MANILA,  JUNE 21, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva  -  Deposed President Joseph Estrada said yesterday his close friend, opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr., believes he won the presidential race but was "cheated" by President Arroyo.

Calling from his detention quarters at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, Estrada told The STAR the other day he was not at all surprised that Poe has been going around the country denouncing the alleged "massive" cheating in the May 10 elections.

"They have used all the government resources in cheating him," Estrada said. "Nasaktan talaga siya (He was really hurt)."

Estrada threw the support of his own Partido ng Masang Pilipino behind Poe and his Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

Poe "really believes he won by as much as 400,000 to 500,000... based on these" certificates of canvass (COCs), Estrada said, claiming that the massive electoral fraud is the reason "why they don’t want the election returns opened."

A 22-man joint congressional committee is currently tabulating the votes for president and vice president at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City.

Taking up the cudgels for the Arroyo administration, official presidential campaign spokesman Michael Defensor insisted that Mrs. Arroyo posted a clean and clear victory over Poe.

He argued that the KNP, like Mrs. Arroyo’s Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4), posted lawyers all over the country during the May 10 elections to make sure the votes were protected at every stage of the electoral process.

Defensor said the KNP’s lawyers never questioned the election returns when they should have done so at the precinct level, but had waited until the congressional canvass, where the returns can no longer be questioned.

As a "compromise," he reiterated the K-4’s offer to temporarily set aside the questioned election returns but not the entire COC for the province.

"But the 25 COCs (the KNP) wanted to set aside because in 17 of these, the President won in them," Defensor said. "I don’t think it is fair because we all know that the President posted the largest margin in Visayas and several parts in Mindanao."

KNP members in the 22-man joint canvassing committee — Senators Edgardo Angara, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Tessie Aquino-Oreta, and Vicente Sotto III — tried but failed to have the election returns of the COCs under question opened during the canvass.

Pro-administration senators, led by Joker Arroyo, have successfully voted down persistent attempts by KNP legislators to have precinct-level election returns opened to check against the tally of votes in questioned COCs.

Estrada said that the administration camp is now being haunted by the prospect of a walkout by opposition lawmakers.

"They did that during my impeachment at the Senate," he said, referring to his impeachment trial at the Senate, wherein private prosecutors and congressmen, led by Arroyo, walked out after Estrada’s lawyers refused to allow the opening of the second envelope containing evidence of his alleged secret bank account under the alias "Jose Velarde."

"When I finally agreed to have these envelopes opened, they did not want them open. Had they opened it, people would have seen that the alleged secret bank account is not mine but that of Jaime Dichaves," Estrada said.

The second envelope was opened by Pimentel after Estrada was ousted at the end of the popular uprising in January 2001.

Estrada pointed out that now, the pro-administration lawmakers "don’t want to open the envelopes of the COCs to see who really won in this presidential election."

"Weather-weather lang talaga!" he wisecracked.

Estrada vehemently denied allegations that he has been inciting his supporters to join protest rallies to denounce the alleged massive electoral fraud against Poe.

"How can I help him when I have been in detention for more than three years already?" he said, but admitted that he has been talking with Poe whenever his friend calls on him.

Estrada refused to say if he advised Poe on his recent barrage of public statements against Mrs. Arroyo.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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