MANILA,  May 29, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano   -  Sen. Robert Barbers is confident that he will win the 12th Senate slot, saying the lead of partymate Sen. Rodolfo Biazon is "slowly but surely getting slimmer by the day" as election returns arrive in Manila from Cotabato City and Lanao del Sur.

"I hope that the final tally of the Comelec (Commission on Elections) in Cotabato City and the remaining 200 precincts in Lanao del Sur will be resolved at the soonest possible time in order that the last vacant position in the Magic 12 will be filled up," he said.

"We could then ease the tension in the senatorial race and concentrate on the official canvassing and eventual proclamation of the winners for president and vice president," Barbers said.

He said Comelec figures show he had won over Biazon in all regions in the Visayas and Mindanao.

"If we base it on the outcome of the election results in the Visayas and Mindanao, it shows that Visayan-speaking regions and my fellow Mindanaoans will understandably support me," he said.

"I just hope that there will be no external influence that may alter the outcome of the remaining certificates of canvass," he said.

Barbers said Comelec officials in Cotabato City and Lanao del Sur had told him that he was leading in the counting of votes in their provinces.

"This is a very odd situation where both candidates who are vying for the last Senate slot come from the administration party,"

"Let us wait for the final results of the official counting of the Comelec, and may the best man win," he said.

However, the Comelec postponed anew the canvassing of votes from Cotabato City, which would determine who between Barbers and Biazon will occupy the 12th slot in the Senate race.

The poll body was supposed to consolidate the Cotabato votes with the results from the rest of the country but intense political rivalry in the region prevented the remittance of its certificate of canvass to the Comelec head office in Manila.

"The canvassing is snail-paced as both sides are questioning the election returns through their legal counsels," said Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra.

But he said Comelec commissioners have agreed to reset the canvassing on Monday.

Cotabato has a voting population of 120,000 and Biazonís lead of about 39,000 votes over Barbers as of the last Comelec count could easily be erased.

Barbers said that in Western Visayas, he got 808,623 votes as compared to Biazonís 763,117 votes.

In Cebu province, he received some 907,702 votes against Biazonís 670,190, he added.

In Eastern Visayas, Biazon was trailing him with a very slim margin of 475,387 votes as against 422,805 votes.

In Western Mindanao, comprising Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and Zamboanga-Sibugay, he got 343,987 votes compared to Biazonís 275,353 votes, Barbers added.

The senator from Surigao del Norte said he was also leading Biazon in Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley in Southern Mindanao, where he got 533,467 votes against the 505,603 of Biazon.

Barbers said he had also taken the lead in Region 10 comprising Bukidnon, Camiguin, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental and Oriental, where he garnered 543,329 votes against Biazonís 396,828 votes.

In his bailiwick in the Caraga Region, he was on top of the senatorial race with 452,255 votes against Biazonís 234,393 votes, he added.

In the latest Comelec tally, Biazon is clinging to the 12th spot with 10,619,964 votes as against the 10,580,221 votes of Barbers, or a difference of 39,743 votes. ó With Jose Aravilla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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