MANILA, Philippines - The ruling Liberal Party slammed allegations by the national opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) that the LP is engaging in a "disturbing pattern of political persecution" targeted at opponents in the 2013 elections.
This was after Malacañang suspended Cebu Gov Gwendolyn Garcia on Wednesday, December 19, just 5 days after an investigation into Pangasinan Gov Amado Espino's alleged involvement in illegal numbers game jueteng was announced.
Both moves involved the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which is headed by LP president Manuel "Mar" Roxas II. Garcia and Espino are aligned with the opposition and are perceived to be strong rivals, either as endorser or actual rival, of Liberal candidates in their provinces.
In a statement released by UNA, spokesperson Toby Tiangco said LP and Roxas "hijacked" President Aquino's campaign for good governance to serve their "selfish" political agenda.
"This is without a doubt a power grab by Roxas and the LP. 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," it said.
Roxas, however, denied that Garcia's suspension and the investigation on Espino were politically motivated, and instead encouraged both governors to respond to the charges against them.
"Why don't they just answer the complaints? Because there's evidence, there's truth. If there have been violations of whatever law, they can't use the defense that this is all just politics. If there are offenses, there are violations. If there are violations, then they need to be punished," Roxas said in Filipino.
LP stalwart and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad agreed, saying evidence will bear the truth.
"Let's allow the judicial and legal processes to proceed… this process will now give parties the chance to prove themselves right or wrong," he told Rappler in a text message.
Tiangco also noted in the statement that both Cebu and Pangasinan are vote-rich provinces, and that both targeted governors are opponents of Roxas and the LP.
Cebu is the province with the biggest voting population. As of 2010, it had 2.43 million voters. It has 8 congressional districts (including the two in Cebu City), 9 cities, and 44 municipalities.
Pangasinan is the second vote-richest province, with about 1.6 million voters. It has 6 congressional districts, 44 municipalities, and 4 cities.
With the suspension of Garcia, Cebu Vice-Governor Agnes Magpale, a member of the LP, replaces her, "thus giving the administration party effective control over the province," said Tiangco. In next year's polls, Magpale will be the running mate of Hilario Davide III, who already lost to Garcia in the 2010 gubernatorial race. This time, Davide will be challenging Garcia's brother Pablo John.
On the other hand, Espino, who is running for a third term next year, has a lone challenger in Alaminos Mayor Hernani Braganza, a trusted lieutenant of Roxas and a good friend of President Benigno Aquino III.
When questioned about the seemingly convenient timing of the surfacing of both cases just 5 months before the elections, Roxas emphasized that the decision of whistleblower Bugallon Mayor Rodrigo Orduña was his own, and that it could not have possibly been influenced by Malacañang.
Liberal Party deputy spokesperson Teddy Baguilat also defended the LP and Roxas, saying the DILG is only doing its job. He argued that jueteng probes "go beyond party politics."
"Let's face it. It's an open secret that Pangasinan has always been on the top of the list of provinces where jueteng is prevalent. The probe is not on one particular politician only but on possible collusion of the Philippine National Police and local government unit officials. Party politics doesn't have anything to do with this," he said.
On the case against Garcia, Roxas also emphasized that the complaint had been filed two years ago on November 2010, and that Garcia had been given due process.
"In short, this was nothing overnight. What we are doing now is simply implementing the order. If we don't, that would be dereliction of duty," he said.
Garcia has refused to step down from her position.
Meanwhile, the DILG has formed an investigating body to probe Espino. It has asked the governor to respond to the allegations against him.
The body will be led by DILG Undersecretaries Rafael Santos and Austere Panadero, and will function with assistance from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and other government agencies. The agencies will help the DILG see if Espino's Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Networth reflect the alleged P900 million that he received in jueteng money.
Roxas emphasized that Espino will be given due process in the investigation. - Rappler.com