VP Estrada Leads Philippine Vote
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Vice President Joseph Estrada, the main opposition candidate, continued to hold onto his strong lead today in the Philippine presidential count despite escalating criticisms over the slow pace of vote-tallying.
Counting of senatorial races, due to start in Manila today, was delayed for at least a day after no provincial tally sheets arrived.
Estrada’s party claims that government officials have been pressuring their local counterparts to slow the count from Monday’s election to enable cheating by the ruling party.
Estrada said election returns have been delayed in 19 of the Philippines’ 78 provinces.
The secretary-general of the leading poll watchdog group acknowledged growing apprehension about the pace of the count.
``The public has a right to be concerned when the count is slow,″ said Luz Guillermo of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL).
President Fidel Ramos said he instructed the government election commission to speed up the count and look into reports that some copies of tally sheets have not been provided to NAMFREL.
In the southern province of Sulu, election officials ordered ballots to be taken to Manila for a complete recount because of reports of irregularities and equipment breakdowns.
Hundreds of soldiers backed by armored personnel carriers escorted the ballot boxes to Manila.
With about 16 percent of the ballots counted in the 10-candidate race, Estrada continued to have a large lead with 36 percent of the vote, NAMFREL said.
Ramos’ hand-picked candidate, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, moved into second place with about 13 percent. Senator Raul Roco dropped to third, slightly behind de Venecia, NAMFREL said. A majority is not needed for victory.
On Wednesday, Manila’s influential archbishop, Jaime Cardinal Sin, called on Estrada’s rivals to concede defeat.
Sin, who earlier warned that an Estrada presidency would be ``most probably disastrous″ for the country, issued a pastoral statement saying, ``I believe the trend is now clear.″
Estrada, a college dropout who has admitted a history of womanizing, heavy drinking and gambling, has been opposed by many in the country’s traditional establishment, including Sin, Ramos and former President Corazon Aquino.
The hand-tallying of votes is expected to take several weeks.
Meanwhile in southern Zamboanga del Norte province, a group of unidentified men threw a grenade late Wednesday into a victory party for a mayoral candidate in Sibuco town, killing two people and injuring 26, police said.
The Commission on Elections estimates that about 80 percent of the 34 million registered voters participated in Monday’s vote.