MANILA,  JUNE 3, 2004
By Jose Aravilla and Jose Rodel Clapano  -  Re-electionist Sen. Rodolfo Biazon was proclaimed yesterday as the 12th and last winning senator after election results from Cotabato City showed him leading fellow re-electionist Sen. Robert Barbers by 4,000 votes — enough for Biazon to edge Barbers out of the senatorial race by a total of 10,000 votes.

Overall, Biazon received a total of 10,635,270 votes against Barbers’ 10,624,585 votes.

Biazon has extended the hand of reconciliation to Barbers, saying at a press conference after he was proclaimed that he was saddened that Barbers had to be his rival for the 12th Senate slot.

"I was really saddened by the fact that Barbers, who had been my long-time companion in the Senate, was the one I had to contest in the senatorial race. Senator Barbers is a gentleman and he is qualified to be a legislator," Biazon said.

Malacañang welcomed Biazon’s proclamation. In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye extended President Arroyo’s congratulatory message.

"We would like to congratulate Senator Biazon for having been officially proclaimed the No. 12 senator. All the candidates of K-4 fought hard and fought well," Bunye said.

Both Biazon and Barbers ran under the ticket of the administration Koalisyon ng Karanasan at Katapatan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

The former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief was cheered on by a handful of supporters as Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos proclaimed him as winner and raised his hand at the Comelec head office before five other Comelec commissioners.

Biazon’s Cotabato City victory averted what could have been a protracted legal battle between him and Barbers.

Biazon’s lawyers questioned the results of the special elections in seven Lanao del Sur towns that saw Biazon’s 39,000-vote lead cut down to 6,000.

Referring to the Lanao del Sur canvass results as "irregularities," Biazon’s lawyer and staff pointed out entries in their supplemental certificates of canvass (COCs) that had been erased and other unlikely voting figures.

"I never used the word ‘cheating.’ I said ‘irregularities,’" Biazon said after his proclamation in response to questions about the Lanao del Sur results.

However, Biazon vowed to file charges against those who handled the canvassing in Lanao del Sur.

"I am not going to protest," he said. "I am going to file charges against members of the board of canvassers in the provinces and towns where irregularities have been detected. I am going to compile pieces of evidence."

Before filing charges, however, Biazon said he will give the Comelec "a chance to cleanse itself" first.

During the canvassing of the last set of COCs from Cotabato City, the Comelec decided to defer its ruling on the Lanao del Sur controversy and proceed to the COCs from Cotabato City, the delivery of which was delayed by bickering between local candidates.

With Cotabato City giving Biazon 13,836 votes over Barbers’ 9,614 votes, the Comelec concluded that Biazon is the winner of the last Senate slot, with or without the Lanao COCs. Abalos immediately ordered Biazon’s proclamation.

Biazon thanked the Comelec for its "expeditious resolution of his case." He also lauded Barbers for being a "gentleman."

"I would like to thank (Barbers) for being a gentleman after all these tense days. What I had to do, I had to do and I was not attributing anything to anyone — except, probably, the members of the board of canvassers in those places," he added.

Biazon earlier traded barbs with Barbers over the Lanao del Sur irregularities and he admitted that "maybe I have been too aggressive. I want to apologize for that. I have to protect not only myself, but the process itself."

For his part, Barbers said he is leaving it up to his lawyers the matter of finding out whether there had been irregularities in tabulation and canvassing in parts of Mindanao.

He said his decision whether to file to file an election protest before the Comelec would be based on the report of his lawyers.

"It was really a very close fight," Barbers said. "If my lawyers will not see any electoral fraud, then I will accept my defeat with all my heart. But if we will see something, then we will have to act within the bounds of the law."

Barbers, who has been down with a cough and cold over the past few days, said he was expecting his lawyers to submit their report by late afternoon yesterday.

"I am not attending the joint session in the House, but I am monitoring the process in Congress on television," he said.

Barbers may receive a Cabinet post in the Arroyo administration by May next year, as the law prohibits the appointment of a losing candidate to any position of government within one year of the elections.

President Arroyo’s spokesman Michael Defensor said it is possible for Barbers to be given a Cabinet post. Barbers served as interior and local governments secretary during the Ramos administration and was a former Manila police colonel before he entered politics, first as Surigao congressman.

Defensor added that the administration coalition "would have wanted more candidates in the top 12 (list of winning senatorial candidates), but we really did our best." — with Marvin Sy

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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