CEBU, Philippines – Cebu Governor Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia is holed up at the Cebu provincial capitol for the third day after challenging her suspension before the Court of Appeals.
Garcia said she is waiting for the CA to grant her petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on her suspension.
Without the TRO, the governor has vowed to leave the post “over my dead body.” She spent her second night in the capitol Thursday, December 20.
The governor and her lawyer and daughter, Christina Frasco, refuse to give details on when the petition was filed, saying they are “waiting for another development.”
“I’m standing my ground. I’m standing by the rule of law. This is an illegal order. By its very essence, it did not follow the proper process. The gravity of the penalty is not commensurate to the alleged offense,” Garcia told reporters in Cebu.
Garcia is fighting Malacañang’s order to suspend her for 6 months, effectively cutting short the rest of her term ahead of the May 2013 polls.
She slams the order as “patently illegal,” and said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) did not personally serve it on her last Wednesday, December 19.
The case stems from a November 2010 complaint filed by the late Cebu Vice Gov Gregorio Sanchez Jr, accusing Garcia of bypassing his office and the provincial council in hiring contractual employees. Sanchez died in April 2011.
In several interviews and press conferences in Cebu, Garcia outlined her legal arguments:
“The investigation was terminated August 31, 2011 so 30 days after that, we should have had a decision, September 31, 2011 but the decision came out Dec 17, 2012, that’s 474 days later,” Garcia said.
“The records from the late Sec Jesse Robredo were transmitted July 26, 2012. There should have been a decision 30 days right after but this came out Dec 17, 2012, which is 144 days later.”
Garcia said, “That’s out of the process, why just now? Christmas season? Not only is it very unchristian but they also know that during the Christmas season, there’s so many holidays, the courts may not be open for a full week so that we may go and seek legal redress.”
The governor slams her suspension as a "power grab."
‘Decision long overdue’
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas has said though that the order followed “full due process.” Roxas is president on leave of the ruling Liberal Party (LP). Garcia is allied with the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) founded by Roxas' bitter rival, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
“The complaints were filed in November 2010 and were looked into for over two years. Gov Garcia was given the chance to refute the accusation,” Roxas said.
Acting Cebu Gov Agnes Magpale echoed Roxas. Magpale took her oath on Wednesday and has begun discharging her duties. Cebu police paid her a courtesy call, recognizing her mandate.
Initially a provincial board member, she became vice governor upon Sanchez’s death.
In a press conference Thursday, Magpale said, “We have long expected this (suspension) to happen. If this came out a long time ago, it won’t be branded political. It just so happened it came out now.”
Magpale confronted Garcia’s charges of political harassment. Magpale belongs to the LP.
“In fact, I never dreamed of becoming vice governor, much less governor …. I promise to account to Cebuanos every centavo,” she said as a jab at Garcia.
Magpale also addressed criticism that she is the sister of Aquino classmate and Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras.
"I've been in politics for 20 years. My brother is 18 years my junior. My brand of politics is different. To drag my brother's family here, that's very unfair."
Magpale disclosed that the DILG already ordered banks not to recognize Garcia’s signature. She also threatened to remove the provincial treasurer from office if he refuses to heed her orders.
On Friday, December 21, provincial board member Julian Daan said he will defy a DILG memorandum naming him acting vice governor. Daan, a partymate of Garcia in the local One Cebu Party, said the move is a sign of support for the beleaguered governor.
No ‘assault’ on capitol
A tense night occurred at the provincial capitol following reports that police will physically evict Garcia Thursday night.
Garcia’s younger brother, Cebu 3rd District Rep Pablo John Garcia, told reporters Thursday, “I think they plan to assault the capitol and physically remove the governor from her office. It is suspicious because why do they do this at a very unholy and ungodly hour?”
“The intention might not just be to physically remove the governor from the capitol. It might be something even more insidious,” Rep Garcia said.
Garcia’s family including father Cebu 2nd District Rep Pablo Garcia stayed with her Thursday night. Tingting Cojuangco, UNA senatorial bet and President Benigno Aquino III’s aunt also stayed the night to show her support.
Overnight, policemen were stationed on the capitol grounds but no eviction occurred.
In an interview with Rappler, Police Chief Superintendent Regional Director Marcelo Garbo Jr responded to Garcia’s “over my dead body” statement.
“I had a dialogue with the former governor and I told her the end state of what will happen. There is a possibility, a great possibility that what she is saying (physical eviction) will happen. But we ask her not to make those kinds of statements,” Garbo said.
MARtial law or propaganda?
Rep Garcia decried the increased police presence in Cebu’s capitol and the supposed checkpoints Magpale ordered in the province. The acting governor categorically denied ordering checkpoints to stop Garcia supporters from reaching the capitol.
Security is tightened in the capitol, with ordinary citizens unable to enter parts of it. Reporters though have access to Garcia's office.
“This is a naked show of brute force on the part of the LP. This looks like martial law, with emphasis on the Mar,” Rep Garcia repeatedly said.
“The Cebuanos are a peaceful people and if they see the symbol of their province is being desecrated by the people of Manila, people resent the fact that somebody like Mar Roxas is lording it over Cebu.”
'Don't drag Cebuanos in issue'
Garcia is running to replace his sister as governor while Gwendolyn is running to take his seat as representative of the 3rd district. Rep Garcia will be up against Hilario Davide III of the Liberal Party. Magpale is Davide's running mate.
The Garcias have linked Davide to the suspension order that they brand as a “pattern of political persecution" after the plunder case filed against Pangasinan Gov Amado Espino Jr of the Nationalist People's Coalition early December. Like Cebu, Pangasinan is a vote-rich province.
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.
Yet Davide told Rappler, “I did not have a hand in the suspension order of Gov Gwen.”
Davide admitted that Roxas informed him of Garcia’s suspension order Tuesday evening, "being the chairman of the LP in Cebu." He slammed Garcia’s criticism of Roxas, Magpale and the LP as "propaganda of the desperate."
Davide and Magpale said many of the Garcia supporters who came to the capitol were made to believe that they would be receiving bonus only to find out it was for a vigil for the governor.
“The problem with them (Garcias) is they drag the Cebuanos in the issue. They’re the ones causing confusion. It’s clear, there is an order. They have legal remedies. Just tell the truth,” Davide said. – Rappler.com