About a thousand people joined a rally in front of the Capitol yesterday to show support for suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia on the 12th day of a standoff with authorities.
Supporters carried placards that read: “Padayon Gwen”, “LP stop harassment” and “Stop Martial Law”.
Standing on a wooden table in front of the flagpole, Garcia urged the crowd to unite behind her cause as she repeated her pledge not to leave the Capitol even if authorities have to drag her out (“bali-balion ang iyang bukog”).
It was her first time to come out and address a crowd since she holed up in the Governor Office on Dec. 18, defying a six-month suspension ordered by the Office of the President as a penalty for “grave abuse of authority” in an administrative case filed by the late vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr.
The crowd, which included residents from Moalboal town, Alegria, Naga City and Carcar City, walked to the Capitol from Fuente Osmena, where a 2 p.m. Mass was held at the park.
At first, a thin crowd of urban poor residents from Cebu City gathered for Mass presided by Fr. Dennis Boltron, with participants saying it was a Rizal Day activity until the priest announced in his homily that he hoped the impasse in the Capitol would be resolved.
Then more supporters appeared, and a larger group marched to the Capitol with placards, including one with a caricature of of Acting Governor Agnes Magpale grabbing the island of Cebu with the words “Gusto Ko Mopuli.” (I want to take over)
Gwen vowed to face adversity “for the sake of Cebuanos” as she invoked the blessing of the Sto. Niño and St. Pedro Calungsod.
“Magkahi-usa kita mga Sugbo-anon sa lalaiwagan og sa dakbayan. Magkahiusa kita ning atong tinguha nga ang kamatuoran ug hustisya ibalik dinhis sa Sugbo,” she said.
(Cebuanos of the province and city, let us unite to bring back truth and justice.)
Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo, regional police director, said the crowd reached 1,000 at its peak but remained peaceful until it ended after a short program and the governor’s speech.
He was observing the activity from a distance, and said that aside from some traffic congestion that had two lanes closed to vehicles by the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management, the rally passed without incident.
Asked if the rally had a permit, Garbo told Cebu Daily News he was shown a permit issued by the office of Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama.
At the Capitol’s front steps, Garcia emphasized that the presence of the crowd showed how “angry” Cebuanos are over her suspension.
DON’T BE USED
Acting Gov. Magpale, in radio dyAB interview, said the rally showed that “the right to peaceful assembly is alive and well in the Province of Cebu.”
But Magpale appealed to the people “don’t let yourself be used” and said Garcia was “agitating” Cebuanos to take part in a protest against a lawful order by the Office of the President where “the main issue against her is abuse of power.”
“ This is not a proxy war between Vice President Binay and Secretary Mar Roxas as some quarters may want to make it appear — this is President Aquino’s fight against corruption,” she said.
Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy, a former law school dean and Liberal Party ally, said the governor was “inciting to sedition” in her speech by urging the people to go againt a legitimate order of the President.
In a separate speech, Rep. Pablo John Garcia repeatedly referred to Magpale as “overacting” and said the timing of the suspension, covering the last six months of Gwen’s term, stacked the coming 2013 election in Magpale’s favor.
Their parents, Rep. Pablo Garcia and retired judge Esperanza Garcia watched the rally from the balcony with their son Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia.
Gwen, in her speech, called the suspension, part of ‘dirty politics’.
“Kay ang buot nilang mopuli kanako, kauban nila sa partidong gamhanan, ang Liberal Party. Igsoon pa gayud ug usa ka secretary to the cabinet,” she said referring to Magpale. (They want to replace me with the administration Liberal Party, a cabinet secretary’s sister.)
Alegria Mayor Amelita Guisadio, Moalboal Mayor Inocentes Cabaron and the governor’s broth Barili Bice Mayor Marlon Garcia were there.
Gwen first watched the crowd from a hallway window on the second floor. Past 4 p.m., she appeared at the Capitol balcony and waved to a crowd that roared.
She then walked down to the front of the quadrangle near the flagpole and got a mircrophone to speak.
Speeches were also made by her daughter Christina Frasco and brother Rep. Pablo John Garcia, who eiterated that the suspension order is illegal.
Gwen said she was fighting for “justice”, the mandate of the Cebuanos who voted for herself, and not for herself.
“Kining akong pagbarog, kining akong pagpabilin sa katungdanan wala ko kini buhata alang kanako lamang. Kay kung ako na lang kasayon ang akong gihuna-huna, kung ang ako na lang kalipay ang akong gihuna-huna, ilabi na karon panahon sa Pasko, dugay nako niuli kay aron moadto ko sa akong panimalay aron isaulog ang pasko kauban sa akong pamilya,” she said.
(If I was just thinking of myself and my happiness, I would have gone home a long time ago to celebrate Christmas with my family.)
Garcia slammed Magpale for closing Sugbo TV and Sugbo News, and blamed her for police checkpoints on roads that prevented other supporters from coming to the Capitol. Magpale later said she was not aware of any police checkpoints set up on the roads. She issued a statement after the rally:
“We are saddened that groups with political interests are using this as a means to further their interests in continued defiance of a lawful order from a duly constitited authority. It is mob rule that these groups are trying to espouse which sadly does not reflect the sentiments of majority of the peace-loving and law-abiding populace of the Province of Cebu.
“We find it disturbing that in this season of peace and harmony, followers of suspended governor Gwen Garcia are using her UNA allies and remnants of the Arroyo regime to try to agitate Cebuanos to take part in a politically motivated protest against a lawful order by the office of the president. This is not a proxy war between VP Binay and Sec. Mar Roxas as some quarters may want to make it appear – this is President Aquino’s fight against corruption,” she said.
“But we are heartened that suspended Garcia’s attempt to create trouble had largely been ignored by the politically mature citizens of one of the country’s most progressive provinces. Cebuanos, regardless of their political leanings, prefer a legal and peaceful solution to the problems created by Garcia and her UNA allies. In the spirit of the season, we continue to exercise maximum tolerance and pray for their enlightenment,” she added. /Carmel Loise Matus, Jucell Marie Cuyos and Marian Codilla with Joy Cherry Quito and Christine Emily Pantaleon