MANILA,  May 28, 2004
By JP LOPEZ  -  Re-elected Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. yesterday said the opposition would concentrate its scrutiny only on at least 10 certificates of canvass (COCs) which he said he believes are fraudulent.

Pimentel made the statement as he debunked allegations of President Arroyo's allies that opposition lawmakers are out to delay the canvass and subsequently Arroyo's proclamation.

"We are not going into that kind of situation. We will focus on 10 or so COCs. We don't have to contest every COC," he said.

Earlier, administration Sen. Joker Arroyo said that based on his computation, the canvass for presidential and vice presidential votes could go on until Christmas Day if the joint Congress, acting as National Board of Canvassers, would allow all members to scrutinize the 177 COCs.

There are 22 senators and about 220 congressmen.

The Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino of Fernando Poe Jr. wants the canvass conducted by Congress as a whole instead of the proposed 14-man panel to be composed of seven senators and seven congressmen.

Pimentel said assuming Congress would spend one day for every questioned COC, it will take only 10 days to complete the scrutiny.

The KNP has questioned results of elections in at least three towns - two in Maguindanao and one in Pangasinan - where Poe and other rivals of President Arroyo got zero votes.

Pimentel also questioned results of elections in several provinces in Mindanao and Cebu where he said the number of votes was more than the number of registered voters.

Pimentel said in Cebu, 82 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, a very high percentage of turnout when it was raining in the province at that time.

Earlier, administration senatorial candidate John Osmeņa said there was a sudden increase in the number of voters in the province.

Pimentel argued the canvass would be transparent, truthful and credible if Congress instead of a committee conducts it.

He also said Congress must be allowed to look into documents other than the provincial and city COCs such as statements of votes and election returns.

"The adoption of these procedures will enhance the canvassing process and proclamation of winners," Pimentel said. "If there is anyone thing that we certainly want to avoid, it is to be blamed by the people as if we are stalling the proclamation of the legitimate winners which of course we deny because that is not our intention," he said.

Pimentel warned the canvass process would be a farce if the majority would use its numerical superiority to block the opposition's motion to go beyond the COCs.

He disagreed with the stand of Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia that complaints about election anomalies should be automatically set aside on the ground that they fall under the jurisdiction of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (Supreme Court).

"If there is glaring evidence of fraud, we will not allow it to be ignored and swept under the rug. Let the evidence be presented and considered because we are all interested in truth," he said.

He expressed confidence the canvass would be completed in three or four weeks' time.

KNP, in a statement, said Arroyo allies were pushing for the 14-man joint panel because they are planning to use tampered COCs as the basis for Arroyo's proclamation.

"This is a strange twist in the canvassing procedure since it means that the work of Congress will become ministerial, and the opposition's evidence about tampered COCs, particularly those done in printing presses in Caloocan City, would not be entertained but merely noted," it said.

The KNP said a public relations executive who works for Mike Arroyo, "was staying at the Batasang Pambansa during the debates on the manner of canvassing."

The PR man, KNP said, has been linked to the reported operations of the Arroyo camp at a hotel in Mandaluyong City, where the KNP said the President's allies have camped to produce bogus COCs.

The KNP said it is mandatory for Congress to ascertain the authenticity of the COCs, check the accuracy of election results, and confirm the signatures of all those who signed the same.

The KNP also said "social turmoil" is bound to continue if the Congress becomes privy to "some dark plot, which is also the same as foisting the will of a couple as against the will of the electorate."

The pro-Poe group Lawyers for Electoral Advancement and Democracy for Freedom and Justice (LEAD for FPJ) KNP said KNP poll watchers in Zamboanga City, Lanao del Sur, Catanduanes, Cavite, Lanao del Norte, and in Mandaluyong and Quezon cities were harassed, denied access to polling precincts, refused copies of electoral returns and of COCs and ignored by Comelec officials when they protested irregularities during and after the elections.

The group, in a position paper submitted to the Coalition for HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections), a church-led civic organization, said the election was "far from credible and failed to meet the criteria for fair competition, transparency and respect for the rule of law."

In some instances, the group said, canvassing was done behind closed doors, in military camps or in the presence of security forces.

In Gapan City, Nueva Ecija, it said, Comelec officials ignored a complaint that 10,000 votes were deducted from Poe and added to President Arroyo.

"These cases were not isolated but occurred in a massive nationwide scale and made the May 10 election far from credible," the group said. (With Peter J.G. Tabingo)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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