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Cebu capitol standoff like a 'chess game'

CEBU, Philippines – “It’s like playing a chess game.”

This is how Police Chief Superintendent Regional Director Marcelo Garbo Jr summed up the political situation in Cebu, following the suspension of Governor Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia.

Garbo oversees police operations in the provincial capitol where Garcia remains holed up for over 3 days now. On Friday, December 21, Garcia even had a Christmas celebration in her office, complete with a message to supporters.

Acting Governor Agnes Magpale left it up to Garbo to decide on the possible physical eviction of Garcia from office. She said she ordered “super maximum tolerance.”

“This is a chess game. Whatever moves they (Garcia camp) make, if there is a threat, based on my experience as a police officer, we will have the corresponding action. It depends on developments and what they do,” Garbo told Rappler on Friday, December 21.

“Everything is volatile."

Garbo, however, said he is not the one ultimately calling the shots.

“The order [to remove Garcia] will come from the national [government]. All our actions are from the national, the DILG,” he said in reference to the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Cebu’s police chief made the statement after a tense night in the capitol Thursday amid reports the police were about to evict Garcia. No eviction occurred. A standoff continues after Garcia vowed to be removed “over my dead body.”

Garbo admitted there are negotiations between the Garcia camp and the DILG on the eviction.

Asked if there is a plan to remove Garcia, Garbo said, “There’s always a plan. You plan for a worst-case scenario. This is part of maintaining peace and order.”

Sources in government and the political circle told Rappler the DILG is not likely to order Garcia’s eviction until after Christmas. 

The Office of the President suspended Garcia on December 17 for grave abuse of authority by bypassing the late Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr and the provincial council in hiring contractual employees.

Garcia has questioned her suspension before the Court of Appeals, saying it violated proper procedure for the handling of administrative cases.

She has cried “power grab.” She is a member of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay, the bitter rival of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Roxas is president on leave of the ruling Liberal Party.

Magpale, sister of Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, is an LP member.

AWAITING ORDERS. Police Chief Superintendent Regional Director Marcelo Garbo Jr says any eviction order against Garcia will have to come from the national government and the DILG.

Palma visits Garcia, dept heads back Magpale

For the first time since Wednesday, Garcia stepped out of the capitol gates to usher out Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma Friday evening. Cebu Daily News reported that the policemen did not stop her from returning to the capitol.

Palma met with Garcia privately in her office and refused to disclose details of their talk. He just told reporters he is praying for a peaceful resolution of the case.

In past statements, Palma expressed “solidarity” with Garcia, saying the timing of the suspension “brings so much sadness.”

While Garcia gets support, Magpale also has her own show of force.

On Friday, capitol department heads met with her to support her and recognize her mandate. Just a day ago, the same officials met with Garcia who claimed then that they were still behind her.

“It has been a tension-filled week and this morning’s meetings with the department heads healed everything. We call this press conference to show to you we are moving forward in serving the province of Cebu,” Magpale said in a press conference.

Magpale also announced that she now has the support of the provincial treasurer and budget officer.

The acting governor responded to Garcia’s petition for a TRO. “As I assured you, I’m willing to step down if there is a TRO but we do no not know if there is one.”

Magpale said that with the DILG reiterating her legitimacy, “There’s no need for me to say that my being acting governor is legitimate. That’s overkill.”

She added, “I would not be distracted by the presence of suspended Gov Gwen Garcia in the main building. For as long as I can work and I have my focus, that’s fine.”

'CHARGE GWEN FOR RENT.' Acting Cebu Governor Agnes Magpale jokes that the provincial government should charge Garcia for using the capitol and its facilities despite a suspension order against her.

Garcia to spend Christmas in capitol?

Garcia’s father, Cebu 2nd District Rep Pablo Garcia, said the family may have to spend Christmas in the capitol next week to be with Gwen.

The elder Garcia, former Cebu governor, reiterated his daughter’s stand that the suspension order was illegal.

“I am saddened and to think that it was handed down and publicized during Christmas.”

In response, Magpale said no one is forcing the Garcias to spend Christmas in the capitol.

“I don’t know why they will spend Christmas there when they should not be spending Christmas there,” Magpale said.

“We should charge them for using the capitol, rental, light, water, even airconditioning,” the acting governor said in jest. – Rappler.com