MANILA,  JUNE 18, 2004
As the canvassing in Congress enters the home stretch, a ranking Palace official yesterday said President Arroyo is now "out of the woods" as votes from administration bailiwicks boosted her lead over Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) chief Gabriel Claudio said the 22-member joint congressional committee started tabulating certificates of canvass from the President’s bailiwicks last Wednesday. The COCs are expected to put Mrs. Arroyo ahead of Poe by over a million votes, he said.

"We’re out of the woods," Claudio said while monitoring the canvassing in Congress. "We’re out of the deficit column."

Asked what the immediate concern of the administration was now that Mrs. Arroyo had taken the lead over Poe, Claudio said, "The matter of time."

The joint committee began canvassing COCs from Mrs. Arroyo’s bailiwicks of Iloilo and Zamboanga del Norte Wednesday night, which gave her a lead of 462,825 votes.

It has been a see-saw battle between Mrs. Arroyo and Poe over the last few days, with Poe getting the upper hand. Only COC numbers 124 to 177 remain to be tabulated.

The President is expected to maintain her lead starting today, when the joint committee canvasses votes from Davao Oriental, Maguindanao, Bukidnon, Cebu, Zamboanga del Sur, Pampanga, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Cebu City, Bohol, Davao City, Basilan, Albay, Las Piñas City, Sulu, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur and Kalinga.

These provinces and cities are seen to give Mrs. Arroyo over 3.9 million votes.

Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez said the joint committee will work overtime on Saturday to finish the canvassing.

Gonzalez also said the administration and opposition lawmakers have agreed to the overtime.

Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel Zamora (Lakas-CMD) and Cebu City Rep. Joseph Durano (NPC) foresaw the President’s victory as she managed to overtake Poe during the tally of the 120th COC from Iloilo.

Zamora and Durano said Mrs. Arroyo would be able to eventually pull away once the votes from Cebu and Cebu City, Pampanga, Zamboanga del Sur, Maguindanao and other areas that delivered wide margins for her are tallied by the joint canvassing committee.

They hailed the President’s current lead as they called for calm and sobriety amid the opposition’s mobilization of forces for protest actions to derail her proclamation.

"The Iloilo votes of 512,812 for the President are indeed overwhelming compared to Poe’s 82,244 votes," Zamora said. "The votes from Cebu island are more overwhelming, as these gave her a margin of 1,004,000 votes."

"(The President’s) victory in Compostela Valley can be attributed to her genuine concern for local residents, especially the poor farmers and their families," he added.

Compostela Valley was one of the provinces that carried the President to victory, he said, citing that Mrs. arroyo garnered 94,876 votes over Poe’s 80,544 votes.

"Her administration managed to stabilize the prices of copra, bananas and other agricultural products and provided the necessary infrastructure projects in the province," Zamora said, noting this explained the President’s victory in his province.

"The people have spoken," Zamora said. "Let’s respect their will."

Durano said official tabulation results show that Cebu island gave the President a total of 1,185,690 votes, with 965,630 votes from Cebu province alone and 220,060 votes from Cebu City. Poe got only 45,828 votes in Cebu province and 58,591 from Cebu City for a total of 104,419 votes.

The official figures were reflected in the provincial COC of Cebu and the city COC of Cebu City and were validated by the ongoing congressional canvass, Durano said.

"The people’s sovereign will should be respected and should not be resisted by those planning to derail the President’s proclamation," he said.

Support for the Arroyo administration was evident in the May 10 elections, Malacañang said in an official statement, when the local government bets of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) cornered a majority of the seats in Congress and dominated the gubernatorial and mayoralty races.

The K-4 cornered 181 of the 212 seats in the House of Representatives and grabbed 64 of 79 gubernatorial positions, as well as 83 of 119 mayoralty seas in the National Capital Region and other major cities. Add to this the fact that 14 administration allies are now part of the 23-member Senate. — Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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