MANILA,  JUNE 1, 2004
OPPOSITION lawmakers on Monday denied police accusations that they would stage a walkout during the canvassing of votes to prevent the proclamation of President Arroyo.

Rep. Didagen Dilangalen of Maguindanao, the losing senatorial candidate from the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino, said a walkout is unlikely because the lawmakers have to fulfill their constitutional mandate to participate in the joint session of Cong­ress.

“I don’t know if there’s such a plan, but it is my constitutional duty to finish the canvassing,” Dilangalen said. “I still believe in the constitutional processes.”

Rep. Gilbert Remulla of Cavite, a supporter of the presidential also-ran Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said he had not heard of such a plan, and added that it would be improper for the opposition to walk out.

An administration lawmaker who asked not to be identified said a walkout would be “the most stupid thing the opposition could do.”

Police said on Monday that the walkout would be another phase of “Oplan Aklas Bayan” and would be patterned on the walkout staged by people watching the canvassing of votes at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) after the 1986 presidential snap election.

Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, spokes­man for the PNP, told reporters the walkout would create the impression that the recently concluded election was marred by widespread fraud.

He said the opposition had planned a walkout during the canvassing of votes for the 12 senators, which was also held at the PICC, but this fell through, “because nothing irregular happened.”

The walkout would be part of the delaying tactics by the opposition, which would launch a series of mass actions, protest rallies and prayer vigils.

Also part of this phase was the presentation of evidence sho­w­ing alleged widespread cheating in the May 10 election.

“But every phase of the ‘Oplan Aklas Bayan’ has fizzled out. It could not muster enough sup­port­ers, some of whom don’t believe in their cause,” Goltiao said.

In Congress a weeklong opposition filibuster has delayed the start of the congressional vote tally.

The joint committee of Con­gress, serving as the National Board of Canvassers, inched for­ward as it finally opened the first ballot box containing Certificates of Canvass from overseas absen­tee voting.

The ballot box was the first to arrive in the Senate and contained votes of Filipino workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. opened the box and authenticated the COCs on the basis of two elements: the condition of the envelope and its serial number.

But opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the signatures of the election officers attached to the COCs should have been properly checked by the secre­taries-general of the House and the Senate to ensure the authen­ticity of the documents.

Proadministration Sen. Joker Arroyo countered that such objections would eat up more time and delay canvassing fur­ther. He said these concerns should be taken up and dealt with by the joint committee.

The joint session of Congress has allotted 10 minutes for each of the 223 ballot boxes contai­ning 176 COCs of local, foreign and absentee balloting. Every ballot box, after it is opened at the joint session, will be referred to the joint committee, which will canvass the votes.

At this rate, Drilon said, it would take about three days for the joint committee to start the actual canvassing because all the ballot boxes should have been opened first.

Some congressmen ques­tioned the composition of the 11-man House contingent to the joint canvassing committee of Congress.

Nationalist People’s Coalition Rep. Ruy Elias Lopez of Davao City said the opposition bloc in the House was not properly represented.

Lopez, a supporter of Fer­nando Poe Jr., said the compo­sition of the joint committee House contingent should have been 5-5-1, five from the administration, five from the opposition and one from the party-list groups. But the current committee only has two opposi­tion members, Lopez said.

Party-list Rep. J.V. Bautista of Sanlakas questioned de Vene­cia’s selection process, descri­bing it as arbitrary.

“Congress leadership is sacrificing its credibility,” he said. “It doesn’t care about its credibility anymore. It wants speed, but doesn’t think of credibility.”

Dilangalen, who had almost single-handed managed to delay the start of canvassing, was not part of the House committee, and turned down an appointment as an alternate for any Senate member.

Dilangalen said he turned down the appointment because he belongs to the House, not the Senate. “Senate President Frank­lin Drilon has no jurisdiction over me,” he said.

Drilon agreed and ordered Dilangalen’s name removed from the list of joint committee members.

President Arroyo, who was in Cebu, issued a statement expressing confidence that leaders of Congress would not “allow the democratic process to be held hostage by the undemo­cratic designs” of several camps.

“We can appreciate the delays in the canvassing occasioned by strict adherence to the consti­tutional process, but the process itself must not be held hostage by undemo­c­ratic designs,” the President said.

“Dilatory tactics deepen the anxieties of the people and erode their faith in the democ­racy,” she added.

She said the canvassing must demonstrate statesman­ship, not a prolonged media spectacle as some would want it.

Miguel Romero, spokesman for Poe, said the opposition plans to challenge about 25 election returns from the provinces.

Poe took out full-page news­paper advertisements on Monday to “appeal to the sense of justice and fairness of the members of Congress for them to take the side of the people and for them to stand for transpa­rency and fair play.”

He said he was “greatly disturbed by reports of mas­sive fraud and of the unbridled misuse of government re­sources” by the Arroyo camp, as well as by the lack of “equal representation” by all candi­dates in the vote-check­ing process.

The top leadership of the Catholic Church, however, also took out newspaper advertise­ments to dismiss allegations of systematic fraud.

“The elections were far from perfect. There were numerous instances of disfranchisement. There was vote buying. There were occasions of intimidation and coercion. There was cheating. And the vote count leaves much to be desired,” it said.

“Yet, in the end, we believe the majority of our people agree that in the absence of evidence of widespread fraud, in its totality the election at the national level reflects the will of the people,” said Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, retired Manila Cardinal Jaime Sin and his replacement, Gaudencio Rosales.

-- Maricel V. Cruz, Anthony Vargas, Cheryl Arcibal and AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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