MANILA,  JUNE 2, 2004
Hope mulls new group vs fraud as bishops nix poll truth: Disappointed and frustrated at the lack of support and cooperation shown by the Catholic Church leaders for the convenors and members of the Coalition of Hope (Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections) who have painstakingly gathered evidence of election fraud, in search of the truth, the coalition convenors are now mulling over the move to cut off from the church-identified coalition and form a new one which will continue the task of collating evidence of fraud committed in the recently concluded elections, a coalition insider told the Tribune yesterday.

“It was the bishops who asked for our help in documenting fraud, and search for the truth. This was the reason the Coalition of Hope was organized, yet when the truth stared them (church leaders) in the face, they chose to turn away from the truth,” a coalition convenor said.

“How many volunteers did the PPCRV have all over the country during the polls to document the fraud and other irregularities in the conduct of the elections? They (PPCRV) even came up with report that was described as something of 'serious cause for concern' only to be dismissed by the bishops as the elections being far from perfect,” the source said.

He added that the convenors were “very disappointed” that the church leaders who preach to the faithful that sin and its evils must be opposed, now upholds them by absolving those who cheated to win.

“They asked us to search for the truth, and when we did, and presented them with it, they now want to suppress the truth, by saying the election results reflect the will of the people,” the source added.

The disenchantment with the Catholic Church leaders came after a full-page advertisement entitled A call for unity and sobriety the content of which said that despite “numerous instances of disenfranchisement,” “vote-buying” intimidation and coercion “cheating” and a “vote count (that) leaves much to be desired,” the signatories to the statement claimed that they “believe that majority of our people agree that in the absence of evidence of widespread fraud, in its totality the elections at the national level reflect the will of the people.” adding that the final results of the elections for the Senate also reinforce this conviction.”

The statement carried the names of Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, and bishop Socrates Villegas, as well as various groups, such as the Makati Business Club, Ateneo de Manila University and Code NGO, which are identified with the Arroyo administration.

A Church source sought by the Tribune said Vidal had agreed to the statement with revisions and was promised this would be revised. But, the contents of the ad, as it appeared, was not revised at all.

The source pointed to Bishop Villegas as the “culprit” in putting out the original statement that was reportedly objected to by Vidal.

But, Vidal has not bothered to correct this impression and has chosen to remain silent, which has reportedly disappointed the HOPE convenors.

“We suspect that the bishops fear a revolt from the people, which is the reason they prefer to suppress the truth, but we ask: Should truth be sacrificed? Should sin be embraced?”

Earlier, the Coalition of Hope came out with a full page ad entitled Quid Est Veritas? Or What is the truth?.

It also said, quoting Poe St. Felix II, that “not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth, is to suppress it,”

The coalition statement read: “Today, the electoral situation has polarized the administration and the opposition, and has thrown the country once again into fear and tension. Both camps claim victory based on different documentary sources. The administration invokes the 176 provincial and city certificates — the product of sub-congressional canvassing. The opposition supports its claim with municipal level returns — the output of precinct based certificates. Administration legislators advocate a fast-track canvass by...a panel. Opposition legislators opt for caution and call for an en banc count.

“Truth cannot be determined by sheer numbers or expert opinion. Truth must be sought at its very roots. The concrete circumstances of this election demand that we examine the accuracy and integrity of the electoral process itself, in order to arrive at the truth.”

The HOPE coalition said that to achieve this, it behooves all to check the three documents against each other as this process “will reveal all possible discrepancies between input (Certficates of election returns and the the municipal statement of votes; and the city and provincial (CoC) output. The findings will be incontrovertible.”

Already, even before the canvassing of votes has started, Speaker Jose de Venecia, in a press conference yesterday, told newsmen that there was no longer any need to go through a canvass, as “everybody knows President Arroyo won the elections, adding that Namfrel said so and the Comelec said so.” He noted that the congressional canvassing is merely pro-forma. (See related story).

The bishops' ad was quickly followed by a press statement issued by the National Secretariat for Social Action, an office under the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace, which stated that the bishops's assessment in dioceses judge the polls as “generally clean, honest and peaceful.

It said: “despite vote buying, Comelec inadequacy, allegations of cheating at the local level and disenfranchisement of voters, at least 17 bishops and Social Action directors from around the country report that elections in their respective dioceses have been generally clean, honest and peaceful.”

Bishop Teodoro Bacani, in his Today column which appeared yesterday wrote that he believes the opposition has “very good reasons to insist on rules that would ensure that the true winner of the presidential election is proclaimed,” adding that sufficient reasons are present to justify the opposition's distrust.”

Bacani said :”The President has unfortunately not shown herself to be a person worthy of trust” pointing out that she reneged on her word not to run in the polls, spent public funds to promote her election and did not hesitate to stoop to a bit-too subtle form of vote-buying in the case of the barangay chiefs to whom she handed money.

“All these are valid reasons for the opposition to make sure that cheating does not prevail, or to at least ensure that it is exposed.”

The bishop added: “..two things worry me and should perhaps worry more people. First, there seems to be more tolerant attitude toward cheating both on the part of the Catholic hierarchy and two nationwide volunteer guardians of our elections, Namfrel and the PPCRV. Is this more tolerant attitude simply part of the election fatigue...or is it a show of softness toward GMA (President Arroyo's initials) whom the Philippine hierarchy helped install in power?

“...whatever the final result of the canvassing is, I hope the truth wins.”

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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