MANILA, Philippines - Metal barricades were installed and security tightened at the Cebu capitol yesterday as President Aquino suspended an administration ally, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, for six months.
A reliable Malacañang source said the suspension stemmed from charges that Garcia deliberately withheld funds for the office of the Cebu vice governor.
Vice Gov. Agnes Almendras Magpale is expected to be designated acting governor of the vote-rich province. Magpale, reportedly a sister of Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, refused to confirm the report last night.
A copy of the suspension order was received by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas late yesterday afternoon, according to the Palace source.
Roxas will serve the suspension order, which reportedly stemmed from a complaint filed by a child of the late vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr.
Garcia is a member of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), but she supported Aquino in the 2010 elections.
Her father Pablo, 84, and brother Pablo John – both Cebu congressmen – voted against the Aquino-certified Reproductive Health bill. Father and son belong to the National Unity Party, an ally of the President’s Liberal Party (LP).
The closing of the back door going to the Cebu Palace of Justice and the barricades placed on the right wing of the capitol yesterday morning triggered rumors in the city about the suspension order.
Garcia did not go to her office yesterday. Capitol employees were told that she was in Manila.
Large tents were set up in front of the capitol amid reports that the governor’s supporters would hold a vigil starting last night.
Garcia’s daughter Christina Garcia-Frasco, who serves as one of the governor’s counsels, said they had not received any notice or order about the suspension.
Capitol spokesman Rory Jon Sepulveda said the one case that could lead to the suspension was the complaint for usurpation and grave abuse of authority that was filed by Sanchez against Garcia with the Office of the President (OP).
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) was tasked to investigate the administrative complaint.
A DILG official said the recommendation to suspend Garcia for six months was forwarded to Malacañang when the late Jesse Robredo was DILG secretary.
“We are confident the acts involved would not merit a suspension,” Sepulveda said yesterday.
For her part, Frasco said, “My mom will continue to serve the Cebuanos because she is their lawfully elected governor.”
Upon learning of the vigil, which was attended by several barangay health workers from different towns, Frasco said, “I am touched by their spontaneous show of support. We cannot stop them from expressing their support for my mom.”
Sepulveda said Garcia’s lawyers asked the OP and DILG about the suspension yesterday but got no confirmation about the order.
“Let them do their worst. We’ll do our best,” Sepulveda quoted Garcia as saying.
Garcia is the second provincial governor to face legal problems in recent days. Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino faces a plunder complaint on charges of receiving jueteng payola.
Espino belongs to the Nationalist People’s Alliance of Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., which is also allied with the LP.
Aquino earlier said Cebu would not be a free zone in the May 2013 elections. The LP is fielding Hilario Davide III, son and namesake of the retired chief justice whom the President designated to head the Truth Commission. – Delon Porcalla, Gregg Rubio/ The Freeman