MANILA,  May 24, 2004
By Marvin Sy  -  Malacañang branded yesterday as "vicious" the rumor being spread by the opposition that a former United States ambassador had told President Arroyo to step down to avert a civil war fueled by allegations of massive cheating in the elections.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye told reporters yesterday that the text or short messaging service (SMS) messages circulating about Mrs. Arroyo’s meeting with former US ambassador Stephen Bosworth emanated from the opposition and its "vicious disinformation campaign."

Bunye was referring to the President’s recent meeting with Bosworth, during which the former ambassador presented a copy of a report issued by a US-based think tank about the challenges for a post-election Philippines.

The text messages started circulating over the weekend about Bosworth supposedly advising the President to step down or face a civil war led by her political opponents who have cried fraud in the May 10 elections.

Bunye said that the "enemies of democracy are getting desperate" but they will not succeed in their disinformation campaign.

"The people know better. They are tired of the antics of these rabble-rousers," Bunye said.

He explained that the meeting only discussed the points of the report and as such could be characterized as a "friendly visit."

Bunye also noted that Bosworth and his group of former ambassadors to the Philippines are regular visitors of the President for discussions on matters involving the Philippines.

The report presented by Bosworth to Mrs. Arroyo contained an analysis of the Philippines in terms of governance, economic performance, security, and peace and order.

Generally, the report indicated that the Philippine government is facing serious challenges brought about by sluggish economic growth compared with its Asian neighbors, Malacañang said.

Problems that need to be addressed immediately include widespread corruption in government, insurgencies in Mindanao and the rest of the country, and the presence of terrorist training grounds in the countryside.

"In fairness to Ambassador Bosworth, he is not pressing any inordinate demands on the administration. No one has to tell Filipinos what our problems are and what to do about these," Bunye said.

"The elections prove our faith in democracy and we will use democracy to resolve the challenges facing us. We will have greater political and economic stability after the electoral process is over," he added.

"We will forge peace in Mindanao, fight corruption and steadily build investment confidence. You can bet your last peso on the capability of the President to unite the country and fight for change," Bunye said.

Meanwhile, the issue of alleged cheating in the elections has become so serious that presidential campaign spokesman Michael Defensor has decided to cut short his trip to the United States.

In a telephone interview from San Francisco, California with Palace reporters, Defensor, who left last Friday, said that he will be returning this Tuesday to help the administration sort out the problems regarding electoral fraud.

"Because of the developments, I opted to go back and help out... I think there are problems that are developing there so I’ll help out in fixing this," Defensor said.

He explained that he left the country with the expectation that the post-election scenario will be problem-free since the quick counts have ended and the President has come out on top of the unofficial tallies.

He, however, said that the recent threats issued by certain partisan groups to stop the proclamation of the winners of the May 10 elections as well as the plans of the opposition to stage their own proclamation, have forced him to return posthaste.

"I thought that after the quick counts it would just be going through the motion (the canvassing). But this was not the position taken by the opposition so of course I will help out again," Defensor said.

He maintained that the elections were clean and honest, contrary to what the President’s opponents are claiming.

He challenged the opposition, particularly the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) of Fernando Poe Jr., to stop airing accusations of massive cheating and instead show proof of fraud.

Defensor also urged the opposition to present the results of their own tallies rather than engage in spreading baseless accusations.

"They will be given a chance to present evidence. There are legal remedies in the canvassing. Rather than throw accusations, it is better that they address these through the canvassing. So I challenge them to come out with the results of their own quick count," Defensor said, referring to KNP leaders.

Bunye, on the other hand, expressed confidence that the National Board of Canvassers as represented by the Senate and the House of Representatives will be able to meet the deadline for proclaiming the winning candidates by June 30.

He said the opposition will be given every opportunity to present its claims of irregularities during the canvassing since the representation in the board of canvassers will be balanced with seven coming from each of the two chambers of Congress, including four from the opposition.

"I believe the National Board of Canvassers would be according to the letter and spirit of the law and they will try to come up with credible canvassing procedures and the proclamation will likewise take into consideration the actual will of the people," Bunye said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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