MANILA,  JUNE 14, 2004
By Jess Diaz and Edith Regalado  -  As administration lawmakers expressed hopes of finishing the canvassing this week, opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. is expected to question the legality and constitutionality of the canvassing of votes for president and vice president when Congress is supposed to be no longer in session.

"I will raise the issue before the joint committee (this morning)," said Pimentel, one of five opposition senators sitting on the panel. "It is a legitimate question and we ought to bring our heads together to find a feasible solution."

With the 12th Congress ending its third and fourth regular sessions last week, the joint canvassing committee is without a "parent," Pimentel said.

"Can the committee continue to function without its parent? Assuming it can, to what body would it submit its report? Would it be to the outgoing Congress that is now non-existent, or to the incoming 13th Congress that will begin its first session on the fourth Monday of July?" Pimentel asked.

These are legitimate issues the joint committee needs to resolve before proceeding with the canvassing, he said. Pimentel was re-elected after running on the ticket of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

Asked what he would do if the presiding officers of the canvassing, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan and Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez, would dismiss outright the questions he would raise, Pimentel said "they cannot just do that."

Pimentel also warned allies of President Arroyo not to resort to "railroading" as certificates of canvass (COCs) from supposed bailiwicks of KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. where Mrs. Arroyo took large margins over Poe will be included in the official tally this week.

"One week is not a realistic goal to wrap up this canvass," Pimentel said. "The public won’t believe a railroaded count and proclamation of winners."

The senator from Cagayan de Oro said he and his colleagues would subject the COCs and election returns (ERs) from these areas to the strictest scrutiny possible.

"They cannot just gloss over our objections to the COCs from these places or dismiss them by merely saying ‘noted,’ " he said.

The KNP claims its standard-bearer was cheated of at least two million votes in Cebu and other parts of the Visayas and Mindanao.

In Davao City, the KNP said Poe will never concede defeat in the May 10 presidential elections.

The opposition also warned that filibustering in the ongoing joint congressional canvassing of votes for president and vice president shall continue unless the election results in 25 areas are opened.

"(Poe) would never concede because it is no longer a fight between him and President Arroyo, but of the truth and the true will of the Filipino people," KNP legal chief Rufus Rodriguez told The STAR.

Rodriguez, who arrived here Saturday afternoon, said Poe believes he won the May 10 elections, especially after he was shown Friday night a slide presentation of the documents and pieces of evidence gathered by the KNP legal team showing massive cheating allegedly committed by the administration.

Rodriguez said Poe was kept abreast of developments during dinner Friday night at the residence of outgoing Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta, wherein the actor was believed to have really been convinced he won hands down over Mrs. Arroyo.

"(Poe) is in good spirits these days. He knows he won," Rodriguez said, adding that the KNP has remained solidly behind Poe despite earlier reports that opposition leaders were already distancing themselves from him.

"We have never deserted him. No one among us in the opposition left anybody. We are as solid and as strong as ever," Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile, the KNP legal chief also said the opposition will continue to filibuster in the ongoing joint congressional canvassing for president and vice president (unless the ERs) of the 25 COCs they questioned are opened.

He said the canvassing will be finished before June 30 if the ERs from Sulu, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur for Mindanao will be opened, along with those from Cebu, Bohol and Leyte for the Visayas and Kalinga, Apayao and Las Piñas for Luzon.

"We will continue to use filibustering as a parliamentary tool in Congress to force the administration minions to agree that the ERs of the 25 areas be opened. We have no other recourse, we do not have the numbers in Congress and time is also against us, so we shall continue to filibuster," he said.

Filibustering, he said, could be used as a tool especially when the majority tries to railroad a proposal in spite of the fact that there’s good basis for that group’s proposal.

Rodriguez said the opposition remains unfazed by accusations of their delaying the canvassing. "Why would we be bothered when all that we seek is the truth? We just want to ferret out the truth that the Filipino people deserve," he said.

He said not even with the recent tirades of Senator-elect Miriam Santiago against Pimentel, who was accused of filibustering last week in the ongoing national canvass, will stop further filibustering by the opposition.

"We are not afraid of what she says — whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional. Everybody knows she is a misplaced person in the political arena," he added.

Rodriguez said the KNP would continue pushing for the opening of ERs of 25 COCs, adding that "the administration could never be at ease with the ERs of the 25 areas."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved