MANILA,  May 25, 2004
President Arroyo’s political allies gained a majority of the seats in the Senate as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) finally proclaimed last night 11 of the 12 winning candidates in a simple ceremony at the Philippine International Convention Center.

Mrs. Arroyo and closest contender Fernando Poe Jr. attended the ceremonies, providing a sidelight for the affair.

Six administration senators were proclaimed as against five from the opposition, but the last slot is still being contested by two more bets from the President’s Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

Re-electionist senators Rodolfo Biazon and Robert Barbers are jostling for the 12th slot as votes from Sarangani and Cotabato City - with a combined voting population of 340,000 — have yet to be canvassed.

Regardless of who takes the last seat, the administration will still have the upper hand in the Senate.

Canvassing resumes at 2 p.m. today.

Biazon is currently in 12th place with Barbers trailing closely behind.

Proclaimed according to the number of votes they garnered were Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, Ramon Revilla Jr., Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal, Richard Gordon, Juliana Pilar "Pia" Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Alfredo Lim, Juan Ponce-Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Manuel "Lito" Lapid. Pimentel and Santiago were not present during the proclamation rites.

The President, who had a photo opportunity with the winning candidates and shared cocktails with them, was invited by Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos.

Poe, on the other hand, was invited by his five winning candidates from the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), of which he is standard-bearer.

Mrs. Arroyo and Poe, whose camps are at odds over allegations of massive poll fraud, shook hands when they met.

Poe left the ceremony as soon as it was over.

The toss-up between Biazon and Barbers comes as Sarangani and Cotabato City are the only election districts whose certificates of canvass (CoCs) have not been received by the Comelec as of last night.

Cotabato is just starting its canvass after it was delayed by a controversy on who should sit on the board of canvassers.

Sarangani finished its canvass, but its CoCs were misdelivered to the Senate instead of the Comelec. Fearing controversy, the Senate, however, has delayed the release of the CoCs to the Comelec.

"The parties may take it wrong, so they are being careful," Abalos explained.

Sarangani has a voting population of 221,912, while Cotabato City has 121,398.

As of the last Comelec tabulation, Biazon had 10,328,038 votes to Barbers’ 10,300,416.

But the figures don’t include the 276,724 votes of Lanao del Sur. A Comelec canvass of nearby Lanao del Sur showed Barbers leading Biazon 119,000 to 104,000, or a difference of only 15,000.

About 75 percent of the 212-member Congress - the majority of them belonging to the pro-Arroyo coalition - has been re-elected. The rest are new lawmakers, but belonging to the same local political families or parties as those they are replacing.

Congress convened a joint session yesterday afternoon to begin an official tally of votes for president and vice president. The legislature aims to proclaim the winners in a week’s time.

However, a dispute has to be resolved first concerning the procedure by which the votes will be canvassed.

While administration lawmakers favor that it be done at a committee-level citing tradition, Poe’s allies in Congress argue it should be done by the entire body in a plenary session.

Opposition lawyer Rufus Rodriguez, who accompanied Poe to the proclamation rites of senators, vowed to scrutinize the procedure to be taken up today by Congress for the canvassing of votes and proclamation of the winners.

Jinggoy Estrada, son of jailed former President Joseph Estrada, said they would not recognize Mrs. Arroyo as the winning president even if proclaimed by Congress, due to alleged cheating in the May 10 polls.

"She better prove that this election (canvassing) for the presidency will be fair," Estrada said. "As long as the elections are fair and clean, we will recognize President Arroyo if she wins."

But when asked if he thought the conduct of the national polls were clean and fair, he answered: "I don’t think so." — Jose Aravilla, Reuters

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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