CANVASS PROCEEDS  AS  POE  TAKES  THE  LEAD

MANILA,  JUNE 10, 2004
(STAR) 
By Paolo Romero  -  The congressional canvassing picked up some speed as opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. took the lead over President Arroyo yesterday.

Amid concerns over a possible repeat of opposition filibustering, lawyers of Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) did not object to the resumption of canvassing and declared nothing irregular in the documents attached to the certificates of canvass from Aurora province, a known opposition bailiwick.

Votes from the province propelled Poe and running mate Sen. Loren Legarda to the top slots.

"They (opposition) were unusually reasonable and cooperative," said Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez, co-chairman of the joint committee carrying out the canvass.

Co-chairman Senate Majority Leader Francisco Pangilinan also said Poe’s allies, particularly Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., might have sensed the public’s outrage over his filibustering last Tuesday.

"Maybe (it was) also because FPJ was leading in Aurora," Pangilinan said of Pimentel’s silence yesterday.

Poe took the lead after initially obtaining 42,282 votes compared to Mrs. Arroyo’s 16,755 votes from the province, known as the bailiwick of opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara.

Legarda also overtook her closest rival Sen. Noli de Castro by 20,226 votes. Legarda obtained 68,441 votes as against De Castro’s 48,215.

Poe was in the lead at 2:30 p.m. after opposition lawmakers and KNP lawyers agreed to proceed and tabulate the results from Aurora, the 35th of the 176 certificates of canvass (COCs) and the first Philippine province to be tabulated by the joint committee after four days of canvassing the results from the overseas voters’ precincts.

Opposition lawmakers led by Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras earlier called for a review of the statement of votes and the supporting documents from the province but this was opposed by Batanes Rep. Florencio Abad and Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco.

Both administration lawmakers said there was nothing wrong with the COCs from Aurora so there was no need to look into the supporting documents.

Pangilinan ruled that a prior agreement was to speed up the process and lessen the time for debates. "If there are objections we will still listen so as not be accused of railroading (the proceedings)," Pangilinan said.

"Being here is not an easy task, we’re walking on a tight rope," he added.

The canvassing by the joint committee resumed in the morning but the actual tabulation started only at past noon.

The joint committee managed to canvass 25 COCs yesterday, the most in a single day since the canvassing started Friday last week.

By 7:15 p.m. after the joint committee suspended its session, the votes tallied from the 25 COCs showed Poe still leading by 12, 139 votes against Mrs. Arroyo.

Poe got a total of 173,734 votes while Mrs. Arroyo garnered 161,734 votes.

In the vice presidential race, Legarda was still on top with 215,154 votes as against De Castro with 184,366 votes.

The votes from the provinces of Marinduque and Quirino provinces helped Poe and Legarda maintain their lead over Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro.

The counting was stopped following the motion of opposition Sen. Vicente Sotto III calling for the suspension of session.

The committee was about to order the counting of the votes from Siquijor and other provinces known to be administration bailiwicks when Sotto moved that session be suspended.

‘A Monster Committee’

Even as the canvassing went on a faster pace, Pimentel still insisted that the joint committee scrutinize further the COCs of at least 15 provinces.

Pimentel said there are gross discrepancies and fraud in the COCs from the provinces and urged the committee to look into the Statement of Votes (SOVs) and precinct-level returns (ERs) for "transparency, truthfulness and the credibility of the process."

He said that if the scheme is adopted, the opposition will dispense with its right to raise questions pertaining to the rest of the COCs, ensuring a speedy canvassing process.

"I hope that the majority will listen to the position of the minority so that the truth and the will of the people will prevail," Pimentel said.

"Besides, we believe that the correct process is to refer to the source documents and if we do this, the canvassing will move at a faster pace," he said.

Pimentel said lawmakers cannot ignore the imperative of going down to the source documents.

He cited the supposed claims by Hadji Abdullah Daligdig, provincial chairman of the independent citizen’s watchdog National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) that as much as 20,000 votes were allegedly padded to favor Mrs. Arroyo in Lanao del Sur.

"If Congress, as the national canvassing body, will not open the statement of votes and election returns from Lanao del Sur, how can we remedy this patently fraudulent act? We hope that the shameful election scam in Lanao del Sur will awaken the members of Congress about the necessity of our proposal," Pimentel said.

On his filibustering last Tuesday, Pimentel said this was to counteract the majority’s obstinate objection on his proposal to open the source documents of ballot box 21 which contained the COCs from the local absentee voting.

He claimed the opposition saw the COCs were defective.

Administration lawmakers were seen laughing or shaking their heads as Pimentel began his filibustering — a recognized parliamentary recourse for lawmakers if they want to interminably delay proceedings to stop a certain bill or ruling.

Pimentel’s filibustering lasted nearly seven hours, continuing even as more than 200 spectators walked out in frustration. The marathon talk effectively halted the already snail-paced tabulation.

Pimentel has been threatening since Friday last week that proceedings by the joint committee may be delayed if the majority bloc insists in keeping the opposition under its thumb.

Poe’s lawyer, former election commissioner Harriet Demetriou, said the administration should be blamed for the slow pace of canvassing.

"The delay was not caused by Nene Pimentel but by the administration allies in Congress by creating this monster-like joint committee," Demetriou said.

Demetriou told a news conference at the Quezon City Sports Club that the majority bloc in the joint committee "treated Pimentel roughly and unfairly" by refusing to listen to his proposals.

She said Pimentel was making some strong points. "There should be due process (in the canvassing). If the administration is allowed to speak, so should the opposition be. Fair is fair," Demetriou said.

She claimed the national canvassing is now "a fight between truth and propaganda."

Demetriou likewise said Poe "will follow the legal process" but did not make any assurance on what his supporters might do.

Her counterpart in the administration, lawyer Grace Lee-Maduramente, warned the public against falling into a trap laid by the opposition.

"A lie told repeatedly eventually takes the semblance of truth," Maduramente said.

She dismissed the opposition’s claims that the administration mounted systematic fraud to alter the overall result of the presidential and vice presidential polls.

Maduramente said the KNP lost the elections as it failed to mount a credible campaign and coalition lawyers did not do their jobs.

"If the KNP lost the elections, they have nobody to blame but themselves, Looking at their defeat on the bright side, they have a hard-learned lesson in contemporary history so that they won’t commit the same mistake in future elections," Maduramente said.

Whodunit

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) admitted yesterday no breakthrough in tracing the origin of the fake election documents found at the Senate building in Pasay City.

Although all witnesses have been interviewed, NBI Director Reynaldo Wycoco said their statements do not contain enough information to trace the origin of the fake SOVs and COCs.

Aside from utility workers at the Senate, other employees were summoned by the NBI but their statements cannot help investigators tracing the source of the spurious documents, officials said.

Wycoco said the NBI is also scheduled to summon several people at the House of Representatives at the Batasan complex in Quezon City where several fake election documents were also found.

He said Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. has given assurance of its full cooperation in the investigation.

"The motive (in fabricating fake COCs) is very clear. This person or group wants to discredit the election process," Wycoco said.

On the other hand, the KNP claimed the administration was behind a hate campaign against Pimentel by circulating text messages that denounced the opposition lawmaker for his filibustering.

KNP officials said they have monitored several administration propagandists sending out the hate text messages.

The KNP also issued a statement denouncing lawyer Betty Pizaña, chairperson of the absentee voting board of canvassers of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) who admitted an honest mistake was committed in the discrepancies of entries in the COC of the local absentee voting.

She explained the discrepancy, telling the committee that her staff committed an "honest mistake" by writing the total number of those who voted as 5,710 instead of the correct figure of 5,923.

The KNP said the errors committed "can simply not be attributed to fatigue or clerical errors and oversight."

"When errors are repeated several times, a pattern is established, and it eventually leads to large-scale fraud," the KNP said. - with Jose Rodel Clapano, Nikko Dizon, Cecille Suerte Felipe


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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