MANILA,  May 27, 2004
By Paolo Romero  -  Distrustful of using state resources, supporters of opposition presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. called for a private and independent audit of the congressional canvass of votes for president and vice president.

Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) senatorial candidate Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen told a news conference that they are tapping the services of a private, independent auditing firm.

He said this would add credibility to the canvassing especially if the counting will be done by a joint committee as proposed by administration lawmakers.

"What we need is a private independent auditing firm with no political connections," Dilangalen said. "We shall need that for credibility."

Comparing the canvass to beauty contests, Dilangalen explained that the auditing firm would simply check the final tallies made by Congress acting as the National Board of Canvassers.

He said the move to hire an independent audit firm would not cause any undue delays in the canvassing.

"When we finally proclaim the winner (in the May 10 elections), we want to proclaim the candidate who really won," the Maguindanao lawmaker said.

Dilangalen also denied accusations that the KNP is delaying the canvassing in Congress.

He said the KNP cannot "compromise public interest" by simply allowing the majority to "railroad" the canvassing to favor the administration.

Malacañang, on the other hand, assured the public yesterday there would be no railroading of the canvass.

"The appeal of our President is to make sure that the entire (electoral) process would be credible and that there will be fair hearing of all concerned," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

"All the parties would be given a chance to express their views and there will be no railroading. What is important is whatever the results would be, it should be acceptable to our countrymen," he said.

Bunye said opposition lawmakers will get "all the reasonable leeway" to do their job of fiscalizing the congressional canvass without necessarily engaging in any filibustering, grandstanding or stonewalling.

"But we also need an expeditious canvassing of the votes," Bunye added.

Sen. Joker Arroyo said the opposition is trying to discredit the canvassing of votes as part of the grand plan to destabilize the administration.

Arroyo said if Poe lost in the canvassing, then his allies in Congress and supporters would have all the reason to complain that the movie star was defeated because of "flawed rules."

"They (opposition) are planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of the people," Arroyo said. "Their grand strategy is first to discredit, then to destabilize."

Arroyo said that if Poe loses in the canvassing, the opposition will "have a reason to sour grape over and over, long after the proclamation that will lead to destabilization."

The administration lawmaker also defended the formation of the 14-man joint committee since it has been the practice since 1961.

He argued that if the opposition had its way and the whole plenary counted the votes, he estimated the counting would last until May 2005.

Arroyo said if all 226 congressmen and 22 senators would do the actual counting, each of them will be looking into all the 176 COCs, which would take 42,500 minutes or 700 hours.

"This is just with each lawmaker just glancing at each COC. Worse, there would be debates," he added.

An administration lawmaker, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, said the delaying tactics employed by the opposition in the canvassing of votes are already an admission that Poe did not win the elections.

Pichay pointed out that Congress is merely doing the ministerial task required of them by the Constitution to proclaim the winners of the country’s two highest electoral positions.

He said it has been the practice in Congress to put up a joint committee from senators and congressmen to undertake the canvass, which will be later validated by the plenary.

Pichay noted that the current opposition lawmakers never raised objections on the formation of a joint committee.

"It is patently obvious that the objections they are now raising are not made on constitutional grounds, but because they want to delay the release of the COCs (Certificates of Canvass) that are not in their favor," he said.

Marikina City Rep. Del de Guzman and Lanao del Sur Rep. Benasing Macarambon issued a joint statement saying the people are expecting Congress to act expeditiously on the canvassing.

They said the nation cannot afford a prolonged election season amid reports that some forces are out to stop the proclamation of winners.

During yesterday’s continuing debates, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. questioned the move made by opposition lawmakers against adopting the old rules in the canvass of votes.

Andaya pointed out the ruling majority in Congress proclaimed former President Fidel Ramos in 1992 and deposed President Joseph Estrada in 1998.

Both Ramos and Estrada belonged to the minority with the late Speaker Ramon Mitra and Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr. belonging to the majority which, respectively, proclaimed their rivals in the presidential race in 1992 and 1998.

If the rules were flawed, then it follows the proclamation of Ramos and Estrada was not official, Andaya said.

"So it does not follow that just because the rules were drafted by the majority, it would guarantee their victory," Andaya said.

"If there was nothing wrong with the rules then, why should it be wrong now?," he asked. - With Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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