MANILA,  JUNE 8, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva and Paolo Romero  -  Parliamentary roadblocks set up by allies of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. in Congress have slowed the canvassing of votes for the nation’s next leaders to a crawl.

Opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel said, "We will not give you the satisfaction of railroading us, we will talk until doomsday finds us."

On the second day of tabulation yesterday, President Arroyo continued to lead the opposition front-runner by a slim margin.

Based on tallies from 20 certificates of canvass (COCs) of absentee voters, the President obtained 5,475 votes; Poe, 3,609; former education secretary Raul Roco, 2,036; Sen. Panfilo Lacson, 1,373; and Bro. Eddie Vullanueva, 1,202.

In the vice presidential race, administration bet Sen. Noli de Castro leads with 7,178, followed by Sen. Loren Legarda of KNP with 5,287 votes; former congressman Herminio Aquino, 869; and Rodolfo Pajo, 51.

The COCs came from absentee voters from Cambodia, Laos, Palau, Brunei, the Netherlands, Sweden, Egypt, Oman, Kenya, Romania, South Africa, Australia, Turkey, Thailand, Switzerland, and China.

The tabulated votes so far is only about less than half of one percent of the estimated total 34 million votes cast.

There were also COCs from Norway, Uganda, Botswana and Mozambique, but they all registered zero votes, prompting lawmakers to call for a review of the absentee voting law and an investigation as to why even embassy officials did not vote.

The canvassing of the 21st to the 25th COCs was stalled before 5 p.m. when the opposition led by Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero and KNP lawyer Harriet Demetriou moved to declare as invalid the COCs from local absentee voters from the Armed Forces, police and teachers.

Demetriou said these COCs contained discrepancies that cast doubts on the authenticity and due execution of the document.

"This was a clear example of dagdag-bawas (vote padding and shaving)," she said, adding that the number of votes tallied exceeded the number of registered voters.

Mrs. Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, however, said the excess of 116 votes could be an "honest error" and the number anyway insignificant.

A Commission on Elections official late last night said the discrepancy was "an honest mistake." Betty Pizana, vice chairman for local absentee voting, is to testify before Congress today.

Meanwhile, Malacañang accused opposition lawmakers yesterday of attempting to derail the ongoing canvass of votes in Congress and warned them not to test the sovereign will of the people.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in a statement that "the opposition is really bent on derailing the congressional votes. But their cause founded on lies and the mockery of our democratic process will never find public support." Bunye was alluding to alleged plans of a walkout by opposition lawmakers identified with Poe.

"The opposition must not test the sovereign will of the people and the rule of law," he said. "They must bow to the people or suffer irretrievable irrelevance."

He refused to say whether the Palace has any information that apparent attempts to derail the canvassing process in Congress were part of a bigger scenario of an alleged "no-proclamation" plot by groups identified as planning new destabilization attempts against the Arroyo administration.

"We’re saying many of the issues (the opposition legislators) have raised have been exhaustively discussed and it’s really a disservice to the people to keep on harping on issues that have been thoroughly discussed and ruled on," Bunye said. "We believe that they are doing this for no other purpose than to derail the canvassing process."

The President has been leading in the quick count of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). She is purportedly the target of a "no-proclamation" plot hatched by groups identified with Poe.

He said administration legislators, who have the majority in Congress, are capable of neutralizing attempts to derail the canvass, but added that the Palace "would like to appeal to the good sense of the opposition to cooperate for the sake of the people, who have been waiting for the official results of the elections."

Senate President Franklin Drilon asked the Supreme Court to immediately resolve the petition filed by Davao City Rep. Ruy Elias Lopez, which seeks to stop the ongoing canvassing.

Drilon said in a press conference that the petition questioning the constitutionality of the canvass by committee "has no constitutional basis and should ... be dismissed outright. We urge the Supreme Court to decide within this week (on) the petition."

He also expressed confidence that "the Supreme Court will recognize the principle of separation of powers as the power to proclaim the president and vice president belong to Congress and the power to issue internal rules lodged in Congress by the Constitution. These are matters that are internal to Congress."— with reports from Nikko Dizon, Jose Rodel Clapano, Jose Aravilla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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