OPPOSITION  WALKOUT  STILL  EXPECTED

MANILA,  JUNE 7, 2004
(STAR) 
By Marvin Sy  -  Opposition lawmakers "still living in dreamland" will stage a remake of the walkout of prosecutors in the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada that led to a people’s uprising, Housing Secretary Michael Defensor said yesterday.

Defensor, who also served as President Arroyo’s campaign spokesman, noted how several personalities in the camp of opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. have yet to accept the reality that their candidate lost in last month’s elections and that Mrs. Arroyo is already assured of victory.

"In the ERs (election returns) and the COCs (certificates of canvass), everyone knows and believes that President Arroyo won. It’s only in fact a small faction of the opposition that is still in the enchanted kingdom," Defensor told reporters.

The opposition’s refusal to accept defeat, he said, will prompt a walkout of lawmakers in Poe’s camp from the canvassing of votes where the Senate and House of Representatives sit as the National Board of Canvassers.

"Predictably, they will sow confusion over the ERs," Defensor said, referring to the alleged plot by the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) to use supposedly dubious election returns as basis for the walkout.

"Of course, we anticipate a walkout. I think they will push through with the walkout," he said.

However, Defensor claimed the people will not support the opposition’s plan.

"I think the people are tired. We have gone through an election. We have already decided. The people are clamoring for a faster proclamation," he said.

The opposition has announced it will challenge up to 25 COCs, purportedly containing irregularities that favor Mrs. Arroyo.

Amid more than a week of debates, accusations and counter-accusations of cheating, Congress finished last week the opening of ballot boxes containing the election returns and COCs. They have begun counting the votes.

Congress leaders vow to have the winning president and vice president proclaimed before June 30.

The KNP tried but failed to make the Supreme Court stop the canvassing, saying it was unconstitutional for Congress to delegate the task to a mere committee.

Poe’s camp wants the entire legislative body to do the tallying.

They fear that the dominance of Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in Congress will result in the railroading of her proclamation.

The court, however, would still hold hearings on the petition’s argument questioning the constitutionality of the canvass.

Defensor downplayed the statement of opposition Senator-elect Aquilino Pimentel Jr. about a secret plan to overturn the administration’s superiority in numbers in the joint Congress.

He maintained the opposition is merely trying to convince the public that Poe still has a chance at winning.

But in contrast to Estrada’s impeachment trial, Defensor said the people are on Mrs. Arroyo’s side.

In the middle of the impeachment trial at the Senate in 2001, prosecutors walked out when an envelope purportedly containing evidence that would pin Estrada down for plunder was ruled not to be opened.

The trial came to a halt and the second EDSA people power revolt was born. Estrada was ousted and is now facing charges before an anti-graft body. Then Vice President Arroyo took over his unfinished term.

"The problem is, in the second envelope, everyone believed that the account was owned by Joseph Estrada," Defensor said.

The opposition, he said, is now on a "fishing expedition" in an attempt to "overturn the sentiments of the people."

Even before the elections were held, all major surveys indicated a win for the President, he pointed out.

He added that all the political parties, including the KNP, have a copy of the COCs from the Commission on Elections. And these documents show Mrs. Arroyo winning by some 1.1 million votes.

"So not unless there is a difference in the numbers of what we’re holding, then that’s the time that we really have a problem," Defensor said.

The KNP claims Poe was cheated by more than two million votes.

In the just concluded unofficial and partial tally by an election watchdog, Mrs. Arroyo led Poe by slightly over half a million votes.

The opposition also disputes the quick count made by the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), saying it was biased against Poe.

Administration lawmakers, on the other hand, commended the independent poll watchdog "for a job well done."

Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella and Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert "Ace" Barbers defended Namfrel, saying it has "established its credibility and reliability throughout the years" when results of its tabulations were validated by the official win of previous presidential and senatorial candidates.

"We commend the Namfrel officers and volunteers for their vigilance and commitment to reflect the truthful ballot," said Puentevella, who belongs to the President’s party, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD).

For his part, Barbers, also of Lakas-CMD said: "The Namfrel quick count, although unofficial, is credible because it was based on official COCs. There is no doubt that Namfrel results will be validated in the congressional canvass."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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