Suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia yesterday dared authorities to forcibly remove her from her office, saying her exit could only happen “over my dead body”.
Policemen were fielded in the Capitol the night before, parking two trucks in front of the entrance and guarding barricades to prevent people from massing in the area but stopped short of using force.
Garcia continued to receive mayors of her Once Cebu party and supporters in the Capitol where she’s been holed up since Wednesday, when the order for a six-month suspension by the Office of the President was served by the Department of Interior and Local Government.
What she’s waiting for is a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals in Manila to challenge what she calls an “illegal order” and a “power grab”.
Garcia’s lawyers have until today, the last working day before Christmas, to get it – or she’ll have to stick to her word and spend the holidays in her Capitol office.
“She can go ahead and stay there,” said Acting Governor Agnes Magpale last night.
“All I need is the provincial treasurer.”
Magpale, who formed a four-member transition team to look into the finances and contracts of the provincial government, met with Capitol department heads past 4 pm. and told them to do their duties and acknowledge her new role as acting governor “or they will be dealt with accordingly.”
When Treasurer Roy Salubre didn’t show up, Magpale phoned the office of the Secretary of Finance in Manila to report that she would be filing a case of insubordination.
“My focus now is to perform the duties as governor. I will not be distracted by her (Garcia’s) presence. For the record, there is only one governor of Cebu and she is Acting Governor Agnes Magpale,” she told a press conference.
Asked about Garcia’s threat to stay put in the Capitol, the acting governor said “That’s not my problem. That’s the problem of the police.”
Letters were sent by the DILG to depository banks of the Province informing them that Magpale was the new Acting Governor whose signature would be honored.
“I’ve told suppliers who called up the office that I will not sign check payments for goods or services that I have not approved,” said Magpale, including food catering and bus services used in current activities of Garcia with her allies.
Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo, Police Regional Office (PRO) chief, paid a courtesy call on Magple with his senior officers in the morning. He assured that he would abide by legal processes and practice “maximum tolerance” with the crowd of supporters, mostly barangay health workers, who were transported by bus from different towns starting Wednesday.
He addressed her as “Governor Magpale” and referred to Garcia as the suspended governor.
It was on Magpale’s instruction that Garbo sent over at least 100 policemen to take down tents and chairs used by Garcia’s supporters in the Capitol quadrangle. Police also closed the entrance gate, posting more guards and adding barricades. People who enter have to show their ID cards.
The sudden confiscation past 9 p.m. caused tempers to flare. At one point, Garcia’s son Paulo went outside to demand from the police what their authority was to do so. He pushed open the metal gate, but had to fall back when police stepped in to close it again, as reinforcements arrived past 3 a.m. yesterday.
The heightened security in the Capitol compound prompted Garcia’s son-in-law Liloan Mayor Duke Frasco to complain in his Twitter account: “This is Martial Law!”
Garcia, who spent a sleepless night in the Capitol with family members, said Capitol department heads remain loyal to her as the duly-elected governor despite the oath-taking of Vice Governor Magpale.
“I will continue to discharge my function as governor of Cebu and if they want to stop me, then they have to do that over my dead body,” she said at a press conference after meeting with her department heads for two hours.
Garcia said she was ready in case police try to forcibly remove her from office, although Magpale said there was no plan to go to that extent and produce needless drama.
“I shall continue to hold office right here and they can only stop me if they will physically drag me out of this office,” said Garcia.
She said her lawyers have been seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the suspension order. She wouldn’t say which court the petition was filed in. Cebu Daily News learned from other sources the remedy was sought in the Court of Appeals in Manila.
Garcia was ordered suspended based on an administrative complaint filed by the late Vice Gov. Greg Sanchez in 2010, accusing her of usurpation of authority.
The Office of the President, on recommendation of the DILG, found Garcia guilty of “grave abuse of authority” for various acts, including slashing the budget of the vice governor’s office by over 60 percent, and taking over the appointments of his staff and consultants.
The diminished role of the vice governor, a Liberal Party member, so embittered him he filed several cases and told his daughter on his deathbed, after losing his battle with lung cancer, to continue with the complaint, which Gigi Sanchez-Zaballero did.
Garcia’s camp said the suspension order was “politically motivated” to disable a non-administration candidate in vote-rich Cebu which counts 2.4 million voters.
At least 23 mayors and 3 former mayors went to the Capitol to express support for Garcia. One of the most vocal was Daanbantayan Mayor Ma. Luisa Loot, who brought supporters with her from the northern town.
Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia, brother of Gwen, is head of the League of Municipalities in the Philippines (LMP)-Cebu chapter. He said the league would issue a statement declaring support for his sister.
Gwen Garcia said the banks that deal with Magpale are at risk of being sued.
“We are warning the banks, we have cases to file if they suddenly change the signatories of the accounts. When we get the TRO, they will be in hot water,” she said.
Garcia vowed not to relinquish power and said she was ready to hang on.
“Last night I wasn’t able to sleep. I don’t have a bed here. I never fashioned my office to be a bedroom. Tonight I may sleep on the floor or get a mattress.”
Garcia said public support for her keeps her going.
“I can’t be in high spirits (in this situation) but because the Cebuanos are behind me, this gives me the will to fight and to go on – for them and for Cebu,” she said. /With Ador Vincent Mayol and Carmel Loise Matus