APRIL 6, 2006 (STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin - President Arroyo can’t be unseated despite allegations of cheating in the 2004 presidential race, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the other night.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos said the poll body can no longer revoke the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo as the country’s duly elected president.

"We can no longer do anything about the outcome (of the 2004 presidential race as) President Arroyo has already been proclaimed," Abalos said in a television interview.

The Comelec chairman said the electoral protest against Mrs. Arroyo was effectively a "dead issue" with the death over a year ago of her closest political rival, Fernando Poe Jr.

Abalos said the best the Comelec could do about renewed allegations of electoral fraud would be to conduct a full-blown investigation after evidence is submitted before the poll body.

"I do not affirm nor deny that there was cheating, but if they could bring evidence to our office I assure you we will go after them," he said.

Abalos said the Comelec is ready to prosecute those found to have been involved in fraud during the 2004 presidential elections.

"The election protest against Mrs. Arroyo may be a dead issue, but as far as election law is concerned, the Comelec will prosecute those who committed electoral fraud," he said.

Critics of Mrs. Arroyo have accused her of conniving with former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to steal votes from Poe.

Meanwhile, National Movement for Free Elections legal counsel Jose Bernas belied yesterday allegations that the electoral watchdog had favored Mrs. Arroyo in their quick count.

"It’s unfair and unkind for them to accuse us that we deliberately stopped our count at 85 percent when Mrs. Arroyo was leading," he said.

"They’re just trying to find somebody else to blame."

Earlier, Abalos dared those with evidence to come forward and prove that Mrs. Arroyo cheated in the 2004 presidential election.

"If they have evidence, let them come and bring it to us so we can see this evidence and undertake an appropriate investigation," he said.

Abalos maintained there was no manipulation of vote tallies or any other irregularities as was claimed by management consultant Herminigildo Estrella during Monday’s testimony before the Senate inquiry into election cheating allegations against Mrs. Arroyo.

He noted that Mrs. Arroyo’s alleged phone conversation with Garcillano happened on May 29 or five days after the Comelec had completed its vote count.

Abalos said the certificates of canvass (CoCs) counted by the Comelec were the same ones used by Congress in tabulating its results.

"If there were differences in the CoCs as they were claiming, what is it? Because the results of our canvassing and that of Congress were the same," he said.

"I am challenging them to show us if there were tampered CoCs."

Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra told the same Senate inquiry Monday that there was indeed cheating, but not on as massive a scale as the opposition has been claiming.

However, Abalos said Borra later told him that his comments before the Senate had been taken out of context.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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