MANILA,  JUNE 13, 2004 (STAR) By Jose Rodel Clapano  -  Administration Sen. Joker Arroyo expressed confidence that Congress could finish its tabulation of votes with the president and vice president proclaimed before June 25.

Arroyo, a member of the 22-man joint canvassing committee, estimated that the remaining 50 percent of the certificates of canvass (COCs) being tabulated will be completed by next week.

"By next week, June 21-25, the joint committee can deliberate and work out its final report for submission to the two chambers of Congress in joint session," Arroyo said.

"If approved, this should pave the way for the proclamation of the president elect and vice president elect on or before June 25," he said.

The only delay in the canvassing might be caused by inconsistent data in the COCs, Arroyo said.

"There are seven copies of the COC, the original and six other duplicate originals, which should all be the same," he said.

Arroyo pointed out that a copy of the COCs is with the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

The KNP has maintained that massive fraud was committed by the administration to make it appear President Arroyo won the May 10 elections.

KNP lawyers and allies of opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. has called for the review of the election returns down to the municipal level. They claimed the fraud was committed in that level which resulted in the devaluation of the votes tallied in the COCs.

"So far, the opposition has not produced any COC allotted to the KNP that is at variance with the original COC being canvassed," Arroyo said.

In the absence any discrepancy between COCs, secondary documents such as the statement of votes (SOVs) or election returns cannot be resorted to for tabulation purposes, Arroyo said.

Meanwhile, two alternate members of the joint committee panel, Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez and Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali, called on their colleagues in the opposition to stop accusations of massive cheating and focus on closer scrutiny of ballot boxes and election documents in the canvassing.

Rodriguez said the hastiness of the opposition to accuse the administration of poll fraud apparently left them to overlook the missing COCs from Camarines Norte.

The missing COCs which were earlier reported missing from its ballot box last June 2 turned up in the province’s second ballot box during Friday’s canvassing.

Rodriguez said a sense of impartiality should always prevail upon the canvass committee members particularly on issues of missing COCs or when their authenticity on due execution are in question.

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

The Pampanga lawmaker said that it does not help the joint committee when the opposition will immediately hurl accusations of fraud if other possibilities have not been explored.

Rodriguez cited the incident where every member of the committee was embroiled in a shouting match where in fact the missing COCs were under their noses.

"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," he said.

For his part, Umali said that a sense of impartiality should guide members of the Congress so COCs may be thoroughly checked.

"The sense of fairness, not partisan politics, should guide us in our work especially in the determination of the COC authenticity and execution," Umali said.

He said all claims of electoral fraud should be done in a proper forum or the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

"The opposition should stop using 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.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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