MANILA,  JUNE 18, 2004
By Paolo Romero  -  The opposition lawmakers’ questions on the authenticity of the certificates of canvass (COCs) and their insistence on tallying precinct-level statements of votes or election returns delayed what should have been a speedy canvassing in Congress yesterday.

The 22-man joint committee resumed canvassing at 2:30 p.m. instead of the usual 10 a.m. upon the request of opposition senators before they suspended the proceedings Wednesday night.

Administration lawmakers said the opposition agreed to make up for the lost time by helping speed up the proceedings.

However, the committee was able to canvass only five COCs by 8 last night. The first COC, from Misamis Oriental, was opened only at around 4:30 p.m. after nearly two hours of debate. Opposition lawmakers questioned the COC and wanted the panel to tabulate the precinct-level documents of the province instead.

President Arroyo led her closest opponent, Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr., by 288,936 votes. She obtained 6,200,972 votes compared to Poe’s 5,912,036 votes.

In the vice presidential race, administration bet Sen. Noli de Castro regained his lead with 7,431,064 votes against KNP vice presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda, who received 6,895,333 votes.

A total of 138 COCs have been canvassed since the proceedings started last June 4.

Apparently fed up with the same dilatory moves and questions by the opposition, Sen. Joker Arroyo — a member of the joint committee — took the floor and complained that Poe’s allies objected to each COC that had been canvassed.

"Are you saying there was cheating in every single province? That’s ridiculous," he said.

Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles said the opposition used "the same issues, the same questions but different mouths."

Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero, a member of the committee and Poe’s spokesman, reiterated his call for the committee to create a subcommittee to tabulate results in the election returns or statements of votes to save time.

Escudero’s motion triggered another round of heated discussion that led Sen. Aquilino Pimentel to challenge Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan to resign if he finds his job as co-chairman of the joint committee stressful.

KNP chairman Sen. Edgardo Angara also complained that Pangilinan and his co-chairman, House Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez, always had their way. Pangilinan later observed that Angara may have spoken harshly because the opposition cannot get their way in the canvassing.

Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. challenged all members of the joint canvassing committee to refuse Cabinet posts or chairmanships in the next Congress in order to enhance the committee’s credibility but Gonzalez said this is a matter left to the legislators’ conscience.

Iloilo Rep. Arthur Defensor said Locsin’s motion may be irrelevant since if the opposition’s dilatory moves are entertained, there may be no president and vice president proclaimed by June 30.

"We may even be shot because of some civil strife," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved