MANILA, Philippines - Vice President Jejomar Binay had advised Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia not to leave her post, saying her suspension for 60 days over an administrative complaint was unlawful.
This was disclosed yesterday by former President Joseph Estrada, who also said it was “un-Christian” for the Aquino administration to suspend Garcia during the Christmas season.
Malacañang, for its part, said yesterday that the suspension enjoyed strong public support in Cebu and remains in effect unless stopped by the courts.
In a telephone interview with The STAR, Estrada said he made his sentiment known to Garcia in Cebu when he visited her the other day together with Binay and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
“I told her that her suspension was very un-Christian because it was made during the Christmas holiday,” Estrada said. “They could have done it after the holidays. It was ill- timed. It’s very unfair. The timing was very un-Christian.”
Estrada said Garcia’s suspension has subjected her to unnecessary harassment.
“Instead of attending to the Christmas season, she is now attending to her suspension,” Estrada said.
Estrada said he, along with Binay and Enrile – the leaders of the United Nationalist Alliance – visited Garcia last Sunday to show UNA’s support for her.
“We just wanted to show her that UNA is first in public service and first in understanding,” Estrada said.
Garcia called her suspension a “patently illegal order” and “plain and simple power grab to overturn the will of the Cebuanos.”
In her official Facebook account, Garcia has been getting messages of support from her fellow Cebuanos. Her latest status update was posted on Dec. 19.
“Please also unite in our aim to be heard! Use #supportgwen and #onecebu hashtags for your tweets! cebuanos unite! – admin,” her latest status update read.
Another Garcia supporter said, “Visayans have separate islands but we are ONE and no body can bully us.”
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima vowed to continue maintaining peace and order in the province.
“Our job in Cebu is to maintain peace and order and to secure everyone involved in that incident,” Purisima said in a forum at Camp Crame, referring to the barricading of the provincial capitol by Gacria’s supporters.
‘Will of the people’
A survey done in Cebu shows the people’s strong support for the suspension of Garcia for six months due to an administrative case, Malacañang said over the weekend.
“We’ve been monitoring the situation in Cebu and, based on what we have heard, the suspension has popular support among the people of Cebu based on the local survey,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“We didn’t conduct the survey but we get a report also from Cebu – the local dailies that are conducting surveys. Regardless of what the sentiments of the governor are, we certainly would encourage her to follow the rule of law,” Lacierda said.
The presidential spokesman belongs to the so-called Balay faction in the Cabinet whose head is Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who is on leave and has relegated the presidency of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) to DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
He said Garcia, a member of UNA, should follow the process and await action on her appeal for a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals (CA).
“She has already filed her petition. No TRO was issued by the Court of Appeals and, therefore, the suspension stands,” Lacierda said.
The acting Cebu governor is incumbent vice governor Agnes Magpale, a sister of Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who is known to be a close friend of President Aquino, being a classmate from grade school to college at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“If I’m not mistaken, like I said, the business of governance is ongoing. Acting Governor Magpale’s orders are being honored by the provincial government. Her valid orders are being executed by the province of Cebu and its different agencies,” Lacierda said.
DILG Undersecretary Austere Panadero corroborated Lacierda’s statement.
“As far as we are concerned, acting Gov. Magpale is in charge of running the day-to-day affairs of the provincial government. Various department heads of the capitol and the provincial Sanggunian affirmed their support for her last Friday. Gov. Gwen has already raised the matter to the CA; pending CA action, the acting governor should perform her functions as mandated by the Local Government Code,” Panadero told The STAR.
The Palace has denied that politics was behind Garcia’s suspension.
Palace insiders disclosed that Roxas’ camp chose from among three administrative complaints pending before the Office of the President, and picked what it thought was the easiest one to resolve, which turned out to be the filed by Garcia’s vice governor the late Gregorio Sanchez.
Sources also revealed that Garcia had originally been recommended for a 60-day suspension but that this was upgraded to six months, or until June 2013, or when the May 2013 elections are over.
A two-month suspension would allow Garcia to campaign for reelection against Hilario Davide III, the LP’s gubernatorial candidate in the local elections and son and namesake of the retired Chief Justice. The younger Davide lost in his gubernatorial bid in May 2010 to Garcia.
Meanwhile, the LP assailed UNA leaders for voicing support for the barricading of the Cebu provincial capitol by Garcia’s supporters.
“We lament that UNA leaders are stoking fire in supporting the barricade at the Cebu provincial capitol, instead of making law and the legal process prevail,” acting LP spokesman and Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said.
He was commenting on Saturday’s visit to the capitol of Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Estrada to show their solidarity with Garcia. The three hired a private plane to fly to Cebu.
Evardone said that if UNA’s top three leaders believe in the legal process, “they should have advised Gov. Garcia to leave the capitol and let the legal process take its course.”
“The governor herself has already sought refuge in the legal system by petitioning the Court of Appeals for a temporary restraining order. She should obey the suspension order issued by the Office of the President while awaiting the court’s decision on her petition,” he said.
He said the UNA leaders should let the court petition of Garcia take due course “if they were true to their word that they are a constructive critic of the Aquino administration and not the opposition preparing for the 2016 elections.” With Jess Diaz, Cecille Suerte Felipe