MANILA,  JUNE 7, 2004
By Eva Visperas  -  Over half of congressmen want Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to continue to lead the House of Representatives in the next Congress.

De Venecia said about 170 have signed an endorsement seeking his continued leadership.

An aspirant for the post needs the backing of at least 118 congressmen, he said.

However, for the meantime, De Venecia said he has not been working on it "because I want to be fully concentrated on the completion of the canvass."

De Venecia, Senate President Franklin Drilon and several other lawmakers are expected to submit today their comment on a petition with the Supreme Court seeking a temporary injunction on the congressional canvass of votes cast in the just concluded presidential election.

A congressman allied with the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino filed the petition last week. The KNP wants the congressional canvass done with Congress sitting in a plenary session instead of by a joint Senate-House committee.

KNP lawyers have questioned the committee’s legality, saying the panel’s creation is not sanctioned by the Constitution.

Instead of issuing an injunction right away, the Supreme Court ordered the respondents to make their comments before issuing a ruling. They have until noon to do so. Oral court arguments on the issue are expected to be held this week.

De Venecia said he believed the Supreme Court will decide against issuing an injunction and "realize that this is an internal affair of Congress."

Congressional leaders formed the 22- member committee to speed up the canvassing.

"Imagine if every ballot box will be opened by 226 congressmen and 22 senators. The proclamation might not be finished on time," De Venecia told reporters.

He estimated the congressional canvass to take two to three weeks, "otherwise we will have a full blown constitutional crisis, which we should avoid." The joint committee began the vote count last Friday.

Opposition lawmakers accuse the Arroyo administration of trying to rig the outcome of the presidential race, claiming actor-turned-politician Fernando Poe Jr. won by over one million votes.

De Venecia denied the administration was trying to railroad the results. "The whole nation is witness to the fact that we’ve given them the widest possible latitude," he said.

Administration allies suspect the opposition is trying to delay the count and is planning to proclaim Poe the winner via massive street protests. The Constitution stipulates that the next president should assume office on June 30.

President Arroyo has earlier warned that the government would use force to quell mob rule. The military is on alert for any disturbance.

Malacañang has urged Congress to conclude the count as soon as possible. Delays could undermine the country’s image abroad and hurt economic recovery efforts, the Palace said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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