MANILA,  JUNE 21, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva  -  As she is still President of the Republic, President Arroyo said yesterday she has to raise her voice in defense of democracy after the ongoing congressional canvass was marred by a walkout Friday night by opposition lawmakers.

With less than two weeks left for Congress to proclaim the winning president and vice president, Mrs. Arroyo said she can no longer keep her self-imposed distance from the canvass.

With this, the President called upon members of the media to help her defend Philippine democracy against those behind the "anarchy" being pushed by her political opponents.

Amid the opposition’s stonewalling of the canvass, Mrs. Arroyo said she was in a "quandary" because she is a candidate whose votes are still being counted in Congress.

"But I raise my voice as President of the Republic," she said.

"The presidency shall safeguard the people against anarchy and I shall stand by my oath to protect and defend the Constitution with life and honor," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President issued her appeal to the media in her brief address after the oath-taking rites of newly elected officers of the National Press Club, the Press Photographers of the Philippines and the Presidential Photographers Association held at Malacañang.

Citing the role of the Philippine media as a "champion of democracy," Mrs. Arroyo exhorted members of the press to "wield the pen and the camera and the voice for what is lawful and right."

The President said she was grateful that the pillars of the journalism profession joined her in the luncheon she hosted "at a time when we all need each other’s help and support to pull our country out of the political quagmire that we find ourselves today."

The "political quagmire" the President was referring to apparently was the canvassing by Congress which has been taking more than the usual time to proclaim the winners.

A month since the canvass started, legislators allied with the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) have raised non-stop allegations of fraud committed by the administration.

On Friday night, lawyers of the President’s chief rival, KNP bet Fernando Poe Jr. and his running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda walked out of the joint canvass session, complaining of "harassment" by the Arroyo administration.

The move was in reaction to the filing of charges against KNP lead lawyers Harriet Demetriou, a former chairwoman of the Commission on Elections, and Rufus Rodriguez, a former immigration commissioner.

Earlier in the day, police used water cannons to break up about 1,500 supporters of Poe who tried to march to Malacañang to protest alleged electoral fraud by the administration.

Without going into details, the President strongly hinted that the nation is faced with renewed threats to democracy.

These threats, she indicated, are in the magnitude of the two previous "people power" uprisings that toppled the Marcos and Estrada governments, the May 1, 2001 siege by pro-Estrada supporters of Malacañang and the July 27, 2003 mutiny by young restive soldiers.

"Our people look to your leadership (in the press) to spearhead the truth and to appeal to our leaders and people to uphold democracy and our Constitution," the President said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye earlier admitted that Malacañang was "concerned about creeping reports of adventurists plots" as the congressional canvass drags on.

The Palace, however, expressed confidence that attempts by Mrs. Arroyo’s political opponents to enrage Filipinos at staging another people power uprising will not gain ground.

Bunye said there is "no moral outrage" to cause the people to taking this course of action.

"They (Arroyo’s opponents) will not be able to get popular support because they really have no moral basis in doing this (stage people power)," Bunye said.

The "only missing ingredient," he said, is the "moral outrage of the people" to launch a massive people’s revolt against the government.

The people have no reason to join such action as he cited the May 10 national elections was generally peaceful and credible.

Meanwhile, Bunye said the Filipino people have only the political opposition to blame for the renewed depreciation of the peso and other ill effects to the country’s economy.

He appealed to the "patriotic sense" of some KNP-allied political leaders to allow the canvass to proceed without further delay.

"We all know that the continued delay in the canvass does not only affect the political stability but also our very own economy," Bunye said.

"If our economy is suffering, it is the ordinary Filipinos who suffer," he lamented.

The peso went down to a new record closing low last Friday of 56.40 to the dollar.

Currency traders said the drumbeating for public support for Poe by the opposition was causing more jitters in the market.

Traders explained that even if the country’s economy and the political system were fundamentally stable, the perception of instability was more damning on the sentiment-driven currency market.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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