MANILA,  May 19, 2004
By Sheila Crisostomo  -  Partymates of Alyansa ng Pag-asa presidential candidate Raul Roco denied yesterday accusations that the former education secretary was actually working with the administration during the three-month campaign.

"It’s not true," said an indignant Herminio Aquino, Roco’s vice presidential candidate.

"I don’t understand why people impute motives when one accepts results (of the election). Concession is a very humbling act. Why can’t they accept concession? Raul Roco only wanted the best for the country," Aquino said.

Aquino made the statement a day after Roco conceded defeat to President Arroyo on Monday.

Mrs. Arroyo, on the other hand, lauded the "act of statesmanship" by Roco in conceding defeat to her. "I am humbled by the act of statesmanship of Raul Roco, although the counting is not yet over and we must wait for the people’s mandate to be declared," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"I never doubted for a moment that Raul Roco is a true ally for democracy and freedom, and I shall continue to rely on his firm support and participation, including those of his leaders and supporters, in upholding the sovereign will of the people and the preservation of our democratic system and way of life," she said.

The opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) of actor Fernando Poe Jr., meanwhile, belittled the political effect of Roco conceding to Mrs. Arroyo.

Poe’s personal campaign manager Sen. Vicente Sotto III claimed Roco merely read a "script" from Malacañang to portray an administration victory.

Sotto claimed the favorable exit poll by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and "trending" by the accredited poll watchdog National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) are part of Malacañang’s plan to give credibility to Mrs. Arroyo’s victory.

"His (Roco) concession (is) part of their script to portray an acceptability in what they claim as GMA’s lead and victory," Sotto said.

For his part, KNP senatorial candidate Francisco Tatad continued his tirade against the administration yesterday.

With Roco out of the picture, Tatad claimed the administration is now free "to dip into his (Roco’s) votes to pad the votes" for Mrs. Arroyo.

Roco conceded the race to Mrs. Arroyo on Monday but said his party will continue to gather evidence of widespread electoral fraud.

Body Language

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye clarified Mrs. Arroyo’s statements about Roco do not mean she has already acknowledged victory at this stage.

"The President said that the mandate still has to be formally expressed. So we have to wait for the process to finish and that’s the only time when anybody can claim victory," Bunye said.

Roco could not be reached for comment but Aquino spoke for him and disclosed conceding defeat was one of the options the former senator had thought about.

"He (Roco) was also thinking of just doing nothing at all. I know Raul spent a lot of time thinking what’s the best thing to do so we can move forward after a tumultuous electoral process," Aquino said.

Aquino defended Roco for his move. "We have never wavered on our principled stand. We’re not going to close our eyes and let electoral fraud pass by," Aquino told The STAR in a telephone interview.

On the other hand, Alyansa senatorial bet Jay Sonza admitted being taken by surprise by Roco’s conceding defeat to Mrs. Arroyo.

Sonza said he could not "reconcile" the statements made by Roco in conceding while at the same time urging people to guard against electoral cheating.

"I think what he (Roco) should have done is to just concede defeat without acknowledging any winner," Sonza said.

Alyansa senatorial bet Melanio "Batas" Mauricio, for his part, defended Roco against accusations by the opposition. "I don’t think he could sell his soul. That’s far- fetched," he said.

Sotto claimed Roco may have been forced to concede to Mrs. Arroyo, pointing out the "body language" by the erstwhile presidential candidate during his press conference on Monday.

"It seems that he’s been forced to say things," Sotto said.

Tatad, for his part, said Roco’s concession to Mrs. Arroyo bear no credibility since he is trailing in the counting.

Tatad claimed Roco is in no position to concede to Mrs. Arroyo.

"I don’t think he’s in a position to say such things since he’s what? Fifth?" Tatad asked. "These things are a matter between who’s in number one and number two."

Tatad stressed Roco has effectively excluded himself from any efforts to uncover the fraud allegedly committed in the last week’s elections.

On the other hand, Bunye branded as "hogwash," insinuations by the opposition that Roco entered into a supposed deal with Malacañang.

"I’m sure Roco has studied the situation and he made a careful evaluation of the circumstances before making a decision to concede," Bunye said.

Bunye himself earlier cited the widening margin of Mrs. Arroyo over her rivals in the partial and unofficial quick count by the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) with Roco at the tailend.

"The only announcement that will really count is the announcement of the Comelec (Commission on Elections). It is not Namfrel and all other quick counts or surveys, will not really matter," he said.

"It’s the Comelec results that we’re waiting for and we suggest that we watch this process very closely," Bunye stressed.

Congress is set to proclaim the country’s next president and vice president in a joint session convening as National Board of Canvassers, which will canvass the results for the two position starting May 24.

Mrs. Arroyo, who is seeking a full six-year term, is still in the lead based on the latest partial and unofficial Namfrel quick count results.

Bunye reiterated the standing offer of Mrs. Arroyo for her political opponent to join her in a "government of national unity" to heal the wounds generated by the partisan political activity during last week’s general elections.

Bunye said it is not for Malacañang to convince the three other presidential challengers to follow Roco’s initiative.

"That’s the call of other candidates. We just want to acknowledge this act of Secretary Roco," he said.

Bunye also sought to downplay the jubilation at the Palace for the initiative taken by Roco in conceding defeat.

‘Roco A True Bicolano’

Administration Sen. Joker Arroyo said Roco has shown to be a true Bicolano being "a good sport and never sour graping."

Arroyo said that in the Bicol Region, particularly in the provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay, voters stuck it out with Roco.

"The Bicol Region, particularly the provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay, collectively remained loyal to Raul Roco even as sickness and adversity (hobbled their candidate) ... upholding the Bicol tradition of remaining faithful to Bicolano especially when he is a good material," Arroyo said.

Arroyo said the President was a close second to Roco in Bicol while Poe was a distant third. - With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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