MANILA,  JUNE 21, 2004
By Paolo Romero  -  The sudden walkout of lawyers of opposition presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. from the canvass proceedings last Friday is part of a grand plan to discredit the constitutional process and derail the proclamation of the president and vice president on June 30, administration lawmakers declared yesterday.

Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez, co-chairman of the joint canvassing committee, and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya said reports of destabilization attempts by Poe’s allies and supporters were bolstered by suspicious events days before the walkout.

"The walkout was part of their ‘no-proclamation’ (no-proc) scenario," Gonzalez said. "They keep on saying they want to help speed up the canvass yet every move they make, like asking the Supreme Court to stop the canvass, belies their claims."

Gonzalez noted the week began with violent dispersal of mass actions by Poe supporters on the streets of Metro Manila. The incidents were followed by the petition filed by opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urging the Supreme Court to stop the canvassing while his colleagues remained steadfast in delaying the count as much as possible.

He said the complaint of illegal detention and grave coercion filed against lawyers Harriet Demetriou and Rufus Rodriguez in representing the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) in the canvass proceedings were only used as a "cover" for their walkout.

Andaya, for his part, said the opposition’s agenda is to discredit the canvassing and make it appear that the process has no credibility to sow discontent among the people. "They want to sow chaos in the proceedings," he said.

The camp of independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson also said the opposition is close to "setting the country on fire" in their efforts to delay and discredit the canvassing process.

Makati City Rep. Agapito "Butz" Aquino, a member of the joint committee representing Lacson, said Poe’s allies are apparently unaware of the constitutional crisis they could be spawning.

"I’m convinced that there is planned delay for whatever agenda they have," Aquino said. "I think they’re close to setting the country on fire."

Aquino said the KNP lawmakers and their allies are apparently not interested in seeking the truth of the real winners of the May 10 vote when they staged the walkout.

The KNP lawyers led by Demetriou and Rodriguez walked out of the canvassing Friday night to protest what they described as "harassment" by the administration.

They claimed being harassed by police authorities with the filing of charges of illegal detention and grave coercion against them.

The charges stemmed from the allegations made by Tipo-Tipo, Basilan municipal election officer Radja Rashma Hali who claimed she was detained for 10 days to force her to sign statements of alleged election irregularities in the province.

‘Malevolent agenda’

Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said the walkout was a "pathetic excuse."

Dimaporo said the KNP lawyers have "malevolently used the complaint as an excuse" to further delay the ongoing canvass.

"I know that they have long been planning to stage a walkout. They are just looking for the right timing. They used the complaint (filed by the police against the KNP lawyers) as an excuse to execute the plan," he said.

Grace Lee-Maduramente, a lawyer for the ruling Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4), said the walkout staged by the KNP lead counsels during the canvassing "brings to a climax the opposition’s plot to forestall the presidential canvass."

Maduramente said the walkout has exposed the opposition’s plot to trigger widespread protest actions over their allegations of massive cheating.

"Failure to have a new set of political leaders will drive the country into a political paralysis of dire consequences that may involve anarchy, mob rule and power grab," Maduramente said.

A group of lawyers led by Rick Abcede of Lawyers for Good Governance (Filgood) branded the KNP lawyers which staged the walkout as "irresponsible and infantile."

Abcede said the KNP lawyers betrayed their oath with "utter disregard of the public interest."

He said the walkout last Friday highlighted the opposition’s plan for a no proclamation scenario on June 30.

"The pattern is very clear — this walkout is another strategy to attain the opposition’s malevolent ‘no-proc’ agenda," Abcede said.

A group of employers and businessmen also slammed the opposition in the walkout of their lawyers as a "subtle form of economic sabotage."

Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Donald Dee said the opposition should be held liable for the jittery political climate, which had led to the weakening of the peso.

"In encouraging their supporters to stage lightning rallies and by issuing statements meant to incite the people against the government, the leaders of the opposition have placed the economic survival of this nation at great risk," he said.

"We in the business sector would like to appeal to the opposition to desist from making statements or moves that would further destabilize our country."

Dee and other business leaders lamented the opposition has reneged on its campaign promise to veer away from mudslinging that characterized past elections.

Opposition leaders should explain the kidnapping charges filed against Poe’s lawyers instead of scuttling the canvassing in their refusal to field new lawyers to ensure a credible tabulation, Dee said.

"The prolonged uncertainty over this canvass is killing our business. Millions of workers are affected because it is impossible for our economy to flourish in such a politically heated environment," he said.

Dee also called on all presidential candidates to advise their lawyers against taking the opportunity to hug the limelight.

"We don’t need more graduates from the Dilangalen School of Theatrics. The people are tired of media antics," Dee said, referring to the objections made by Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen that held up the congressional canvass for several days.

On the other hand, Poe’s allies warned of an "anomalous proclamation" if the canvassing resumes without any representation from KNP lawyers.

Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero, Poe’s campaign spokesman and member of the joint committee, said the canvassing will be lopsided in favor of the administration since the KNP lawyers have yet to be replaced.

Escudero stressed the proclamation will always be doubted since the committee is dominated by administration lawmakers.

Escudero also dismissed the claims of destabilization which will be triggered by a walkout by saying this was merely the prediction made by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and government security advisers.

"They (PNP) said we (the opposition) will walk out, did we walk out?" Escudero asked.

"We will not walk out but stay and exercise our responsibilities," he said.

Even if they were identified with Poe and the KNP, Escudero said they are in a bind since the opposition lawmakers who are also members of the joint committee has to be "objective and impartial" as they can.

Lawyer Romulo Makalintal, legal counsel of President Arroyo for the canvass, said the joint committee should continue its work to protect the rights of his client to know the final and conclusive outcome of the counting.

Makalintal stressed the Constitution has given the panel a deadline but with enough time to accomplish its mission.

"How can we face the people if we fail in this mandated task," he asked.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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