A sea of red blanketed the front of the Capitol yesterday as an estimated 3,000 supporters of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia held a rally on the eve of an appeals court hearing of her petition to stop Malacañang from suspending her for six months.
Supporters in red shirts gathered at Fuente Osmeña and marched to the Capitol, where policemen watched from barricades.
Garcia left her office, stood atop a makeshift stage on a six-wheeler truck, and lambasted Acting Gov. Agnes Magpale for being “power hungry” even as she vowed to continue defying President Aquino’s suspension order.
About 400 meters away, a crowd of about 600 people attended Mass at the Our Lady of Sacred Heart church on Escario Street where they prayed for the “rule of law” to prevail and a peaceful end to the Capitol standoff.
The Mass was sponsored by supporters of President Aquino and Magpale, and ended with the release of white balloons.
Both rallies ended without untoward incident, police said.
In Manila, President Aquino told reporters there was “clear evidence” warranting the suspension of the Cebu governor as he denied allegations that the move had something to do with the upcoming midterm elections.
“I am sorry, napaka-klaro nang ebidensiya. There was a violation of the pertinent rules and regulations and there is a corresponding penalty … we are blind as to party affiliation,” the President said.
Aquino said it was just coincidental that Garcia belonged to a party affiliated with the United Nationalist Alliance. He said her suspension was thoroughly studied by the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“Mahaba yung proseso (The process was long). The complaint originated in 2010, if I’m not mistaken. Dumaan sa pagkahaba-habang proseso ang imbestigasyon ng DILG under (the late) Secretary Jesse Robredo, dinala sa Office of the President and the ES (executive secretary) studied the matter at lumabas na may mga base ang reklamo,” the President said.
Today, the Court of Appeals in Manila will hear oral arguments of Garcia’s petition seeking to scrap the suspension and grant a temporary restraining order.
Garcia, who marked her 22nd day holed up in her Capitol office, first watched her supporters action from her office window.
At 5 p.m. she went to the balcony and waved to the crowd. As the crowd chanted “We want Gwen”, she walked down to join her brother, Rep. Pablo John Garcia, who was speaking atop a truck bed used as a stage.
Gwen, who wore a red shirt and denims, emerged from the Capitol escorted by her brother Byron and at least four men in black shirts later identified as members of a group called the New Guardians of Freedom and Democracy.
A metal barricade in the front steps was moved by the police to let Gwen pass through.
Her father, Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia, said they chose the color red as it symbolizes courage as they called on people to “Stand up for Cebu.”
Senior Supt. Paul Labra said the crowd reached 4,000 at its peak in Fuente Osmeña, then went down to 2,000 t 3,000 as they reached the Capitol.
In her speech, the suspended governor lambasted her critics, particularly acting governor Magpale, for mounting a “power grab.”
“Sila mipuli ug sayod kamo niining mga sunod nga adlaw nga siya milingkod. Nag-buot buot nga acting governor,” she said.
“Sa daghan niyang gihimo nagpakita lamang sa iyang pagkahakog sa gahom.”
(You have seen in the past days that she has taken over, making decisions as acting governor. With all she has done, she has only shown her greed for power.)
She turned and read aloud the words printed on the Capitol dome: “The autority of the government emanates from the people.”
Defending her administration from reports that the Capitol’s finances were in a mess, Garcia again lashed at Magpale for the ‘bankruptcy’ of the Cebu provincial government.
“Dili ako ang iyang gipakauwawan … kamo mga Sugbuanon.”
Garcia became emotional as she described how her family has suffered in the last 22 days.
“Paet kini sa akong pamilya. Ang akong amahan ug inahan halos maglisod na gani pagsaka sa Kapitolyo apan matag adlaw naa sila,” she said. (This is so hard on my family. My parents both struggle to go up the steps of the Capitol and yet there are here with me everyday.)
Garcia said it was not easy for her to hear radio commentators calling her “bagag nawng (thick faced)” for staying at the Capitol. But what was most difficult, she said, was seeing her children in fear when policemen barricaded the Capitol on the second day of the standoff.
After her 25-minute speech, Garcia, her brother Pablo John and vice gubernatorial candidate Boboy Durano released four white doves.
Officials and mayors of her One Cebu Party then signed a manifesto before Garcia was escorted back to the Capitol.
Garcia later said said she was overwhelmed by a mix of emotions.
“It was worth it all, kining akong pag-antos, akong pagpabilin (my suffering, my staying on),” she said.
At the Sacred Heart church, Fr. Jerome Antogop in his homily called on people to uphold the public good.
“The secret to peace which is the very purpose of man is to always look at the benefit of the public and set aside their own personal interests,” Antogop said in Cebuano.
Most of the crowd wore white.
Acting Governor Magpale, who was out of town, and runningmate Hilario “Junjun” Davide Jr. were both absent in the activity.
Among those present were LP spokesman Democrito Barcenas and wife Lourdes, and Provincial Board members Arleigh Sitoy, Peter John Calderon, Miguel Magpale, Jude Sybico and Willy Caminero.
Consolcacion Mayor Teresa Alegado, Mayor Democrito Diamente of Tuburan and Samboan Mayor Raymond Calderon of LP.
After the Mass, white balloons forming the number 10 were released in front of the church. Youth activists then lay on the pavement on Escario Street to form the same number, a protest form called planking.
Ten represents the “ten commandments” of God and the Jan. 10 date of today’s court hearing, said Erwin Andaya, Visayas commissioner of the National Youth Commission.
Engr. Gigi Sanchez- Zaballero, daughter of the late Cebu vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr., thanked those who have been supporting their family since the death of her father in 2011.
Zaballero said her father had fought to uphold the separate powers of the executive and legislative branch.
“My father was stripped of his rights as vice governor because he was against the purchase of the Balili property in Naga. In this third term, I saw that his legacy was to protect the rights of his office,” she said.
“We don’t have a lot of lawyers in the family. We are mostly engineers who did not understand the documents left by my father in his death but every time certain papers were needed, I was guided to find it. I realized that this is worth pursuing.” /Renan Alanginan, Carmel Loise Matus and Peter L. Romanillos, Correspondents