MANILA,  July 3, 2004
Malacañang is unfazed by the plan of lawyers of defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. and his running mate, former senator Loren Legarda, to challenge the proclamation of President Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

The President’s election lawyer, Romulo Makalintal, said the request by Poe lawyers for copies of election returns from Congress proved they lacked evidence to substantiate their accusations of cheating in the May 10 polls.

"If they really have the evidence to back up their allegations, there is no need for them to demand from Congress documents, and they can go straight to filing their protest if they want to and presenting their evidence," Makalintal said.

"Besides, the canvassing and election duties of Congress are already finished," he added.

Notwithstanding the plans to lodge a complaint before the PET, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye expressed anew Mrs. Arroyo’s appeals to the opposition for unity and reconciliation.

"We understand that it really takes time to heal the wound but we believe that somewhere in the heart of Mr. Ronnie Poe and his supporters, we will find an appreciation and the will to do the right and moral thing," Bunye said.

"The door for unity and reconciliation will always be open for FPJ and the opposition as a whole," he said.

Bunye, however, noted with satisfaction the move by the lawyers of the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) to initiate the legal process of questioning the legitimacy of the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro by Congress.

Seven KNP lawyers led by Sixto Brillantes sent a two-page letter to Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday requesting copies of election returns (ERs) and certificates of canvass (COCs) from 23 provinces contested during the congressional canvassing.

Brillantes said the President and De Castro should be considered "presumptive winners" until the prescription period for filing an electoral protest lapses.

Under the law, losing candidates should file their electoral protest within 30 days after the proclamation of the winners by Congress. Poe and Legarda have 24 days left before the prescription period expires.

Poe’s allies in Congress claimed the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro was a product of massive cheating by the administration.

Administration lawmakers called on Poe and his allies to initiate a complaint before the PET and substantiate their allegations of cheating.

Some lawmakers even predicted the complaint will be dismissed for lack of evidence.

Makalintal, for his part, said the move by the opposition only showed they were merely bluffing during the congressional canvassing when they claimed they had evidence to prove massive cheating by the administration.

"They (opposition) were bluffing and now they’re on a fishing expedition," he said.

Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Davao Rep. Prospero Nograles said the fact that the KNP lawyers are asking for a copy of the COCs and ERs from Congress shows that they are fishing for evidence.

"The burden of proof lies with the KNP which has been the one crying cheating. It now appears that all the while that they have been crying, the opposition did not have the evidence to back up their poll fraud claim," Cuenco said.

He raised doubts on the opposition’s plan to question the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro, both of whom have been sworn into office by Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., also the PET chairman.

The Cebu lawmaker said the opposition merely wanted to discredit the President and gain media mileage.

Nograles, for his part, echoed Cuenco’s observations. "Why is the KNP asking for Congress’ own copies?" he asked.

"What happened to their copies? They lost them too?"

Nograles said the copies of the COCs and ERs in Congress are only duplicates.

"(Did) the opposition fail to show any variance in their documents even during the canvass?" Nograles asked.

He said the KNP should rely on the copies of their COCs and ERs which were provided to them being the dominant opposition party during the May 10 elections.

Bunye, meanwhile, reaffirmed yesterday the stand of the administration coalition that the cases of cheating and fraud in certain areas of the country were "isolated" and thus did not affect the results of the presidential and vice presidential race.

"There is a time and place to obtain justice for those who believe they were cheated although we strongly maintain that on the whole the polls have been clean," Bunye said.

"There is always room for unity and reconciliation," he said. "Let us not turn back the clock and set back the nation with unsubstantiated controversies."

Opposition leaders had emphasized Poe has yet to make a definite stand whether to file an electoral protest. Poe himself recently disclosed he is not inclined to file one.

His spokesman, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero said there are only two options for the opposition - either file an electoral protest or take to the streets.

An avid Poe supporter, on the other hand, said taking the issue to the streets may be a futile exercise.

Jose "Linggoy" Alcuaz said some of his colleagues in the opposition are already "abandoning" the cause now that the going is getting tough.

"These are the people who would send us to battle then disappear. They are like ghosts. They appear only when FPJ is there," Alcuaz said yesterday.

Alcuaz, the former telecommunications chief during the administration of former President Corazon Aquino, has been tasked to coordinate some 102 volunteer groups that supported Poe’s presidential bid.

Alcuaz said he would provide specific details and disclose names in a book he plans to write.

Alcuaz cited last Tuesday’s rally in Quezon City which was violently dispersed by the police and the recent clashes with the police in Mendiola two weeks ago when Poe’s supporters were left on their own by their supposed leaders.

"It’s either these leaders are incompetent or afraid of battle," Alcuaz said.

Alcuaz claimed some of these leaders started to disappear after the elections. "Tumagilid ang kandidato and he (Poe) appeared to have little chance to be president."

He claimed many of those who were supporting Poe before the elections are people who had "ambitions of running for a position, being appointed, or putting up a business."

"If they’re afraid to be in the battle area, then they should resign. FPJ doesn’t need these kind of people," Alcuaz said. - Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Nikko Dizon

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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