MANILA,  JUNE 7, 2004
By Jess Diaz  -  Allies of opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. in the Senate and House of Representatives have apparently deserted him, Sen. Joker Arroyo said yesterday.

"Where were they when the actual tallying of the certificates of canvass of votes for president and vice president started last Friday night?" asked Arroyo, who has allied himself with the majority on issues involving the canvass.

He said it was only re-elected Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. who took up the cudgels for Poe when the tabulation began.

Senate sources told The STAR yesterday that Sen. Edgardo Angara, who formed the KNP to serve as Poe’s political vehicle in the actor’s quest for the presidency, left Friday night for Europe to attend a conference on fighting corruption.

Sen. Vicente Sotto lll, one of Poe’s two campaign managers, also left that night for San Francisco, California.

Reached by phone, Pimentel confirmed that his colleagues are not in the country but that they would be back today or tomorrow.

A third KNP senator, Teresa Aquino-Oreta, is also reportedly in the United States. Pimentel said he talked to Oreta yesterday afternoon, but could not say whether she is here or abroad.

Besides Pimentel, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero, Poe’s spokesman, and the actor’s lawyers led by Sixto Brillantes also took the cudgels for their candidate on Friday night.

The most vociferous of all Poe allies in Congress, outgoing Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, told journalists on Friday that he and his family are scheduled to leave the country this week for a vacation abroad that he said had been planned long ago.

"The KNP has taken Congress and the public for a ride," said Arroyo.

He said the picture of a "solitary" Pimentel "says it all — that the KNP is not in earnest in its much-touted posturing for a credible canvass."

"It turns out that all their bluster and bravado in the debates in the joint session was nothing more than swagger and verbal acoustics, signifying nothing," Arroyo said.

He said the Senate and the House, in joint session, spent one week debating the rules on canvassing and another week opening the ballot boxes containing the certificates of canvass (COCs).

"After having worked for two weeks to prepare for the actual canvass, who showed up in the joint committee when the canons started? Only Senator Pimentel in the five-man opposition Senate panel. Four minority senators were absent," he added.

He noted that even KNP congressmen, who can serve as substitutes, were nowhere to be found. "They found only one, but not a KNP congressman. They had to settle for a party-list representative, JV Bautista (of Sanlakas), to substitute for only one absent senator," he said.

Arroyo pointed out that opposition leaders even stayed away from the KNP petition before the Supreme Court, which questions the constitutionality of the joint canvassing committee that the Senate and the House have formed.

"Who filed the petition? Again, a solitary congressman, Ruy Elias Lopez of Davao City. In short, KNP big guns did not sign up as petitioners, perhaps uncomfortable with the thought of associating themselves with a vain and doomed cause," he said.

Thus, Arroyo said whether in Congress or the Supreme Court, the KNP "has taken lightly its published position on the canvass."

"The tempo of the canvass has so far been dictated by the opposition. This cannot go on. The majority should not be intimidated by the veiled threats of the opposition that they are poised to walk out of the canvassing if they are dissatisfied with the proceedings. Congress has the duty to proclaim the winners before June 30," he stressed.

The tabulation of COCs will resume this morning. Lawyers of President Arroyo expect the canvassing pace to quicken.

The joint committee finished tabulating the absentee votes from five countries on Friday night.

Pimentel told the committee that he was all alone because his colleagues thought that the tabulation would start today.

He later complained that Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez, who heads the House panel in the joint committee and who dominated the job of presiding over the tabulation last Friday, casually dismissed his remarks and observations by merely saying, "Noted!" Gonzalez was supposed to share the job with his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan.

Lawyers of Poe and evangelist Eddie Villanueva also complained about the Iloilo solon’s style, accusing him of trying to railroad the canvass and the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved