MANILA,  JUNE 14, 2004
By Marvin Sy and Paolo Romero  -  Malacañang urged the opposition "to give way to orderly canvass" and allow Congress to proceed with the tabulation of votes for president and vice president without delay.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye particularly issued the call to opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. to reconsider his plan of questioning the legality of the 22-man joint committee in Congress when the canvassing resumes today.

Pimentel is expected to question the legality of the premise of the work of the committee even as the joint legislative chambers of Congress adjourned sine die. The opposition lawmaker earlier argued the joint committee is a creation of the 12th Congress, which had already adjourned last Friday. The joint committee cannot present its report for ratification since Congress had already adjourned, Pimentel said.

Bunye reiterated the appointment of members of the joint committee as well as its legal existence has been discussed thoroughly and can no longer be questioned at this stage. He said the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the existence of the joint committee has legal basis and it should be allowed to perform its mandate with dispatch. "We are appealing to Senator Pimentel to let us give way to an orderly canvass," Bunye said. "There has already been a long discussion when they are debating the rules for the canvass."

Bunye said the people are getting impatient since the questions over the conduct of the canvass have already been answered. The opposition has been accused of deliberately delaying the canvassing, triggering speculations of a no proclamation scenario on June 30.

Some members of the joint committee vowed to block questions on the legitimacy of the panel to delay the tabulations.

Administration lawmakers Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles and Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco said the issue of the legitimacy of the joint committee has been taken up in plenary debates before Congress adjourned.

Uphill Battle

As the canvassing enters its crucial stage, lawyers of President Arroyo are targeting to have her proclaimed next week.

But the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) of Fernando Poe Jr. and his allies are not about to give up the fight. The KNP said they would allow the canvassing process to go through a "fine tooth comb."

Lawyers of Mrs. Arroyo contended the incumbent won by 1,118,818 million votes as reflected in the copies of their certificates of canvass (COCs). They said the figure will be the same in the opposition count since the KNP has a copy of the COCs.

Poe’s camp, however, insisted the documents were products of mass fraud and systematic cheating by the administration at the grassroots level.

Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez, co-chairman of the joint canvassing committee, said they are aiming to tabulate at least 15 to 20 COCs a day starting today and work overtime until Saturday.

At this rate, Gonzalez said the canvassing can be over by Tuesday next week. "We will brook no unnecessary and capricious delays and we will outvote them (opposition) if they try to block the canvassing with nit-picking and silly motions," Gonzalez told The STAR.

Canvassed so far are 80 COCs, mostly coming from absentee voters abroad, with 96 more to go. As of the last count on Friday, Mrs. Arroyo was leading by 27,262 votes or gaining a total of 978,913 votes over Poe’s 951,651.

Both sides of the political fence are gearing up for a battle since COCs from the provinces where the alleged massive electoral fraud took place will be tabulated.

Mrs. Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Makalintal said he expects Poe’s legal counsels and allies in Congress to "keep on harping" on going back to the statement of votes (SOVs) and election returns (ERs), which are supporting documents of the COCs.

Makalintal stressed any review of the supporting documents will only be allowed if the COCs are not duly executed and inauthentic.

He said the opposition’s demands of going back to the supporting documents would take the panel at least two years to proclaim the winners since there are hundreds of thousands of pages to review.

Makalintal noted that the same COCs were found to be duly executed and authentic by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the same were used to proclaim the winning 12 senators.

"You cannot subject the same certified documents to another testing and examination (on its due execution and authenticity)."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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