MANILA,  JUNE 13, 2004
By Jose Rodel Clapano  -  Senate President Franklin Drilon asked Filipinos yesterday not to lose faith in the electoral process despite the snail-paced canvassing of votes for president and vice president by the 22-man joint Congress committee.

He said the volatile political situation means that Filipinos need to renew their commitment to the country’s democratic institutions.

"Now more than ever, we must not lose our faith in the electoral process. We must not lose faith in democracy. We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the tempting thought that we have too much democracy," Drilon said in his speech commemorating the 106th anniversity of Philippine independence in Kawit, Cavite.

He also said that "prophets of doom" should stop raising destabilization scenarios.

"Military take-over and a no-proclamation scenario would only fan the flames of uncertainty and tension. I assure our people that once the winners in the presidential and vice-presidential race are proclaimed, your government will buckle down to work," Drilon said.

He pointed out that the current situation calls for sobriety as some sectors have expressed alarm over the slow canvass of votes.

"Nurturing and giving in to our anger and impatience over the slow process will lead us nowhere. There is a great need to undertake concrete reforms to strengthen our democracy and political system," Drilon said.

He urged Filipinos not to allow Philippine democracy to sink to an ignominious low.

"Let us work together for a new brand of politics that is not hostage to vested interests. The kind of politics that is founded and anchored on democratic principles," Drilon said.

In a related development, administration lawmakers called on their counterparts in the opposition to stop their allegations of electoral fraud and instead focus on scrutinizing ballot boxes and election documents.

Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez and Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali said the "hullabaloo" generated by the opposition’s premature accusation of poll fraud caused officials to overlook the missing certificate of canvass (COC) from Camarines Norte, which had been in its designated ballot box all along.

Rodriguez said it does not help when opposition lawmakers hurl charges of poll fraud while all means to check on the availability or authenticity of COCs have not been explored.

"The opposition should stop their unproven claims of cheating, which they are trying to establish during the canvass through repeated queries about COCs that have only delayed the tabulations," he said.

Drilon said when the ballot box from Camarines Norte was opened last June 2, everybody was shouting so the pages failed to make a thorough search of the box.

"The opposition should not take advantage of similar incidents to cry cheating when the most reasonable thing to do is for them to be sober and non-partisan," Rodriguez said.

Umali said "the sense of fairness, not partisan politics" should guide members of Congress so COCs may be thoroughly checked.

He suggested that the opposition should file a formal complaint before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal if they have evidence of electoral fraud.

"The opposition should stop using the media as a vehicle for their disinformation campaign. Their false allegations are detrimental to the interest of the nation and the people who have full respect and faith in the electoral process," Umali said.

Meanwhile, other administration lawmakers expressed confidence that President Arroyo will sustain her early lead in the congressional canvass and expect her to pull away from her chief rival, actor Fernando Poe Jr., as the count continues.

Reps. Marcelino Libanan of Eastern Samar and Exequiel Javier of Antique said they expect the opposition to resort to dilatory tactics anew once Mrs. Arroyo pulls away from Poe in the canvass. In the past two days of the congressional canvass, she led Poe by a margin of 27,268 votes.

Libanan said Mrs. Arroyo’s margin is expected to widen once the 22-man joint committee tabulates votes from Cebu, Pampanga, Iloilo, Bohol, Negros Occidental and other vote-rich areas where she won.

Based on official Commission on Elections COCs submitted to the tally center of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan, Libanan said Mrs. Arroyo has the highest margin in Cebu with 1,004,000 votes over Poe, followed by Pampanga with 557,992 votes, Iloilo with 430,568 votes, Bohol with 242,956 votes and Negros Occidental with 195,285 votes.

"We expect a validation of these margins during the canvassed based on the same COCs that we find are authentic and duly executed," he said.

Javier said with 80 COCs tallied, he expects Mrs. Arroyo to pull away starting with the 120th COC and "will lead all the way."

He said the opposition should stop their claims of cheating now that the official canvass is being done by Congress, which uses genuine COCs and tabulates them in a transparent and impartial manner.

"The debates during the past days would attest to the fairness of the canvass as the opposition were given adequate time to raise their points about the COCs. The COCs would eventually validate the fact that (Mrs. Arroyo) really won the elections," Javier said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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