members of his Jesus is Lord Church Worldwide are registered in those areas.

Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra, on the other hand, earlier said that a zero vote for any candidate in any given precinct is "not statistically impossible."

Villanueva said he would let the people decide what to do once Mrs. Arroyo is declared the winner in the presidential race.

However, he also said that "although we want cheaters to be exposed to the public, we would still go through the appropriate authorities and courts."

He said the BPM will also expose poll fraud to the international community if it is proven to have been massive in nature.

The BPM and independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson have joined forces with the KNP in denouncing what they called "massive" poll fraud.

In another development, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) spokesman Gregorio Rosal said the rebel movement expects the restiveness fueled by the KNP to "lead to swelling street protests in the next few weeks."

Rosal said that while the CPP believes that alleged massive cheating has been directed mainly at "major opposition candidates," militant party-list groups were also affected by the alleged poll fraud.

"The CPP will hold the Arroyo administration and its military and paramilitary forces responsible if this trend continues and is not stopped." Rosal said.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales earlier denounced left-leaning party-list groups Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela, Migrante and Suara Bangsamoro as being among the groups that serve as "fronts" for the CPP.

Gonzales also accused Bayan Muna, which occupies three sectoral seats in the House of Representatives, of having diverted millions of pesos in congressional allocations to the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed guerrilla wing.

Rosal’s warning was issued as Malacañang convened late last week the government peace panel negotiating with the CPP-led National Democratic Front (NDF) to end the 35-year-old communist insurgency.

The peace talks are expected to restart next month in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, as Norway continues to act as the peace process’ third party facilitator. — with Edu Punay, Benjie Villa

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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