MANILA,  JUNE 21, 2004
By Marvin Sy  -  The joint committee may have all but finished its canvassing of votes, yet Malacañang is still anticipating a walkout by opposition legislators in a bid to preempt the proclamation of the president and vice president.

Presidential spokesman for campaign issues and concurrent Housing Secretary Michael Defensor believes the walkout will take place during the post-canvass plenary debates. The joint committee is expected to spend two days finalizing its report and consulting with election officials before it submits the canvass results to the plenary.

Defensor, a former congressman, said that in theory the debates should last no more than six hours but in practice they could stretch out to two days. "On Wednesday and Thursday there will be debates by the House and Senate, and this is when we expect (the walkout)," he said. "In the end there is still a possibility that they would walk out."

Defensor expects the entire process to end on Thursday as he sees no further reason for the opposition to delay the proclamation. He said that the opposition may have realized the futility of their attempts to discredit the canvass and portray the elections as plagued by fraud. Defensor downplayed the walkout staged by the lawyers of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) last Friday because of alleged harassment by the administration.

The walkout was staged after KNP lead counsels Harriet Demetriou and Rufus Rodriguez were charged by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police with illegal detention and grave coercion. Defensor said that the walkout by the opposition’s legal team was unwarranted as only two of its 34 members were charged.

Members of the opposition allied with the KNP have repeatedly denied they would stage a walkout even as they maintained that the canvassing was full of anomalies.

Bro. Eddie wants 3 election returns scrutinized By Jess Diaz The Philippine Star 06/21/2004

Evangelist Eddie Villanueva, an also-ran in the May 10 presidential election, made a last-minute appeal to the Senate-House joint canvassing committee yesterday to let the truth out by opening some precinct-level election returns.

"I ask the joint committee to open at least three ballot boxes (containing the ERs). This is a small price to pay in respecting the people’s right to know the secrets, if any, hidden in the deep recesses of the ballot boxes. This will also ensure that a legitimately elected president comes out of a credible and trustworthy process," he said. His appeal is contained in a statement and a letter addressed to the canvassing panel which were separately read by opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and party-list Rep. Kim Bernardo-Lokin of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption. Pimentel later converted Villanueva’s appeal into a motion, but the canvass committee overwhelmingly voted it down just like numerous previous opposition requests for the opening of precinct tallies.

Villanueva said he had discussed his proposal with Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, to whom he has expressed his "distress and the people’s misgivings about the last elections," and who, he added, shared his appeal to the canvassers. "The nation will heave a sigh of relief if the joint committee allows a reasonable proposal that even only three ballot boxes chosen by the opposition be opened and scrutinized," the leader of the Bangon Pilipinas movement said. "If the contents of the three ballot boxes possess no signs that fraudulent acts were committed against the will of the people, Bro. Eddie will be the first to stand up and call on the people to support the canvass and the legitimate winner of the elections. "If fraudulent acts are found to have been committed, then the other ballot boxes that contain alleged fraud be opened as well and exposed to the sunlight," he said. He warned the committee that if his request were denied, "then I will seriously consider the advice of Cardinal Vidal in his statement after the 1986 snap elections." In his statement which Villanueva quoted, Vidal said "a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis. For such an access to power is tantamount to a forcible seizure of power and cannot command the allegiance of the citizenry."

"If such a government does not itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people, then it is our moral obligation as a people to make it do so," the Cebu prelate said.

The Bangon Pilipinas leader pleaded with the canvassing panel to also heed the counsel of Supreme Court Justice Renato Puno in his separate concurring opinion on the dismissal of the opposition petition challenging the constitutionality of a joint committee canvass. Puno said: "The nation can ensure a slow but trustworthy tally. It may not survive an indefensible count, however speedy it may be… An unreasoned or unreasonable judgment by Congress runs the risk of rejection in the parliament of the streets of the people."

"In closing, I pray that those who hold the key to stability and peace in this very troubled nation of ours respond with open hearts and minds so that this raging conflict can be laid to rest," said Villanueva. The camp of opposition standard bearer Fernando Poe Jr. claims that if the joint canvassing committee tallies the votes based on the election returns, the popular actor would defeat President Arroyo by about half a million votes. The congressional count, which is based on provincial-and city-level certificates of canvass, shows that Mrs. Arroyo won by more than a million votes. Shortly after the canvassing panel decided to ignore Villanueva’s request, Representatives Monico Puentevella of Bacolod City and Eduardo Nachura of Western Samar called a news conference to clarify Cardinal Vidal’s endorsement of the Bangon leader’s appeal. The two said Vidal called them by phone to tell them that "he did not realize that it (Villanueva’s proposal) would open a Pandora’s box and that it involves thousands upon thousands of ERs."

"I am not a politician and I don’t know about these election returns," Puentevella quoted the cardinal as saying.

"His concern now is that this canvass and the proclamation of the winners be finished as soon as possible," he said.

He added that Vidal’s call to him and Nachura was arranged by Serge Remonde, a media handler of Mrs. Arroyo during the election campaign and head of a sequestered television station. Nachura said Vidal "did not realize the magnitude and implication of opening the ERs."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved