MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia has filed a petition for temporary restraining order before the Court of Appeals (CA) seeking to stop a six-month suspension order issued against her.
"Ako po'y umaasa na there is still justice, we can still find redress in our courts. Na-file po natin sa Court of Appeals," Garcia told dzMM.
"I will defend this mandate na ibinigay sa akin ng mga Cebuano. I will continue to stay here. Kung ibig nilang ipatupad ang isang illegal na order, eh they will have to do that by physically pulling me out and I will also fight with my last breath kung kailangan," added the governor, who remains inside the Cebu Provincial Capitol in an act of defiance to the order.
Garcia was recently suspended by the President for alleged grave abuse of authority. She was charged in 2010 by then Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr. of withholding budget for his office.
Sanchez died in April 2011, even before the Department of the Interior and Local Government, headed by then Secretary Jesse Robredo, could start its investigation.
The report of Robredo on the Garcia case was forwarded to the Office of the President only in July 2012.
Garcia believes that the president, citing the Local Government Code, should have rendered a decision on the matter 30 days after the end of the investigation.
The suspension order, however, was only signed last December 17.
Sanchez, in his complaint, accused Garcia of usurping his authority by slashing his budget for the salary of contractual employees under his office.
Garcia, for her part, said the decision to put the funds intended for Sanchez to her office was approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
She also believes that the punishment imposed on her for a "flimsy" accusation was too harsh. "Kasi napaka-flimsy talaga ng charges na ito. Reprimand at first lang sana," the beleaguered governor said.
The third-termer governor, who is seeking a seat in the House of Representatives in 2013, also lamented the timing of the suspension order.
"Clearly, ginawa talaga ito at the time na Christmas season - walang regular hours ngayon, maraming mga naka-bakasyon," she said.
"More so, ang lapit-lapit na ng election, ginawa pang 6 months suspension. Napaka-harsh ng sentensya for an alleged offense…it's tantamount to removal from office."
Abuse of power
The governor said the ruling Liberal Party is now working on controlling vote-rich provinces, citing her case and that of Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino Jr. who was slapped with a plunder case for allegedly protecting and operating jueteng operations in his province.
She also noted the supposed bias of the government towards its allies.
"In the case of Caloocan, si Mayor Recom Echiverri, may suspension order. Ang sabi ni Echiverri: 'Eh sandali pupunta muna ako sa court, I'll try to get TRO.' Hinold nila yung suspension order, eh bakit iba sa akin? Porke magkaiba ba kami ng partido?" she said.
"Ito ay mga tricks of some people, kasi gustong magkaroon ng undue advantage sa darating na halalan. Ayaw nila ng fair play, kailangan silang mag-resort sa ganitong klaseng political harassment. This is a clear display of abuse of political power."
The government has denied that politics is at play in the suspension of Garcia.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Secretary Ricky Carandang welcomed Garcia's move to question Malacañang's decision to suspend her for 6 months.
"If the process was indeed not followed and there were lapses on the part of the DILG, then the best thing to do right now, which is exactly what she did, is to bring it to court. The court will see very quickly that the process was not followed and it will issue a decision," he said in an interview on Thursday.
"If the process was not followed, the governor has nothing to fear. In the meantime, there is a presumption of regularity and she should step down, file for a [temporary restraining order] and if the process was not followed, it is only a matter of time when the court will say rules were not followed," he added.