MANILA,  JUNE 8, 2004
By Jess Diaz and Nikko Dizon  -  They have not abandoned Fernando Poe Jr.

Opposition Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta yesterday reacted to reports that Poe’s allies in the May 10 elections seemed to have abandoned him, retorting that "we’re not deserting (Poe)."

"I am here," Oreta said. "I never left for the United States."

Opposition Sen. Vicente Sotto III, for his part, belied the reports, saying in a telephone interview that "we are here to facilitate the proclamation of (Poe)."

Administration Sen. Joker Arroyo had earlier raised the possibility that supporters of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer had deserted him when only Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. represented the minority at the start of the tabulation of votes for president and vice president over the weekend.

Sotto said he attended a briefing with Poe Sunday in Manila, adding that Poe "was in high spirits. With all the allegations hurled against him, he does not mind all these reports anymore."

Sotto said speculations that he, Oreta and other KNP stalwarts have abandoned Poe are "just another spin" to make people think they have deserted the actor. "That is not true," he said.

"The elections are not over yet," Sotto added. "(The administration) had done a lot of cheating and, apparently, this is not enough. That’s the only explanation I can gather."

Oreta said the speculations "are the handiwork of the spin doctors of the Arroyo administration." She added, "We’re not abandoning our standard-bearer. I was there on Friday night, but someone told me that canvassing would start on Monday ... so I went home only to find out on television that it started."

She said KNP chairman Sen. Edgardo Angara left that night for the United Kingdom to attend a four-day conference on fighting official corruption sponsored by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Global Association Against Corruption. Angara is the only Asian sitting on the GOPAC board. His office said he will be back in time for the canvassing at Congress.

Oreta said Angara "told us he had to leave because he is the only Asian invited to that forum."

She also said Sotto, Poe’s campaign manager, left for Hong Kong Friday night for a short vacation, a "weekend off, his first break since the grueling three-month election campaign."

Sotto had left with the permission of Senate President Franklin Drilon and returned to Manila Sunday night. While in Hong Kong, Sotto said, he was able to gather information from "sources" that there was massive cheating in Singapore and Hong Kong. He added that he would reveal more information on the matter "at the proper time."

He, Oreta and Pimentel attended the resumption of the canvass yesterday morning as part of the five-member opposition panel in the Senate contingent of the joint congressional canvassing committee.

Seated with them at the joint committee were Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras, Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., and party-list (Sanlakas) Rep. Virgilio Bautista, who were substituting alternately for two absent senator-members of the committee.

"We were here at 10 o’clock sharp because we thought the canvassing would start promptly," Oreta said. The canvass began at 10:45 a.m. and was immediately stalled by heated discussions on how the joint panel could determine the authenticity of the certificates of canvass (COCs).

Despite suggestions from members representing the opposition, the committee failed to furnish its members with copies of the master-list of names, signatures and thumb-marks of the members of the boards of canvassers who prepared the COCs.

Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez, who heads the House contingent in the committee, said members can check the data they need with the committee secretariat.

"What we want are copies of these documents," Pimentel said and, at one point, he told Gonzalez that if the committee will not grant their reasonable requests, he and his colleagues will resort to all legal and parliamentary remedies - including arguing and talking all day long.

He later told journalists that Gonzalez’s manner of presiding over the canvass "is part of the grand plan to expedite this process and the proclamation of President Arroyo."

Paras complained that Gonzalez’s "abrasive" manner was delaying the canvassing process.

After two hours of debates, the joint committee finally tabulated the absentee votes in the COC from Sweden. President Arroyo received 43 votes, while Poe got seven, independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Alyansa ng Pag-asa standard-bearer Raul Roco got five each, and Bangon Pilipinas Movement (BPM) candidate Eddie Villanueva got three.

Vice presidential candidates Senators Loren Legarda and Noli de Castro each received 17 votes, while Alyansa ng Pag-asa candidate Herminio Aquino received five votes and BPM candidate Rodolfo Pajo received one vote.

In a statement released by the Filipino for Peace, Justice and Progress Movement (FPJPM), former assemblyman Homobono Adaza appealed to members of Congress "to behave like congressmen and senators. They don’t owe their jobs to the offices of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or to their political parties. They owe their jobs to the people of the country."

Adaza told lawmakers that "they should not be behaving like partisans," adding that they should make their decisions "based on evidence."

He also expressed the KNP’s belief that Poe won by two million votes even as he criticized the "continuing refusal" of administration legislators to scrutinize election returns as actions which speak of "their grand design to cheat (in) the elections."

"The truth is in the election returns and the statement of votes," he said. "What are they afraid of? They want to steal the election? They want to steal the proclamation?

"The election returns will prove that (Poe) indeed won the elections," Adaza said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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