MANILA,  JUNE 22, 2004 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla  -  Not so fast.

Opposition lawmakers vowed yesterday to make it difficult for President Arroyo’s allies in Congress to rush her proclamation as the winner of the presidential election, and said any attempt by Mrs. Arroyo to mend fences would be rebuffed.

The Senate and the House of Representatives will hold a joint session tomorrow on the results of the canvass of the presidential vote, which was completed last Sunday by a joint committee after 17 days of acrimonious debates among the panel’s members.

"The fight is not over yet. It just moved over to the joint Congress," Sen. Loren Legarda told a press forum. Legarda was the running mate of opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

Outgoing Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen said he would "read word for word" his report on the results of the canvass.

"The report is quite thick but we’re working within the time limit," said Dilangalen, whose numerous queries and comments on the conduct of the presidential vote considerably held up the canvass and even earned a "shut up" note from one irate spectator in the gallery.

The opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) claims Mrs. Arroyo cheated in the election and that Poe won by over two million votes according to their count.

They say Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the committee muzzled their attempts to expose fraud during the canvassing of the vote.

"To sum it up, this is an unconscionable mockery of the electoral process," Dilangalen said, adding that a cloud of doubt would hound the Arroyo administration.

Legarda said the conduct of the committee canvassing has "not been fair, transparent or credible" but she would nevertheless respect the decision of the majority in Congress.

But she quickly added that "respecting the will of the majority does not mean conceding."

Efforts by Mrs. Arroyo to reach out and mend fences with the opposition would be met with skepticism because of the distrust caused by the bitter election battle, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero and Negros Occidental Rep. Jacinto Paras said.

"It would be hard for the administration to unite the nation owing to the kind of election we had and the incredible canvassing proceedings," Escudero, who was Poe’s campaign spokesman, said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo would continue to try to bridge political divisions to ensure the country’s stability as the foreign exchange continues to suffer, which financial analysts have blamed on the political infighting.

The final tally showed Mrs. Arroyo receiving 12,905,808 votes against Poe’s 11,782,232 votes.

Independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson placed third with 3,510,080 votes, followed by former education secretary Raul Roco with 2,082,762 votes. Last in the congressional tally was evangelist Eduardo Villanueva who got 1,988,218 votes.

Administration bet Sen. Noli de Castro won the vice presidential race with 15,100,431 votes while his closest rival, Legarda, received 14,218,709 votes. Roco’s running mate Herminio Aquino placed a far third with 981,500 votes while Rodolfo Pajo got 22,244 votes. Pajo is the running mate of disqualified presidential candidate Eddie Gil.

The KNP will contest the committee’s recommendation proclaiming Mrs. Arroyo the winner, Legarda said. "We will fight along the way."

She assured the people that they would not resort to mob rule in contesting the results of the election. "We respect the Constitution but we will continue our search for the truth," she said.

In a statement, the KNP condemned the results of the committee canvassing as a "heavy blow to democracy."

"Let us just hope that Congress would not deal the death blow if and when it reconvenes as a national board of canvassers," it said. "What the majority in Congress has done is to abort the truth in the womb of our sacred electoral process," it said.

Their efforts to expose alleged fraud "have been frustrated by a majority that seems to bent at any cost on serving partisan interests in utter disregard of the national welfare."

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, one of the joint committee’s two presiding officers, said he expects "fireworks" to mark the plenary session.

He denied they muzzled the KNP in the committee hearings. "Poe’s interests have been ably protected. We allowed them to make their manifestations, observations. They were given all the opportunities to manifest their objections and issues they wanted to raise," Pangilinan said.

Police and troops are on alert for possible violent protests over the results of the canvass.

If the KNP stages its own proclamation declaring Poe the winner, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said they would be free to do so as long as they observe the law.

The same goes for protest rallies, he said.

Commenting on the opposition demands to scrutinize election returns that they said would expose fraud, Bunye said: "If they want to push through with these demands they can do it at the proper forum and the proper forum is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (the Supreme Court). This is not the proper subject of the inquiry of the joint committee. The jurisdiction of the committee only covers the canvass of the certificates of canvass." — with Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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