by Atty. Golly Ramos
The ongoing drama at the Provincial Capitol unfolded when the defiant Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, true to form, stuck to her guts and disregarded the suspension order from the Office of the President.
As a local chief executive, she was expected to set the example and be the first to give respect to the law and the legal process. This characteristic obstinacy in pursuing her wishes and forgetting the clear provisions of the law, is among the reasons she was suspended, and became a recipient of pending cases, including those filed against her by fisher folk, farmers and environmental advocates.
The impasse, however, cannot be allowed to last. Public order has to be maintained. Government cannot afford to be seen as weak and inutile.
While legal remedies are available to her, R.A. 7160, the Local Government Code (Code), clearly provides in section 67 that “Decisions of the Office of the President shall be final and executory.” The President exercises direct supervision over governors and mayors of highly urbanized cities.
Section 68 of the Code states further that:
SEC. 68. Execution Pending appeal. – An appeal shall not prevent a decision from becoming final or executory. The respondent shall be considered as having been placed under preventive suspension during the pendency of an appeal in the event he wins such appeal. In the event the appeal results in an exoneration, he shall be paid his salary and such other emoluments during the pendency of the appeal.
Garcia was meted suspension for grave abuse of authority. The Office of the President (OP) adopted the recommendations of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo rendered in July. It is a surprise however that the OP’s Decision was served only in December.
The Ruling can be read at http://www.scribd.com/doc/117373898/malacanang-order. The dispositive portion reads as follows:
“As a public officer, respondent has a sacred duty to observe the law. Respondent’s actions in hiring employees of the Office of the Vice Governor and SP when the appointing power is lodged in the Office of the Vice Governor , and in entering into consultancy contracts without the prior authority of the SP, were in violation of the law amounting to grave abuse of authority. The slashing of the budget while not illegal was suggestive of oppression, harassment and vindictiveness with respondent utilizing the powers of her office and affinity to the SP.”
Gwendolyn Garcia has no option but to bow to the majesty of the Law and accept that there is now an acting governor of the Province of Cebu in the person of Agnes Magpale. The latter has to be commended for her cool yet steely resolve to follow the rule of succession laid down by the Code.
While it is a normal reaction to be in denial, when confronted with a crisis situation, it is unhealthy to be in that state for so long.
“Move on”, as people will say, else the path to healing will be long, arduous and painful.
If there is any lesson to be learned from this experience, it is that no one has a permanent claim to any public office or be protected from accountability. Every public official and each citizen, for that matter, has to keep that in mind. If the highest officials in the executive and judicial branches of our country are now facing charges, would lower functionaries believe that they are so immune?
But in the Philippines where political dynasties have become entrenched and patronage politics the unfortunate norm, it takes sheer determination and yes, political will, to follow the Law and exact public accountability.
The present stand-off reveals how the Law is being taken for granted by those in government. Civil servants in institutions such as the Ombudsman, the independent commissions, the judiciary, the enforcement agencies and the prosecutorial arm of the government should kowtow to no one but to their fealty to the Law and their oath of office.
The powers of control over executive departments and supervision over local government units must be exercised by the President to the fullest, irrespective of personalities involved. We are fed up with the unsightly spectacle of politicians quarreling among themselves, unmindful of the sordid effects on the constituents.
Let us bring decency back in public service. Le the Rule of Law reign.
President Aquino certainly deserves a pat in the back for bringing to justice the big fish perceived to be violators of their oath of office. He also did what no President ever did – he was instrumental in the passage of the long-overdue bill on Reproductive Health and the signing into law of the Sin Tax and the criminalization of the involuntary disappearances of citizens.
Times are certainly changing – for the better.
Let us give the best gift to the young and the unborn let us unite, accept each other’s uniqueness, and begin the journey to healing and forgiveness. The words of Jack Canfield, the editor of “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II,” are unforgettable:
“And so I wait. I wait for time to heal the pain and raise me to my feet once again-so that I can start a new path, my own path, the one that will make me whole again.”
Happy holidays, everyone!