MANILA,  JUNE 16, 2004
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan  -  During the campaign, stalwarts of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) gave the impression that they were all running around like headless chickens.

Their post-election day strategy is more coherent only in its objective of installing KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. in power, whatever the results of the elections, and even if it takes until Christmas.

Getting there seems anchored at this time on one tack: stall the congressional canvassing, stall, and stall some more, till the other side drops dead from exhaustion and hands over the keys to Malacańang. Naturally, the Palace response to that is, "Ano ka, hilo?" (Rough translation: Are you nuts?)

Failing to stop the canvassing, the opposition is making noises about mustering people power on the same scale as the original in 1986, after the national assembly proclaimed Ferdinand Marcos as re-elected president. FPJ’s continuing provincial sorties, wherein he thanks his supporters for giving him the presidency, keeps rumors of people power alive.

Almost every week since election day, there has been an alert for a coup or uprising. This time government forces are looking at Thursday — that’s right, tomorrow — for destabilization activities. The talk is that if Thursday passes without a major incident, couturier Inno Sotto can go full speed ahead in finishing President Arroyo’s gown for some party on June 30.

We’ve come a long way from 1986, when people power inspired other democratic movements around the world. This time nations in transition look at the Philippines and mutter that if this is democracy, they want no part of it. Southeast Asian leaders who openly derided Philippine democracy during the days of endless coup attempts must be hard-pressed not to smile smugly these days and say, "I told you so!"

Freedom entails responsibility. In the Philippines, what we see is freedom used irresponsibly, at its worst. Here, free means you don’t pay – not for crime, not for corruption, not for poll fraud, and not for moving to stall a congressional canvass indefinitely.

* * *

Impatient folks who can’t wait for Congress to finish canvassing votes for president and vice president are turning to the advertisements taken out recently by the camp of Rodolfo Biazon.

The senator, who’s facing off with his colleague Robert Barbers today in the dispute over the 12th slot in the Senate race, published the results of the certificates of canvass for national positions to prove that he had won by over 10,000 votes.

These are the same official canvass results that served as the basis for the proclamation by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of the 11 winning senators, five of whom belong to the KNP.

Barbers is challenging Biazon’s proclamation, pointing out that with some 20,000 votes not yet tallied, he could still emerge as the winner. The argument is intriguing. What’s more interesting, however, is the publication of results contained in the COCs for president and vice president, showing President Arroyo and her running mate Noli de Castro as the winners.

The order by which the COCs are being tallied in Congress is exactly the same order as in the published results, based on which COCs reached the Comelec first. These are the same results informally tallied by the Comelec, then leaked to the press one lazy evening by someone who looked like Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos.

Naturally, none of the 11 proclaimed senators, including Aquilino Pimentel Jr., is questioning the credibility of those COCs as far as the Senate race is concerned.

The KNP will say that the figures in those COCs for president and vice president are a different matter altogether and can’t be trusted, so Congress will have to recount votes in many areas all the way down to the precinct level.

If only to erase all doubts about the credibility of the elections, Filipinos are willing to go along with that argument. We are resigned to having the longest vote count in the world, and the possibility that come June 30, we will have acting President Franklin Drilon.

Meanwhile, FPJ continues to claim victory and is warning Congress against proclaiming a "fake" president based on fraudulent COCs. In the same breath, he says he is not inciting his fans to stage street protests as a prelude to an uprising.

Pimentel is not ruling out an opposition walkout from the canvassing, and the KNP will surely take to the Supreme Court the question of whether the canvass can proceed after Congress has adjourned.

* * *

For Pinoys used to exuberant democracy, all this can be entertaining. If politicians kill each other over power, it could even be good for the country. And if they’re not yet resorting to murder but simply suing each other, that shows you that democracy is still working.

But for a world that had already written us off as a basket case even before the elections, the vote count can only validate the worst perceptions about the Philippines.

Members of the diplomatic community must be shaking their heads as they receive invitations for the June 30 inaugural of a president who remains unidentified. They also must be careful when talking with Philippine diplomats, lest their names be leaked to the press as among the personalities such as Yoko Ono who have congratulated President Arroyo for her victory.

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone must be counting his blessings for being out of town in the heat of the election period. Ricciardone was recalled to Washington to help in the preparation of Iraq for the handover of power to Iraqis on June 30, the same day a new Philippine president is supposed to assume power. In this town of skeptics and malicious rumormongers, no one bought Ricciardone’s story, preferring to believe that he skipped town so Washington could keep its distance from all presidential candidates, including Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. US officials have dismissed this as "overinterpretation."

Before leaving Manila, Ricciardone said he hoped to be back for the president’s inaugural come June 30, and he’s getting his wish. He’s returning to Manila on June 28 — enough time to get over jet lag before the Philippine president’s inaugural.

That is, if a president has been proclaimed. At the rate we’re going, Iraq may achieve stability faster than the Philippines.

Filipinos can’t even blame those grandstanding lawmakers for the protracted canvass. We elected them to high office, exercising our right to shoot ourselves in the foot, and we are getting the government we deserve. We are all to blame for this national disgrace.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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