MANILA,  May 19, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva  -  Malacañang accused the opposition yesterday of engaging in an apparent "disinformation and underground propaganda" to mislead the public about the results of the May 10 elections by using "bogus" quick counts.

The government warned the political opposition against using "isolated discrepancies" to back its allegations that last week’s election was rigged, as an independent vote count showed President Arroyo with a growing lead.

The President’s rival, popular actor Fernando Poe Jr., has questioned the "quick count" by the officially sanctioned poll watchdog, the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), showing Arroyo ahead with 4,731,586 votes to Poe’s 3,413,143. Three other candidates were trailing far behind.

As far as the country’s election laws are concerned, only the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Namfrel are authorized to conduct a quick count, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

The Palace released yesterday an official statement from acting Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez, who issued a stern warning of the government’s readiness "to initiate criminal actions and prosecute" parties behind these disinformation tactics.

In her statement, Gutierrez said appropriate charges will be filed against individuals, private organizations and groups or media entities "causing the publication or dissemination of false news or information about the election results in the country, tending to cast doubt on the credibility and integrity of the May 10 electoral exercise."

She said disinformation tactics "may endanger public order or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State, which (the Department of Justice) has the legal duty to address."

The DOJ, she said, urges "the persons or entities concerned to desist (from), or discontinue, disseminating false news or information on the election results."

Poe’s camp hasn’t offered any evidence of widespread cheating, saying it will challenge the results once the votes are officially tallied by Congress starting next week. Congress is expected to announce the presidential and vice presidential winners next month.

Social Weather Stations (SWS), a respected survey group, has predicted an Arroyo victory based on exit polls.

But Poe’s party, the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), claims he’s expected to win over Mrs. Arroyo by up to two million votes and has threatened massive street protests if he is robbed of victory.

Threats of violence have drawn sharp condemnation from the President, who has vowed to uphold the rule of law.

"It is unfortunate that some politicians are turning isolated discrepancies in the electoral process into an illusion of general fraud," Bunye said in a statement.

"There is a pattern of disinformation and underground propaganda that is now being fed into the media, clearly designed to undermine the democratic system," he said.

Bunye said any electoral issues should be properly investigated in "institutional venues," and urged the nation "to join hands in making the system work instead of destroying it."

"Some politicians simply cannot resist mudslinging, sour-graping and undermining our political system," he said. "There are institutional venues in which to channel these electoral issues so that they can be investigated properly. Let us join hands in making the system work instead of destroying it."

One television station, ABC-5, broadcast a separate "quick count" Monday that showed Poe leading, but its quick count as of yesterday showed Mrs. Arroyo had already wrested the lead from Poe.

The ABC-5 network’s board chairman is former finance secretary Jose Pardo, who served in the Cabinet of deposed President Joseph Estrada — Poe’s bosom buddy.

Despite the allegations of poll fraud flying thick and fast, however, the canvassing of votes for president and vice president will officially commence only on May 24, when the official Comelec count will be canvassed before a joint session of Congress.

The KNP ran a full-page advertisement in some newspapers yesterday showing regions where Poe and his running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, were winning, according to the party’s own count.

Alyansa ng Pag-asa presidential bet Raul Roco, who has been coming in last in the Namfrel and Comelec ballot counts, conceded defeat Monday to Mrs. Arroyo.

Despite conceding, Roco warned that Mrs. Arroyo’s mandate will be "weakened by widespread vote buying" and said the "electoral fraud will be demonstrated and supported with adequate evidence in due course."

Bunye added that the DOJ memorandum is a "reiteration of what the law (states) — that it’s only Comelec or... Namfrel that comes up with quick counts, so all other quick counts will be unauthorized and they are not sanctioned by law."

He added that the Palace believes that the DOJ has "a sound legal basis" for its memorandum, even as he denied that the Palace applied pressure for Gutierrez to issue the warning.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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