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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

High drama in Cebu days before birth of the Prince of Peace. Gov. Gwen Garcia terms six-month suspension as “plain and simple power grab” vs. LP cabal. Nation watches in deep anxiety.


Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia
Critics opine that the recent suspension of Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, as personally handed down by no less than the President of the Republic,and her replacement by Vice-Governor Agnes Almendras Magpale, sister of former Energy Secretary and now ranking Palace official Rene Almendras, smack of political persecution. There is reason to support this argument.

Under the Local Government Code, within 30 days of investigation of a local official being charged, the result must be handed down; moreover the Code dictates that the shelf-life of an administrative case should be no more than 120 days. These safeguards were doubtless installed precisely to avoid political harassment of the charged official.

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But as Gov. Garcia argued in an urgent motion before the Court of Appeals, the investigation against her filed by then Vice-Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr. was terminated last Aug. 31, 2011. But the decision to suspend her, pointed out Gwen, came out only last Dec. 17, 2012---or 474 days later (in fact Sanchez had already died of cancer by April of 2011).  

The question she now raises is, why only now, with elections six months away, is she being suspended? 



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DILG Secretary Mar Roxas opined that he  is just enforcing the recommendation to the Palace of his predecessor, the late Jesse Robredo, just weeks before the latter died in a plane crash. But Gwen Garcia asserts that assuming that Robredo had made this recommendation, then it was violative of the Code which sets the 120-day deadline for dismissing an administrative case.

Besides, as Star columnist Bobit Avila argues, "didn't this same Jesse Robredo not give Gov. Garcia and Cebu province two plaques of appreciation for Good Housekeeping?"

Snorts Gwen: "My suspension is plain and simple power grab.” It’s easy to see her logic.  

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Three-term Gov. Garcia is scheduled to run for a congressional seat in Cebu under the local party called National Unity Party (NUP), led by her father, Rep. Pablo Garcia Sr. On the other hand, her brother, Rep. Pablo John Garcia, will run for Governor vs. the LP candidate handily defeated by Gwen in 2010, Hilario Davide Jr.

Suspending Gwen is supreme irony, as the nation will celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace in three days. With the controversial passage of the RH bill and now this political earthquake in Cebu, Christmas has never been this troubled in this nation’s life. We feel especially for the deeply religious Cebuanos.

Politically a 6-month suspension for Gwen will mean that the NUP would be unable to mobilize effectively for the 2013 elections in all the posts of its many candidates. Harsh penalty indeed for her making appointments to the vice-governor's office, as the charge sheet says. As a governor of another province reasoned on hearing this charge, this is common practice and allowed by the Code.

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As Garcia’s supporters began storming the Capitol even as thousands of police began barricading it on the DILG regional office’s orders, LP bigwigs were quick to point out that she could take recourse to filing a TRO with the court.

Her lawyers filed a petition before the Court of Appeals, and reports say it was immediately raffled to the 12th Division of the CA. But obviously the Palace operators know full well that the courts, like all government and private offices, will be closed for the holidays---giving Gwen little option but to leave the Capitol. But this feisty lady has said her enemies would have to drag her out of there “over my dead body.”
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As tensions rose in Cebu whose 2.4 million total votes are second only to Metro Manila’s, analysts try to fathom the administration’s latest power move. Apparently the LP seeks to strengthen the hand of its candidate for governor in 2013, Hilario Davide III, whom Gwen had defeated in 2010 by nearly 100,000 votes.
In addition, Gwen’s suspension may be ascribed to two other reasons: her out-and-out support for Lakas candidate Gilbert Teodoro in 2010, as well as the fact that her father, Rep. Pabling Garcia, was the towering pillar of the anti-RH bloc in the House. Pabling attacked the bill with brilliance and studiousness despite his advanced age, exposing its constitutional infirmities and raking up archival laws few of his colleagues were aware of, to debunk provisions of the RH bill.

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The Garcias, who are close to the Church, are an old political family in Cebu and a powerhouse bloc to reckon with. Two Garcias, Pabling Sr. and Pablo John are representatives in Congress, Mayor Nelson Garcia of Dumanjug, Gwen’s brother, heads the Cebu chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, and another brother, Marlon Garcia, is Vice-Mayor of Barili town. Gwen's mother is a retired judge.

 Since Gwen’s suspension, at least 26 incumbent and former mayors some of them LPs, have trooped to the Capitol in support of the beleaguered governor.

Tonight there were unverified reports that Garcia would be forcibly removed from the Capitol. But from what I gather, police troops around the Capitol have also turned rather apathetic in enforcing it. Understandable, as it’s almost the eve of Christmas, in case LP bigwigs have forgotten.

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Interestingly, the plight of the Garcia family is also dividing other political families. For instance, Cebu City’s current representative and its former longtime mayor Tomas Osmena, who abstained in the RH final vote, is said to be a mortal enemy of Gwen, while his cousin, former Sen. John Osmena, now running for mayor of Toledo, Cebu, is now allied with the Garcias who were his former political enemies too.

Even President Aquino’s family is affected. Talk was that Gwen was supposed to have been ousted physically from the Capitol last Dec. 20, but suddenly former Tarlac Gov. Tingting Cojuangco arrived there and stayed until 3 am. the following day, to commiserate with and encourage her embattled friend.  Tingting later made a startling assertion to media: that DILG Secretary Mar Roxas is now making the decisions in the Palace!

Just how credible Tingting’s claim is will be for the political pundits to explore. One thing sure, though, the family reunion of the Cojuangcos this Christmas must be a bit icy, as P-Noy must be roaring mad at his aunt-in-law (Tingting is the wife of P-Noy’s uncle, former Rep. Peping Cojuangco, President Cory’s younger brother).   

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I have not communicated with the Garcias, but from mutual friends, I learned that what pains Gwen particularly is that she nurtured the political career of Vice-Gov. Magpale.  When Vice Gov. Sanchez died last year Magpale, as the No. 1 provincial board member, was sworn into the vice-governor’s post.

The two women became best friends and worked well together, with Gwen bringing Agnes around in national as well as international conferences, giving her the needed exposure, or actually representing her. Now Magpale has become an arrogant puppet of the P-Noy administration and one of her first acts as governor was to shut down the province’s TV and news stations.

On the other hand, Gwen certainly has the support of majority of the Cebuanos as well as various governors around the country, who are now said to be watching their backs lest they suffer a similar fate from the hands of the ruling LP. A number of top national officials have also called her up from Manila to express support.  

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Six months before the 2013 elections, fissures from Cebu's huge tectonic quake will register on the national level as well. For the Garcias are allied with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) led by Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada. So far it has been only the UNA spokesperson, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, who has been attacking the LP move vs. Gwen. VP Binay personally has kept quiet, doubtless worried about his own fate from the Ombudsman.

But time may be running out and imminent split with the administration is in order for the VP, who's in charge of overseas Filipinos and the Housing Czar,  and UNA.  

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As for the Church in Cebu, an indication of its influence is that the representatives of the province and capital city, led by Rep. Pabling Garcia,  voted near-solid against the RH bill. In the battle between Gwen and the LPs, it’s easy to see where the Church’s true sentiments would lie, given the travesty of justice against her. Reports say Cebu Archbishop and CBCP President Jose Palma met with Garcia’s group last night, but no details were given.

The Cebu political quake will be keenly followed because of its grave implications on the political landscape. As in past tectonic events such as EDSA 1 and 2, there are imponderables. But one thing is certain: in its arrogance of power the P-Noy administration is making blunder after blunder. The nation watches.


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