CEBU CITY, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia was suspended Wednesday, December 19, for 6 months for grave abuse of authority. Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr signed the suspension order last December 17. (Editor's note: We earlier reported that President Aquino signed the order. We regret the error. Ochoa, however, signed it on behalf of the President.)
Cebu Vice-Governor Agnes Magpale, a member of the Liberal Party, was sworn immediately into office as acting governor by Ananias Villacorta, director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government's regional office in Cebu.
Villacorta served the suspension order on Garcia Wednesday morning. The governor, a member of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), was found guilty of grave abuse of authority in connection with administrative charges filed against against her by the late Cebu Vice-Governor Greg Sanchez Jr. in 2010. Sanchez had accused Garcia of diverting the province's budget for allegedly anomalous contracts.
In a separate case, the Ombudsman charged Garcia with graft before the Sandiganbayan in July in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of a P98.9-million land in Tiga-an, Naga, Cebu.
Garcia said the charges and her suspension are politically motivated. She earlier accused Malacañang of playing "dirty tactics" on her.
On her Twitter account, Garcia wrote: "To whom this may concern: you can do your worst. I will continue to do my best for Cebu and my beloved Cebuanos." In another tweet, she added: "I have always acted within the bounds of my authority. This is clear use and abuse of political clout for obvious political gain."
Garcia arrived at the Cebu Provincial Capitol a few minutes after Magpale was sworn in as acting governor. Her younger brother, Cebu 3rd District Rep Pablo John Garcia, said they will exhaust all possible legal remedies to oppose her sister’s suspension.
He said Gwen will continue to perform her functions as governor as they appeal the case before the Office of the President.
In a statement later, Gwen Garcia said she has yet to receive the suspension order and thus has no plans of stepping down. "This is, plain and simple, a power grab," she said. "I assure the Cebuanos that in accordance with their mandate, I shall continue to discharge the functions of the office of Governor of the Province of Cebu until the remedies that due process affords me, and available under our laws, are exhausted."
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma described the suspension as “untimely and unfortunate,” especially since the May 2013 elections is fast approaching.
The prelate advised the Garcia family and their supporters to accept the decision of the President and remain calm.
He added that if Garcia is indeed a victim of injustice, “the truth will come out soon.”
Photo by Ryan Sorote
Photo by Ryan Sorote
Malacañang denied that Garcia's suspension is related to the elections. The governor is on her last term. She was initially tapped as a senatorial bet of UNA, but she eventually changed her mind. UNA is headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Garcia is running for Congress to represent the province's 3rd district, a position that is being held by her brother, Pablo John, who is running for governor. Pablo John Garcia is up against LP's gubernatorial bet Hilario Davide III.
Davide III lost to Gwen Garcia in 2010 by 96,341 votes. Cebu is the province with the biggest voting population. As of 2010, it had 2,434,809 voters.
"I can assure you (that) politics has nothing to do with it as far as we are concerned," Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told Palace reporters. "May mga prosesong sinunod ‘yung mga kaso na ‘yon, and if you look at it one way sasabihin kapag kumilos, sasabihin politically motivated. Pero kung hindi rin kumilos may magsasabi rin na politically motivated. So we’re entering the season where pretty much you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don‘t. So...we just let the processes take (its) course."
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said, it was his predecessor, the late Jesse Robredo, who had recommended the suspension of Garcia to the Office of the President.
One of the findings of the investigation was that Garcia "usurped the appointing power of the office of the vice governor with the sudden and substantial deduction of the budget of the Office of the Vice Governor." Investigation also revealed that Garcia committed grave abuse of authority when she hired consultants without approval of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
"In short this underwent full due process, it took them two years to complete the investigation," Roxas said.
Garcia, a member of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), slammed the suspension order. In her Twitter account (@gwengarcia1ph), Garcia said, "I have always acted within the bounds of my authority. This is
clear use and abuse of political clout for obvious political gain."
In a speech, Magpale promised that her first order of business will be to review the finances and expenses of the province.
She asked for unity among mayors and members of Cebu's provincial board.
Provincial board member Julian Daan is now the acting Vice Governor of Cebu. He is the most senior board member.
See the full suspension order below: