MANILA,  JUNE 1, 2004
It was only the few ballot boxes containing the certificates of canvass (CoC) from the absentee voting, but already a lot of irregularities were discovered, which forced Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia to simply have these noted.

As more irregularities, such as broken seals, no accompanying statements of votes (SoV) for the CoC, erasures and different election signatures were noted and a wrong CoC serial number on the Cambodian overseas document, all of which already cast doubts on the integrity of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) documents, a flustered Drilon insisted on the speeding up of the opening of the ballot boxes, exhorting members of Congress to note their observations before the congressional board of canvassers.

The congressional canvassing went off to a bad start, with the administration members of Congress appearing in Congress two hours late, while the opposition members were on time, leading Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta to openly ask whether the start of the canvassing was scheduled to open at 10 a.m. or 10 p.m.

Having been battered by the administration for allegedly resorting to delaying tactics and grandstanding, the opposition yesterday tossed back the charges to Palace allies.

Senate minority bloc members charged administration lawmakers for causing the delay in the resumption of the joint sessions when actual canvassing procedures were scheduled to take place.

Immediately after the plenary session started, close to two hours beyond the agreed time, opposition members lost no time in lambasting

the majority for not adhering to the scheduled start of the proceedings.

Oreta expressed the minority's disgust at the administration allies for making them wait and further delay the proceedings.

She managed to turn the tables on Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., reminding them of their previous pronouncements egging on the minority to be cooperative and help effect the start of the actual canvassing process.

“I heard you. I saw you on national TV over the weekend (during an interview)... and you were even wearing a red Lacoste T-shirt,'' the senator noted to the Senate chief in reminding him of how he pleaded to the minority not to further delay the proceedings.

Oreta chided the majority, saying while they took pains in ensuring that they would be present at the start of the session, some administration lawmakers were still conspicuously absent.

Drilon noted the manifestation of his fellow senator on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, along with Senators Edgardo Angara and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., aired the same complaint even before sessions started.

Sotto, during an interview, said it is the majority that is prolonging the procedure, citing last Friday's session which was called at 2 p.m. yet started at 4 p.m.

Pimentel mentioned the same during a briefing before the session, saying while Palace allies are trying to picture them as the cause for the supposed delay, it is actually their colleagues in the majority who are guilty of this charge based on what has happened.

When Congress finally convened, fireworks immediately flared when the opposition questioned the authenticity of the CoC from Cambodia, the first from the absentee voting to be opened.

Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen pointed out the irregularity when he noted the absence of the SoV in ballot box No. 015 forwarded to Congress by the Philippine Embassy in Phnom Phen.

Drilon immediately said the matter would be taken up at the committee level.

The SoV provide the material for entries of votes in the CoC.

The composition of the joint committee tasked to canvass the votes was also questioned by opposition congressmen, who had complained that the composition of the 22-man committee, composed of 11 from each chamber, was lopsided in favor of the administration.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos said by packing the House contingent “with an overwhelming majority of administration members,” the Speaker had “ensured that the committee would become a mere stamp pad of the administration.”

Marcos added through this move, De Venecia was not only depriving President Arroyo of a credible count but is also depriving the Filipino people of their right to know the truth.

“The issue here is not a question of numbers but a question of credibility. We cannot sacrifice credibility for speed,” she pointed out.

Pimentel observed that the Congress majority appeared “fidgety and afraid that the CoC would contain votes showing that opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. won the presidential elections.”

Despite appeals from House opposition members for the Speaker to at least give them the right to nominate their own members to the 22 man-joint committee, De Venecia refused to budge and insisted on loading the House committee membership with Mrs. Arroyo's congressional allies, leaving only one seat to the opposition.

De Venecia, invoking his sole authority to appoint the 11 members of the House component in the joint committee, merely noted the appeals.

Marcos said the Speaker had bastardized the concept of representative government by allotting only one seat for the opposition in the committee.

“The six minority members in the committee will fight tooth and nail against an obvious design to railroad the process but Speaker de Venecia has murdered any chance of fair play by ensuring that there would be a tyranny of the majority in the canvassing,” she added.

Also, during the session, Davao City Rep. Elias Ruy Lopez, a member of the majority bloc, stood up to question what was the basis used by the Speaker in choosing members of the committee and their alternates.

Lopez also asked who these committee members supported during the May 10 elections.

Annoyed over Lopez's questioning, the Speaker said those nominated were picked for their familiarity with election laws, not on their party affiliation and who they supported during the polls.

“Imagine, nine of them belong to the majority and they have campaigned and supported GMA (the President's initials), while one from the minority and one from the party-list... he did not even give us the opportunity to choose who among ourselves will represent the party-list,” party-list Rep. JV Bautista of Sanlakas said.

During a press conference, Marcos, Lopez and Bautista said they believe that with the appointment of eight administration members in the committee, “there's no pretense at all that Congress has the intention to railroad the canvassing and to proclaim GMA.”

They added De Venecia has apparently deprived not only the opposition, the public, but also Mrs. Arroyo herself who claimed that she won the elections, a credible canvassing.

Of the 11-man House component, eight of them belong to the majority who support Mrs. Arroyo.

They are Raul Gonzalez, Florencio Abad, Constantino Jaraula, Antonio Nachura, Prospero Nograles, Arthur Defensor, Antonio Cuenco and Marcelino Libanan.

Two from the minority were appointed — Escudero, Independent Rep. Agapito ''Butz'' Aquino and party-list Cibac Rep. Kim Lokin.

The alternates are Representatives Oscar Rodriguez, Salacnib Baterina, Clavel Martinez, Eduardo Veloso, Prospero Pichay, Mauricio Domogan and Gerry Espina, who all support Arroyo. The others are party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo, Loretta Ann Rosales and Edgar Valdez and presidential bet Raul Roco's brother and supporter, Camarines Sur Rep. Cho Roco.

The alternates, according to Section 13, Rule 8 of the Rules of the Joint Session of Congress on Canvassing, shall attend the joint committee meetings in the absence of the regular members, and shall have the right to participate and vote.

In a statement, KNP presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. also yesterday said “hastening or fast-tracking the process of canvassing and proclamation is not the only consideration nor is it an end in itself. The more important consideration and goal should be providing a credible and transparent process that will allow a free and fair opportunity for all candidates to be heard so that all of their doubts and questions will be answered and laid to rest. We must restore and uphold our people's faith in the electoral process.”

With Angie M. Rosales and Dona Policar

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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