Gwen Garcia won’t step down
MANILA, Philippines – Cebu Gov Gwendolyn Garcia has refused to step down after Malacañang served her suspension order over an administrative case and swore in the President’s party mate as acting governor on December 19, Wednesday.
Early in the afternoon, she issued an executive order to all department heads at the capitol, to make it clear that they should receive orders only from her since she remains the governor.
"I continue to be the governor of Cebu…. I am the chief executive of this provincial government and our department heads, being under the executive department, shall follow orders from the duly elected and duly installed governor with a mandate from the Cebuano people," said Garcia.
Garcia arrived at the capitol only minutes after Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Region VII director Ananias Villacorta swore in Vice Governor Agnes Magpale to take the governor’s responsibilities.
Suspension orders such as this has to be received by the subject or any of her representatives. In Cebu’s case, the DILG director reportedly just swore in Magpale when nobody from the governor’s office signed to receive the suspension order.
Garcia later cited this detail as reason for her not to vacate her seat. She said she had yet to receive the suspension order since this was only posted outside her office.
Old case by LP member
The suspension stems from an administrative complaint filed by the late Vice Gov Greg Sanchez in 2010, shortly after Garcia started her third term and 5 months before the complainant would die of cancer.
Sanchez, a member of the Liberal Party (LP), accused Garcia of hiring 19 consultants without the authority of the provincial board. The suspension order served by the DILG, dated December 18, only stated the case number (OP Case No. 10-H-383) but not the details of the case.
In a statement, Garcia said the 6-month suspension being imposed on her “is unprecedented in its harshness.”
The case “involved purely procedural questions regarding the implementation of the budget, and no accusation of malversation of public funds, or involvement in illegal activities such as gambling, or any offense involving moral turpitude.”
More importantly, the governor pointed out, investigations into administrative complaints are supposed to be concluded within 120 days from the date of filing, as provided in the Local Government Code.
This case, however, was revived and acted upon more than two years after it was filed. In Garcia’s words, it “survived the death of the complainant, and has outlived the mandatory 120-day period” for such probes to be terminated.
Garcia called the suspension order “plain and simple, a power grab.” There are 6 remaining months in her term as governor, which is covered by the length of the suspension, “so that this suspension actually amounts to a removal from office.”
Garcia, of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), is on her last term, but is fielding her brother, Cebu Rep Pablo John Garcia, to be her successor. Pablo John will be challenged in 2013 by two independents and LP’s Hilario Davide III.
Davide ran against Gwen in 2010, but lost by 96,341 votes. His running mate, Sanchez, won and filed the case against Gwen 4 months into their term.
Garcia said her suspension is "a patently illegal order" by which Roxas is “[overturning] the will of…Cebuanos” who elected her.
She told her constituents: “I assure the Cebuanos that in accordance with their mandate, I shall continue to discharge the functions of the office of Governor of the Province of Cebu until the remedies that due process affords me, and available under our laws, are exhausted.”
Cebu is the province with the biggest voting population. As of 2010, it had 2,434,809 voters.
In next year’s elections, Davide’s running mate is Vice Gov Magpale. The latter is a sister of former energy secretary and now Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Almendras.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), a coalition to which Garcia’s One Cebu Party belongs, said the suspension is meant to weaken rival camps in vote-rich provinces so the LP, which Roxas heads, can take control of them in time for the elections.
"Apparently, Secretary Roxas is using the vast powers of his office to dig up old complaints against local officials and use these cases to harass and intimidate. This is not 'daang matuwid' (straight path). This is Gloria part 2," said UNA secretary general Toby Tiangco.
“This is a return to the discredited practice of the Arroyo regime where the people's will is subverted and government power is used to harass and persecute political opponents," he added.
During President Arroyo’s time, she also ordered the suspension of strong local officials who were opposed to her. UNA’s head, Vice President Jejomar Binay, was among those who got suspension orders when he was Makati mayor.
Tiangco said UNA is expecting Roxas to defend his “selfish political agenda” by accusing his critics who are against the Aquino administration’s reform agenda.
"Mr. Secretary, we do not question the President’s reform agenda. We embrace the campaign to reform government, and to make government officials more accountable to the people. However, accountability should be applied to all government officials regardless of political connections or affiliations.That, for us, is the essence of walking the righteous path," he said.
"The issue is not reforms. The issue is the disturbing pattern of political persecution by Secretary Roxas of the LP's opponents in the 2013 elections," Tiangco added.
Garcia’s suspension came 5 days after Roxas presented a mayor who accused another non-LP ally of receiving bribe money from operators of the illegal numbers game jueteng.
Re-electionist Pangasinan Gov Amado Espino of the Nationalist People’s Coalition is being challenged by LP’s Hernani Braganza, a mayor and close friend of President Aquino. – Rappler.com