Court hears sides, issues no TRO for Garcia-A A +A
Thursday, January 10, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- The Court of Appeals (CA) 12th division submitted Thursday for resolution Governor Gwen Garcia’s petition to stop her six-month suspension.
No temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued.
CA Associate Justice Vicente Veloso, who is assigned to pen the decision, advised Garcia not to make noise anymore and wait for the appellate court to resolve her petition “without fanfare.”
He also said Garcia can recover her back wages if it is later found out that Malacañang gravely abused its authority when it suspended her last month for overstepping the powers of the Office of Vice Governor.
Garcia has been suspended by the Office of the President for alleged abuse of authority since December 17 last year.
Through her lawyers, she insisted on her right to speedy resolution of the cases, arguing that the Malacanang directive did not observe the required period of investigation and resolution of an administrative complaint.
The complaint against Garcia was filed in November 2010 by the late Cebu vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr.
Veloso, chair of the three-man division, also said Garcia should have filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, where the CA can issue a TRO and at the same time, rights of parties will be protected.
Garcia has invoked Rule 43 as she asked for a TRO on the ground of irreparable injury.
Veloso also said during the oral argument that should Garcia be granted a TRO, the government may also suffer a greater amount of “irreparable injury” as it can no longer fully enforce the six-month penalty.
He also said that aside from going against the disciplinary power of the President, Garcia is still suspended should the CA 12th division accede to her request to issue a TRO.
‘No more noise’
Noting Garcia’s repeated media interviews decrying her suspension, Veloso asked the governor not to “make noise” anymore.
“Why can’t she (Garcia) allow this Court to resolve this case expeditiously and with no fanfare?” he said during the hearing of the oral arguments of the Garcia camp and government lawyers at the CA on Thursday.
During the hearing, Garcia’s lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said the Malacanang’s suspension order ran counter to Section 16, Article III of the 1987 Constitution, which guarantees every person the right to speedy disposition of cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative bodies.
Number of days
In a PowerPoint presentation, Salvador said the complaint for grave abuse of authority filed by Sanchez allegedly took 474 days to be resolved despite the 120-day limit provided under the Local Government Code and Administrative Order 23 of the Office of the President.
Interviewed by reporters after the hearing, Gwen’s daughter, lawyer Cristina Frasco, said Veloso did not categorically state the appeals court has no jurisdiction over their petition.
“He (Veloso) simply illustrated other options that are available to us,” Frasco said.
The petition has been submitted for resolution, and the Garcia camp is hoping that the Court will release a resolution in three to four days. However, if they lose in the CA, Frasco said they can still go to the Supreme Court.
“As I said, we will exhaust all legal remedies available to us under the law,” Governor Garcia told reporters in Capitol, where she received updates on the hearing from her daughter.
Garcia said she hopes to see the issue resolved today (Friday) so things at Capitol can return to normalcy and “the image of Cebu that has been so badly tarnished can be once again refurbished.”
Her brother, Representative Pablo John Garcia (Cebu, 3rd) said LP’s actions against the governor run counter to the party’s thrust to follow the straight path or “matuwid na daan.”
He said politics will not be won through a suspension or charges in court but through an election.
Garcia’s camp insisted that the suspension order violated a provision of the Local Government Code giving the President 30 days from the submission of the findings in an administrative case to issue an order.
But President Benigno Aquino III denied on Wednesday that politics was the reason behind the suspension, saying Garcia was afforded due process.
In response, Salvador said: “There is political color in this exercise. Timing is really suspect.”
Garcia’s allies in the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) had said the case was politically motivated, especially that the vote-rich province is controlled by a governor who is not allied with the ruling Liberal Party.
Security was tightened as the CA’s 12th Division, chaired by Justice Veloso, heard the oral arguments.
The two other division members are Associate Justices Aurora Jane Lantion and Eduardo Peralta.
Photographers and cameras were not allowed inside the session hall. Reporters and lawyers from both camps were also asked to leave all electronic gadgets outside the hall.
In his presentation, Salvador outlined legal points in a bid to convince justices to issue the TRO.
He said Garcia, being an elective public official, has rights “to be protected.”
Salvador said the suspension violated Garcia’s constitutional rights since the Palace order was not anchored on “substantive evidence.”
He also said the suspension violated the Local Government Code and Administrative Order 43, which provides that an administrative case be resolved within 30 days.
Sanchez filed the grave abuse of authority complaint against Garcia in November 2010 and the probe was terminated on August 31, 2011.
The case, the lawyer pointed out, was resolved on December 11, 2012, or about 474 days since the complaint was filed.
Salvador said Garcia did not abuse her authority when she hired several Capitol consultants, saying that the Civil Service Commission allows her to appoint new government employees.
“The suspension order is speculative… procedurally flawed,” he said, adding that Garcia was authorized by law to slash the allocation for the vice governor’s office.
Citing a resolution passed by the Cebu Provincial Board (PB) in 2010, Salvador said Acting Governor Magpale, who was PB member that time, even signed the document that reduced the budget in the vice governor’s office.
He dismissed the government lawyers’ argument that the service of suspension was “constructive” since there was an attempt to serve the order on Garcia personally.
Salvador also decried the “harshness” of the suspension, considering that Garcia will only have two remaining weeks, if the TRO is not issued.
‘Not original copy’
Salvador said the service of suspension was invalid since local interior officials served a photocopy, and not original or certified true copy, of the suspension order on Garcia’s staffers.
On the other hand, the Palace decision suspending Garcia for six months was furnished to the Cebu Provincial Legal’s Office, he said.
Salvador also said no amount of salaries would compensate for the “besmirched reputation” and the loss of time that the governor could have used to serve her constituents, in the event the CA would not stop the suspension order.
But government lawyers asked the appellate court to deny Garcia’s plea for issuance of a TRO for being “moot and academic.”
They said DILG-Central Visayas Chief Ananias Villacorta tried to serve a copy of the suspension order on Garcia, but decided to post it in the hallway of the governor’s office since “she (Garcia) was nowhere to be found.”
Garcia’s staffers refused to receive the suspension order so the DILG Central Visayas decided to post the order in the hallway, the state lawyers said.
Citing Supreme Court jurisprudence, government lawyers said the proof of service was “completed” when the first attempt to serve the suspension was initiated in Garcia’s office.
They said Garcia was not entitled to a TRO since she failed to establish that her suspension would cause her “clear and unmistakable damage.”
The Office of the President, they said, “substantially established” that Garcia violated the Revised Penal Code for hiring consultants without the concurrence from the PB and slashing the budget of the vice governor’s office. (GMD/FMG/Sun.Star Cebu/With Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)