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Meet Cebu’s defiant governor

(To those who have followed Gov Gwen Garcia's political career, the defiance she is showing now -- refusing to step down after the Department of the Interior and Local Government imposed on her "a patently illegal" suspension order -- is not surprising. Since she was first elected governor in 2004, she has demonstrated a certain toughness in her politics and in running the capitol. Rappler is re-publishing this profile of Garcia, which first came out under the title "Super Gwen" in the print edition of Newsbreak on March 14, 2005. Tell us if she's not for real, as her critics said then; or, as she indicated in the interview, under pressure to perform well as the first female governor of Cebu and her father's successor.)

CEBU, Philippines – The first female governor of Cebu knows her stuff and shows it off.

Three months into her term as the governor of Cebu, Gwendolyn Pilar 
Garcia, 49, caused a commotion in the capitol. The roof above her
office had been leaking, and she wanted the problem fixed quick. So, 
clad in jeans and high-heeled shoes, she climbed up the roof to inspect
 the holes. After photojournalists had documented the moment from all
 angles—she was later called “Catwoman” for this—the governor climbed 
down and went back to work.

She’s been the subject of great photo-ops and has made brave sound
bites since she assumed office last year so that many observers have
 likened her to President Arroyo, whom her family supported. She’s done
 surprise inspections of ongoing projects, and reprimanded erring
 contractors and department heads in front of the media. On her first
 day in office, she told capitol employees: “I don’t need your love, I
 need your professionalism.”

Critics say Gwen is not for real. Early in her term, Vice Mayor Ricardo Ramirez of Medellin town said, “She is one pretentious person who is more for show.” Obviously, Ramirez has revised his opinion, for he has since become friends with the governor.

Even without such criticisms, Gwen is under tremendous pressure to prove herself. Her political pedigree and place in history are making the public watch her closely. She is the first woman to become governor of Cebu. “That is the biggest challenge. Because I am the first woman governor, I know that I will be blazing a new trail. What I do will cast judgment on the rest of the possible women leaders after me,” she told Newsbreak.

There have been 23 governors before her, and the one she succeeded happened to be her father, Pablo Garcia.

Unfortunately for Gwen, seven months after she took over, the impression about her being an all-for-show leader remains. Of the people who were initially hostile toward her, only the vice governor and some opposition board members have mellowed.

“They have probably been fed many misimpressions about me. The more they observe me, they will probably start liking me.”

Gwen started making waves not in Cebu but in Ormoc City in Leyte. Ormoc residents recalled how she helped their city when a disastrous flash flood struck in 1991. With communication and power lines down in Ormoc, she used her handheld radio to contact her brother Winston Garcia (now GSIS general manager), who was then a provincial board member in Cebu, to ask for help.

Her plea was aired over radio dyRC in Cebu, giving disaster victims a glimmer of hope. That made her popular in Ormoc and became a big factor in the victory of her father-in-law, Eufrocino “Dodong” Codilla, who ran for mayor in 1992. She became Codilla’s consultant and was instrumental in Ormoc’s reconstruction.

Gwen is the eldest of Garcia’s 8 children. After her father finished 3 terms as governor, he endorsed Gwen as gubernatorial candidate. She eventually inherited the throne, winning with a margin of more than 7,000 votes over her nearest rival.

Marriage had brought her to Ormoc City, where she lived for 20 years. Now separated from husband, Winnie Codilla, she is a mother of 3 and grandmother to a two-year-old boy.

Gwen used to run the GGC Group of Companies (GGC stands for Gwendolyn Garcia Codilla). From a gasoline station in Ormoc, her business grew into a firm with interests ranging from security to construction, trucking, and general services operating in Leyte and Cebu.

She served as Mayor Codilla’s consultant from 1992 to 1996, and was involved in practically all matters related to running the city government. Critics complained that she threw her weight around city hall and that she acted like she was the mayor.

This was where she learned her first lessons in local governance, especially on budgeting, considered her expertise.

Some say she left Ormoc when she separated from her husband. “I decided to go back to school, after I saw that everything was already in place,” she explained. She had not finished college when she married at 22.

In 1999, she earned a degree in mass communication at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She proceeded to take up law in the same school. She was a freshman law student when she stopped to help her father, who was on his last term as governor.

Having spent two decades in Ormoc, Gwen hardly knew the political figures in Cebu and the controversies. “I came to Cebu with no baggage and preconceived notions because I knew too little about Cebu politics,” she used to say.

For more than two years, she served as her father’s consultant. She practically ran the capitol, behind the scenes, while her father took care of politics. Gwen reduced delays in the delivery of services and completion of projects, and recommended projects that needed priority.

Critics tagged her as “Super Gwen,” the “little governor.” Some saw her as the “Iron Lady” absorbing blows from critics.

When she became governor, she appointed her father, brothers Pablo John, a lawyer, and Byron among her consultants. She has been criticized for making the provincial government a “family enterprise.”

When she was barely two months in office, former Sen. John Osmeña filed charges of plunder against her and her father. He alleged that the father-and-daughter team had diverted almost P1 billion from the capitol treasury to her campaign war chest in the last elections.

But judging by how the governor has so far lived up to her monikers Super Gwen, Iron Lady, and Catwoman, she can probably hack it in this first term, at least. – Rappler.com