MANILA,  JUNE 24, 2004
By Pia Lee-Brago  -  Calling the recently concluded congressional canvass a "tragedy for the Filipino people," Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. warned yesterday that another people power may be in the making if the government prohibits people from conducting protests in the streets.

"We are supposedly in a democracy and no longer under martial rule and yet we have the sad experience of our elections being marred with allegations of massive fraud, compounded by the suppression of legitimate protests," Guingona told a forum at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

He said the government should not curtail the publicís rights to peaceable assembly and seek redress of grievances, comparing the current political situation to "boiling water. When the lid is closed more tightly, the earlier the boiling point will be reached."

Guingona lamented that the canvass of votes for president and vice president by Congress was not merely a ministerial function ó as claimed by the majority - but actually "has a quasi-judicial character that should have been allowed to ferret out the truth as to who won in the polls."

He said the two chairmen of the joint committee ó Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan and Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez ó should have allowed the opening of election returns to ensure that they tallied with the figures in the certificates of canvass questioned by the opposition.

"The railroading by majority members of the joint committee has stained the entire electoral process," Guingona said, noting that truth and justice had been sacrificed in favor of a speedy proclamation.

He said that the elections were a tragedy since instead of "being a vehicle for stability it would mean less and less democracy."

Guingona added that filing an election protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal is fruitless because it would take years to resolve.

"Itís fruitless for all tactical purposes because although itís constitutional, it will involve opening up so many ballot boxes. Thereíll be interminable delays," he said.

Guingona called on Mrs. Arroyo to come up with a "formula" to start the healing process and pacify the leaders of the opposition, who earlier warned they might not be able to stop their supporters from taking to the streets to protest the "fraudulent" elections.

"She has spoken about the healing process then thereís the opposition... seeking the truth. There must be a formula where you can heal and at the same time ferret out the truth. There has to be in government some search for a solution for this," he said.

Guingona, who supported the candidacy of defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., said he will not be able to attend the inauguration of Mrs. Arroyo and Vice President-elect Noli de Castro on June 30. He will be attending the inauguration of his son, newly elected Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III, on the same day.

The elder Guingona, whose term expires at noon of June 30, vowed to make a stand and speak about critical issues in government even after he steps down from office.

He also said he is now open to shifting to a parliamentary system of government from the current presidential form, but warned that he will oppose those who will use this system to concentrate power in the hands of a few.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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