MANILA,  May 21, 2004
By Mike Frialde  -  Two opposition leaders warned yesterday of "creeping authoritarianism" after the government stopped on Monday ABC-5 from airing its independent quick count.

Speaking to reporters at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan, former senator Francisco Tatad and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. accused the Arroyo administration of orchestrating a massive manipulation of election results.

Tatad said the nation is witnessing the most massive manipulation of votes that have ever occurred in the country.

"This is totally unprecendented," he said.

"I believe that a period of naked repression has begun. The violation continues with the twin motu proprio orders from the DOJ and the Comelec stopping the independent broadcast by ABC-5 of the results of the elections.

"What is striking about these twin orders is that we do not see any petitioner asking either body to stop the broadcast. Obviously Malacañang is behind this. By this single act, Mrs. Arroyo has shown her iron hand.

"Naked repression has begun. Worse things will surely follow if we fail to defend our rights beginning with the right to choose our own leaders freely in clean and honest elections," Tatad said.

Pimentel said the Arroyo administration is making it appear that only reports from the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) are the "true" election results.

"I would like to state that this (stopping of ABC-5’s quick count) is a manifestation of creeping authoritarianism that is being foisted by the Arroyo administration," he said.

"They are acting on the false notion that reports from authorized bodies are necessarily true. In the olden days, reports from those allowed by the authorities to speak have been proven to be false," Pimentel said

On the other hand, former solicitor general Raul Goco said the gag order on ABC-5 should be immediately lifted by the Department of Justice and the Commission on Elections.

"It is a real sad commentary about things happening in the press," he said. "There should be a free discussion of matters concerning public interest."

Goco challenged the DOJ and the Comelec to prove that the quick count being conducted by ABC-5 had violated the law.

"In order to apply that provision of the Revised Penal Code, the premise is that it is a false information that represents a clear and present danger to society," he said.

"But that is not true. The information is not false. The public is entitled to know what is being tallied by ABC-5. The public should be the one to judge this tally. This cease and desist and order should be lifted for the good of our people."

In another forum, Pimentel said Fernando Poe Jr., standard-bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino, won in Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, and in Mindanao.

"Out of the 13 cities and towns of the National Capital Region, (Mrs.) Arroyo won in only one place, Las Piñas City, but by a small margin," he told Manila Overseas Press Club breakfast forum at Dolce Fontana.

Pimentel also accused Namfrel of maintaining a trend to give the impression that Mrs. Arroyo is leading the presidential race.

"I am afraid that some people in Namfrel think that they are God-chosen people, and therefore we cannot criticize what they are saying," he said.

"I take exception to that. Namfrel is not a God-designed institution. It is capable of making mistakes. Some reports are being given priorities over others that would in effect result in trending," he said.

Pimentel said Namfrel had held back the posting of reports from the National Capital Region (NCR), a known bailiwick of Poe.

"I would like to point out that up to today, reports from NCR have not yet been officially finished and this is surprising because election returns and COCs (certificates of canvass) of NCR are already in the hands of Namfrel and Comelec," he said.

"So what’s keeping them?" he asked.

Pimentel said a tally of votes in Metro Manila will disprove the results of the exit poll conducted by the Social Weather Stations that Poe is losing in the National Capital Region.

"What’s keeping them (Namfrel) is the fact that the official tally will show that the SWS exit polls which were replayed five days in a row showing that Fernando Poe has lost in Metro Manila is proven to be utterly false and baseless by the counting of the NCR votes," he said.

However, Namfrel secretary general Guillermo Luz belied Pimentel’s allegations.

"It’s a free country, you can think what you want to think," he said.

"I have always said that we count what comes in based on a clean report of an election return. They themselves have election returns. They can easily come up with their own reports.

"Yet to this day, a week and a half after the elections, they cannot categorically say what was the basis of their own counts. I guess people can conclude or think what they want to think.

"But I am clear about Namfrel. Ours is based on election returns. We’ve proved it time and again. They have to prove the basis of their source document. We have the source document."

When ABC -5’s tally of votes was ordered stopped Monday night, Poe was leading with 5,229,038 votes against Mrs. Arroyo’s 5,197,956 based on its count as of 4 p.m. of May 16.

The Comelec said the television network’s quick count was stopped as it was being conducted without any authority.

ABC-5 has also not identified the source of its data, which may cause confusion, the poll body added.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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