MANILA,  JUNE 13, 2004 (STAR) By Mike Frialde  -  The legitimacy of the 22-member joint committee created to canvass the votes for president and vice president may still be questioned with the adjournment of the 12th Congress last Friday, re-elected opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said yesterday.

"The joint committee is a creation of the 12th Congress... Therefore the question arises whether or not its creator, the joint committee that is canvassing the votes of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, can continue its work. And assuming it can continue its work, where will it report? It cannot report to the 12th Congress," Pimentel told the Kapihan sa Sulo forum at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City.

Pimentel, a member of the joint canvassing committee, said a "no proclamation" scenario was possible if the legitimacy of the joint canvassing committee is not resolved.

He said that the House of Representatives may have declared an "open-ended" session to avoid the legal complications of an adjourned Congress receiving the reports of the canvassing committee and later proclaiming the winners in the presidential and vice presidential races.

"They were probably trying to justify why the 12th Congress is still doing the job of receiving the reports of the joint committee and proclaiming the president in spite of the fact that the constitution mandates that it adjourn sine die. They are trying to avoid the word sine die," he said.

Unlike the House, the Senate adjourned sine die, that is, it adjourned indefinitely or without setting a "specific date" for resuming its work.

Congress is required by the Constitution to adjourn 45 days before the fourth Monday of July, when the next Congress convenes.

Some lawmakers have argued that Congress can no longer meet once it adjourns sine die. This will prevent it from proclaiming the winners in the congressional canvass.

But Senate President Franklin Drilon cited historical precedence when he defended last Friday the Senateís decision to adjourn sine die. He said that Congress was already adjourned when the winners of the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections were proclaimed.

"In the said two elections, Congress had already adjourned sine die when it convened as the National Board of Canvassers, canvassed the votes and proclaimed the winning president and vice president," he said.

Pimentel said he plans to raise the adjournment issue tomorrow before the joint committee.

"Iím hoping the joint committee can resolve the issue judiciously and look for a constitutional solution. It is very important that we look for a peaceable solution so as not to unduly alarm the people," he said.

Pimentel said he preferred the members of the committee to resolve the issue among themselves than to have the Supreme Court again intervene.

"I would not wish that we go to the process of bringing every issue that comes our way to the Supreme Court," he said.

In the same forum, Pimentel revealed that the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) was willing to accept an administration victory of fewer than 400,000 votes.

He said that the KNPís copies of the certificates of canvass (CoCs), statement of votes (SoVs) and election returns showed the May 10 elections to be a tight race between President Gloria Arroyo and KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

"We have gathered our own data from election returns, CoCs and SoVs. We project Fernando Poe would take the lead, more or less by that number. And from my point of view, we do not expect Gloria to win more than that number either. So either way, the margin will be razor thin," he said.

Pimentel said that, provided the canvassing is accurate, a lead of 400,000 votes by Mrs. Arroyo over Poe would be acceptable to the KNP.

"It has been a closely contested fight. But there is no indication that whoever wins by 400,000 would not have the support of the people provided that the count is accurate. The only thing that we are interested in is that we have an accurate count," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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