The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Central Visayas had administered the oath of office on Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale to take over the post of suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who remained holed up in her office, Deputy Presidential Spokesman Abigail Valte said, adding a challenge to Garcia to stick to the legal process amid a still tense standoff in the province.

Valte claimed the situation at the Cebu provincial capitol has returned to normal after Garcia refused to honor a suspension order the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) served against her last Wednesday.

Deputy Speaker Pabling Garcia, father of Gwen, expressed his disappointment over the closure of Sugbo TV on orders of Magpale and the cutting off of the Internet connection to his daughter’s office.

This prompted the congressman to phone Police Regional Office 7 Director Marcelo Garbo Jr at around 11 pm.
“The capitol now looks like a garrison,” Pabling told reporters.

Garcia, who is a lawyer, told Garbo that if the PNP has plans of forcibly evicting his daughter from the capitol, they should have a court order or face a kidnapping case.

He likewise questioned the authority of Magpale whose powers are only limited.

Gwen’s younger brother, Cebu 3rd District Congressman Pablo “PJ” Garcia, said they opted to reopen the old Sugbo TV office to continue informing the public about what is “really” happening inside the capitol.

Both PJ and Pabling personally appealed for the reopening of Sugbo TV station, but to no avail.

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), in which Garcia is a member, earlier accused Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II and the Liberal Party (LP) of escalating tension in Cebu and install the LP-affiliated vice governor who is moreover a sister of Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.

“Right now, the DILG and the LP are escalating tension at the provincial capitol by dispersing her supporters and turning the grounds into a garrison,” UNA secretary general and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco said.

He said these actions are “reminiscent of the Arroyo regime’s attempt to suspend Vice President Binay in 2006.”

The Arroyo administration served a suspension order on the Vice President in October 2006 during his term as Makati mayor and head of the United Opposition (UNO). Binay fought the suspension order and went to the Court of Appeals (CA) which ordered the lifting of the order a few days later.

Valte cited a DILG report (DILG) Central Visayas saying the capitol is now operating under Magpale.

Valte again urged Garcia to accept the suspension order which she defied and instead issued a directive to Cebu provincial employees not to recognize orders from Magpale.

Last Friday, Garcia filed a petition with the Court of Appeals to restrain the DILG from implementing the six-month suspension order against her that was based on a 2010 administrative case that alleged abuse of authority on her as Cebu Governor.
“If you are confident the decision by the Office of the President was baseless, then you should have no problem going to court and asking for relief,” Valte told Garcia.

“Let’s stick to the process. Public officials who are mandated to be the ones to execute the law cannot be the first to break it,” she added.

Cebu City, meanwhile, is unaffected by the ongoing standoff between suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)-Region 7 as the city is the first independent charter city not under the jurisdiction of the governor.

The city’s mayor, Michael Rama, said business operations in the city capitol remains normal as it is separated from the provincial capitol where Garcia is holding office. “No problem with us.

Our place is entirely separated and independent from the provincial government. We are not governed by the governor,” Rama told the Daily Tribune in a lengthy cellphone interview.

Garcia, who is suspended for six months without pay, has been holed up in her office since Dec. 19. She said the directive of the DILG is “illegal and unjust” as she has a pending motion for temporary restraining order (TRO) filed at the Court of Appeals (CA).

Garcia also accused the Liberal Party, led by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, of orchestrating her ouster as her appointed successor, Agnes Magpale, is a sister of Cabinet secretary Rene Almendras. An estimated 800 policemen and about 3,000 Garcia’s supporters are currently on standoff at the capitol grounds.

She blatantly said she will not adhere to the order of DILG-Region 7 as it is “patently illegal” because the DILG did not personally serve it on her last Dec. 19. She said the suspension order violates Section 66 of the Local Government Code, which states that the Office of the President must release a decision 30 days after the investigation.

“The investigation was terminated August 31, 2011 so 30 days after that, we should have had a decision, September 31, 2011 but the decision came out Dec 17, 2012, that’s 474 days later,” Garcia, 57, was quoted as saying.

The case against Garcia stemmed from a November 2010 complaint filed by the late Cebu Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr., accusing Garcia of bypassing his office and the provincial council in hiring contractual employees. Sanchez died in April 2011.

Garcia said the LP is very interested to conquer Cebu as the province has the biggest voting population among the Philippines’ 89 provinces at 2.4 million. When asked if she will leave the capitol sans a TRO, she was quoted: “Over my dead body.”

According to Rama, a lawyer, Garcia has a reason not to give up her post but suggested Garcia must adhere to the order of the DILG. “I am aware of the situation. I was also dropped like a hot potato but I don’t have hurt feelings. I know the feeling of someone who has been slapped with suspension but we have different priorities,” the mayor explained.

The mayor was also dropped as official candidate for mayor of the city, forcing him to run under the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay. The LP’s bet for mayor of Cebu City is former mayor and now Congressman Tomas Osmeña, Rama’s long time ally turned opponent.

Rama said he has no objection to the suspension order or tolerating the faceoff currently led by Garcia but he didn’t like the way the suspension was carried out, especially the timing. “It’s Christmas time where everyone should be merrymaking then the suspension order was handed. The timing is very bad,” he said.

Cebu City police chief Senior Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe said the city’s 1,500 police force has no participation in the standoff between police and the governor’s supporters. “Cebu City policemen are just on the side.
Those barricading the provincial capitol are from Police Regional Office 7, Regional Public Safety Battalion and Cebu Provincial Command,” Buenafe told the Daily Tribune in a text message.
The police chief said there no instruction from their superiors to do anything except to be on the side of the capitol. “Wait-and-see situation here, we’re waiting for orders from our superiors,” Buenafe said.

Efforts to reach Roxas, a sore loser in the 2010 vice presidential race, and Almendras proved futile as Roxas didn’t reply to numerous text inquiries and turns off his cellphone when dialed while Almendras has changed his cellphone number since he was fired as Energy secretary.

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma paid suspended Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia a visit Friday, December 22.

Palma and Gwen had a one-hour closed door meeting inside the contested governor’s office where Gwen has stayed for the past 4 days. The meeting started at 8:30 pm.

Both denied disclosing what was discussed in the meeting. They only said all questions will be answered in due time.
The prelate also met with Gwen’s father, Cebu 2nd District Congressman Pablo “Pabling” Garcia.

After the meeting, Gwen personally guided Palma outside the Cebu Capitol grounds where police had gathered supposedly to avoid any untoward incidents. She immediately returned to her office and rested for the night.

In an ambush interview, Palma told reporters he would only issue an official statement concerning Garcia’s suspension on December 26, Wednesday, during a post-Christmas celebration with members of the media.

The archbishop briefly appealed to all Cebuanos to pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the capitol.
Upon orders of Magpale, employees of Sugbo TV (the Cebu Province cable TV Channel) and Sugbo News (official gazette) were barred from entering their office yesterday afternoon. The office is currently padlocked and guarded by several police personnel. They were advised to return on Wednesday, December 26.

Sugbo TV’s Internet uplink broadcast was also locked, preventing live feeds from the governor’s office. Internet connection has also been cut.

The aunt of President Aquino, Margarita “Tingting” Cojuanco, also visited Gwen in her office on Thursday night.

“I came to see Gov Gwen, because she is a friend and to support her in her fight for fairness and justice,” Cojuangco told reporters. She is the former governor of Tarlac.

Cojuangco visited Gwen with the blessing of the United Nationalist Alliance chairman, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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