MANILA,  May 27, 2004
By Delon Porcalla   -  President Arroyo has won the May 10 presidential race by 1.1 million votes in a final tally of election returns with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), her lawyers told a press conference yesterday.

They have challenged the camp of opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr. to present proof that the actor-turned-politician won in the balloting, contrary to an earlier disclosure made by an unnamed election official that President Arroyo has won a fresh term.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos has come under fire from the opposition for the disclosure but his fellow Comelec officials said there was no basis to punish him.

"There is nothing to censure," Commissioner Resurreccion Borra told reporters.

In a separate press conference in a Quezon City restaurant yesterday, Arroyo lawyers Romulo Macalintal and Alberto Agra maintained that official election tallies or certificates of canvass (COCs) with the Comelec showing that Mrs. Arroyo won were not tampered.

A ranking Comelec official, who asked not to be named, disclosed Monday that Mrs. Arroyo beat Poe by a narrow margin, based on a secret count of official election returns.

Poe’s camp, the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), described the premature disclosure as "outrageous" and claimed it was part of an alleged administration plan to rig the recent elections.

They insisted that Poe won in their own count of the vote.

Under the Constitution, only Congress sitting as the National Board of Canvassers counts the votes for president and vice president.

However, the count is being delayed by questions from the opposition over rules on how it should be conducted.

The votes for president and vice president appear in the same election documents used by the Comelec to determine 11 of the 12 winners of the senatorial race already proclaimed by the poll body.

The 12th spot is being contested by re-electionist administration senators Rodolfo Biazon, who garnered 10,619,964 votes, and Robert Barbers, who has 10,580,221 votes, or a margin of 39,000 votes. Disputes among local candidates have slowed the count of the Barbers-Biazon in Cotabato City.

Macalintal and Agra said the same COCs showed that Mrs. Arroyo won by 1.1 million votes.

"I’m 99.9 percent accurate on this. The basis of these are official documents the Comelec used in the canvassing of votes for senators. I kept silent all this time except now because I wanted to get all the copies of the documents first," Macalintal told reporters.

Since the opposition did not question the results of the senatorial race, Macalintal and Agra said they expect no questions over the veracity of the election documents once Congress begins canvassing the votes for president and vice president.

"Not a single objection was raised by the lawyers. We challenge them to prove what they call election fraud. We are not preempting Congress. This is the actual vote based on official documents," Macalintal said.

Mrs. Arroyo garnered 12.8 million votes as against 11.7 million for Poe based on a tally of 176 of 177 COCs, they said.

Only the votes from Cotabato City have yet to be tabulated. Macalintal said this won’t affect the outcome because Cotabato has only 121,000 registered voters.

"Congress can’t go beyond the COCs. Otherwise, questions will be directed to the Presidential Election Tribunal. Congress has the original copy of the COCs. The delay in the canvass is just part of the opposition’s delaying tactics," Macalintal said, referring to debates in Congress on how the vote count in the presidential race should be conducted.

"The same information will be reflected in Congress. This clearly shows that Mrs. Arroyo won and this is based on official records," he added.

Poe’s camp said Abalos should face legal charges as head of the agency responsible for the disclosure. Other critics called for Abalos’ impeachment.

Abalos has earlier admitted making a personal tally of the votes for president but denied leaking it to the media.

Borra said Abalos committed no wrongdoing. "Canvassing of COCs for senators and party-list was open. The results for president and vice president are stated in the COCs. Everybody knows," he said.

Borra pointed out that all the political parties and even the election watchdog National Movement for Free Elections have copies of the election returns. "The records are open. Chairman Abalos has nothing to leak," he said.

In a statement, Poe’s lawyer, Harriet Demetriou, who headed the Comelec during the administration of Joseph Estrada until the first few months of the Arroyo administration, has challenged Abalos to produce the COCs that showed Mrs. Arroyo won.

She claimed that the election returns have been tampered to show an Arroyo victory. She cited the case of Sto. Tomas town in Pampanga, where Poe reportedly did not get a single vote.

"Can you imagine that? In this town, which is not even a barangay, the opposition candidate can get zero? That is a statistical improbability," Demetriou said. — With Jose Aravilla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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