Cheers and applause broke out among Capitol employees when their Christmas bonus was announced yesterday.
“We will give at least P30,000 or 14th month pay whichever is higher,” said Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre in the Legislative Building.
Standing beside him, Acting Governor Agnes Magpale beamed, happy to show that Capitol department heads, who had ignored their new boss for two days, were finally behind her.
For the first time since a three-day standoff began over the suspension of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the mood in the Capitol lifted with Christmas cheer and stirrings of a return to normalcy of government affairs.
Magpale, addressing about 300 employees after a 10 a.m. Mass , offered a “fresh start” for everyone, saying she had “no more rancor” against department heads who defied her new mandate because she understood they were initially confused about the situation.
The P30,000 bonus is larger than last year’s P20,000 Christmas bonus for each provincial employee.
The Provincial Board later convened to approve a P51 million outlay for the bonus in a special session presided by the newly designated acting Vice Gov. Julian “Teban” Daan.
Meanwhile, Garcia, who insists she is still the legitimate governor, attended a separate Mass in her office, where she was teary eyed and later let tears fall as she embraced loyal employees who approached her.
When Garcia attended the Capitol employees Christmas party at the Capitol Social Hall, she announced that her lawyers have filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and status quo ante to stop her suspension.
“While waiting for the legal process, I will continue to serve as governor,” she said. Employees applauded her speech three times.
As of 5 p.m. yesterday, no TRO was issued by the court with the prospect of a long weekend ahead leading up to Christmas Day on Tuesday.
Garcia, who had vowed to stay in the Capitol and warned that she would have to be forcibly removed “over my dead body”, is looking at spending Christmas with her family and loyal supporters in the government building.
“I am here not to give you another amount,” she said, referring the the Christmas bonus she had planned on announcing herself.
“I’m here because I wish to be with you for the last time in our traditional Capitol Christmas party.”
Garcia explained to the employees that the suspension order against her is invalid.
“The authority of the people emanates from the people and I am the governor elected by the people of Cebu. It’s the people who gave their decision on who they want to serve them so I will stand by these words,” she said.
Some Capitol employees were teary-eyed in the audience. Later the mood switched to joyful laughter as employes performed entertainment numbers with dance music, songs and costumes in the annual Christmas program.
In other developments:
*Undersecretary Austere Panadero of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is flying to Cebu today to assess the situation and assist in resolving the impasse at the Capitol;
* The Sugbo cable TV staff under the governor’s office was notified that operations would be shut down.
Magpale informed the head of the program that the high operation cost of the 24-hour cable channel program would be reviewed. About 35 casual employees are affected.
* The Capitol bonus would benefit 1,000 Capitol employees and officials, even the suspended governor. Each employee would also get one sack of rice each, ce each. Barangay health workers can also get P2,500 each while the barangay tanods can get P1,500 each.
Capitol department heads met at 9 a.m. with Acting Governor Magpale, including the treasurer, Salubre, who was given an ultimatum to show up or face a charge of insubordination.
“During the meeting, in the end…I embraced each and every department heads who defied my earlier order. Dili man nato kinaiya ang magdumot, Ania ako dili aron manggukod,” Magpale said later to Capitol employees.
(It’s not my nature to bear a grudge. I’m not here to seek revenge.)
Magpale said she understood their situation, and decided to forget and forgive.
Present in the meeting were 14 departments heads.
“In the spirit of Christmas, I pledge to you that there’s no more rancor in my hearts. I prayed over this, and I think my prayers triumphed,” she said.
Magpale asked employees to cooperate because she had “so many things to do” as acting governor. Her first agenda, she said, was to assess the financial status of the provincial government “for the sake of transparency and accountability.”
At the end of the Mass, employees and some department heads gathered around Magpale, extended their hands and gave a group blessing as she stood with head bowed with Fr. Joseph Anore leading the pray over.
Salubre, in an interview later, said he reported to Magpale after receiving an a written order from the Department of Finance to “follow all lawful orders” in order to “avoid civil and administratively liability in the discharge of your official function”.
Salubre said he apologized to Magpale for refusing to report earlier and brief her on Capitol finances but was also sorry for Garcia.
“Sorry kang Ma’am Gwen, we are just following orders”, Salubre said.
Magpale assured employees that she would promptly step down if a court order is issued for this.
“If there is a court order to step down, I will gladly step down. I will never cling to this position, I will not use people to rally behind me. But as long as I am sitting as acting governor, armed with the authority given me by the Office of the President and the DILG regional director I will do my best to serve the Cebuanos,” she said.
On Garcia’s announced plan not to leave the Capitol, Magpale said she has not given any order for a physical eviction and that her directive to the police 7 was to use “super maximum tolerance.”
“I don’t want anybody to be hurt. I can tolerate her (Garcia). It’s up to the PNP because there was violence the other night,” she said, referring to a confrontation at the gate where a male Garcia supporter slapped a police team leader in the head, knocking off his cap.
In an interview with Rappler, Police Cheief Supt. Regional Director Marcelo Garbo responded to Garcia’s “over my dead body” statement.
“I had a dialogue with the former governor and I told her the end state of what will happen. There is a possibility, a great possibility that what she is saying (physical eviction) will happen. But we ask her not to make those kinds of statements,” said Garbo. /Junnex Napallacan, Ador Vincent Mayol and Carmel Loise Matus