CONGRESS  SHOWDOWN  SEEN  TODAY

MANILA,  JUNE 22, 2004
(STAR) 
By Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz  -  A showdown is expected in Congress today as the administration bloc of President Arroyo pushes for her proclamation as the country’s next president and the opposition puts up a last-ditch effort to tar her new mandate and delay the inevitable.

Sen. Joker Arroyo predicted that Mrs. Arroyo can actually be proclaimed today if Congress follows the precedents set in the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections.

"If Congress should go by precedents and the (canvassing) rules, there should be no reason why the proclamation of the president-elect and vice president-elect cannot be completed today," he said in a statement.

At the center of debates will be the 15-page report of the 22-member joint committee on the recently concluded canvassing and the proposed joint resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives declaring the results of the elections and proclaiming Mrs. Arroyo and Sen. Noli de Castro as the duly elected president and vice president.

The draft report was circulated yesterday among committee members and almost all the majority lawmakers have signed it.

Arroyo said under the rules, the sponsor of the joint committee report has one hour to speak and his opposition counterpart also has one hour.

Subsequent speakers for or against the report are given a total of three hours, while a speaker for each candidate can speak for no more than 20 minutes.

"All told, speakers are allotted a total of six hours. What could delay the vote are interpellations. In 1992 and 1998, there were no interpellations. The rules are silent on that. But parliamentarians the world over on both sides of the aisle would never give up that privilege," Arroyo said.

Under the rules, members of minority bloc are assumed to concur with the report if they do not submit a dissenting opinion within 24 hours after the report is circulated.

Allies of Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) presidential bet Fernando Poe Jr. vowed to read their "minority report" and exert all efforts to gain the support of members of Congress to shoot down the resolution.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon said the majority bloc will take a hardline stance against attempts to derail the final and crucial proceedings to proclaim the new president and vice president.

"We will just put a stop, we will rule them out of order if (their speeches are) way beyond the allotted time, the reglementary period," De Venecia told a press conference yesterday after emerging from a meeting of the pro-administration committee members.

He added that "everybody is expected to behave within the rules, which are clearly defined and we will respect everybody’s democratic space and we will be reasonable."

De Venecia said that for today’s debates, he expects "initial fireworks but no major explosions."

Drilon said they will not allow filibusters and do not expect a walkout by Poe’s allies.

"Nothing could be achieved with a walkout," he said. "We will allow the dissenting report but there could be only one committee report."

De Venecia described the report as "a faithful summary of the joint committee sessions" that is "very detailed, very substantial."

He said the proclamation may take place either tomorrow or on Friday, noting that the opposition lawmakers already appear to be "resigned" to the inevitable.

Both leaders of Congress observed that there are no more legal roadblocks to Mrs. Arroyo’s proclamation following the Supreme Court’s dismissal of opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s petition asking that the canvass be declared illegal and unconstitutional.

However, opposition lawmakers will not come to the battleground without ammunition.

Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras, a staunch Poe supporter, said they have prepared "an array of arguments" to prove the committee report is false, but refused to elaborate.

He said their colleagues in the majority bloc cannot simply shove them aside and ram the report and resolution down their throats.

"Definitely it’s not going to be a walk in the park for them," Paras said.

Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero, Poe’s spokesman and a member of the committee, said they will present on the floor the true outcome of the last elections and prove that the administration had engaged in a massive vote-padding and shaving scheme that robbed Poe of the presidency.

Pimentel said based on their own tabulation of the election returns, Poe won by a margin of 400,000 to 500,000 votes.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos said the report will have to "pass through an eye of a needle."

Arroyo, who sided with the administration lawmakers during the canvass, said on May 28, 1998, the joint session of Congress "was convened at 4:27 p.m. and by 4:49 p.m., it adjourned after proclaiming the winners."

"De Venecia, who lost to President (Joseph) Estrada, was gracious enough to preside in the session that formally pronounced his defeat," he said.

The 1992 presidential election that pitted Fidel Ramos against then senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was a hotly contest electoral exercise, just like the May 10 polls, according to Arroyo.

He said the proceedings in the joint committee then were protracted, just like the 13-day tabulation done by the panel led by Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan and Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez.

"It was only on June 22, 1992, just one day earlier than the present joint session, that Congress was able to convene to proclaim the winners. It took them just one day, starting at 4:43 p.m. and by nightfall, the winners were proclaimed after several speakers, for and against the canvassed results, spoke," Arroyo said.

He pointed out that aside from these precedents, the Senate and the House can rely on their canvassing rules to expedite the proclamation of the winners.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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