“I don’t play politics. PNP should not be involved in politics. We do not take sides.”
The police officer in that lead quote was not Cebu City police chief Royina Garma but Marcelo Garbo Jr. who was the PNP regional chief when then Cebu governor Gwen Garcia was suspended in late December in the run for the midterm 2013 elections.
Garbo oversaw the two-week standoff at the Capitol when Gwen refused to vacate the office on her third and last term since 2004. Gwen complained that Garbo took the side of the Liberal Party, employing threats and rough stuff to prepare for her forcible eviction. (She eventually left quietly in the midst of the Sinulog festivity.) Garbo was also seen as overseer of police operations that hampered election-eve movements of the local opposition, causing the defeat of a number of One Cebu party candidates.
Even in the 2016 elections, after Garbo had retired, he was accused of picking the police officers who were expected to back the LP bets in sensitive provinces and cities. To all the politicking charges, Garbo’s response was uniform: denial and claim of police impartiality.
Why resurrect Garbo in Garma’s case in this 2019 political exercise? Apparently, the city police chief is in a situation similar to Garbo’s in 2013. The police is again feared to influence next Monday’s results.
Garma, along with PNP region chief Debold Sinas, has been accused of partisan behavior by “harassing and terrorizing” supporters of BOPK, the city’s ruling party. From strafing of houses of barangay captains and the business outlet of the Association of Barangay Councils president to knocking on doors and intimidating party leaders and placing checkpoints in several places, including the street where Mayor Tomas Osmena lives.
Those charges still have to be litigated since the police officers have denied any irregularity and are demanding evidence of wrongdoing. But the return fire on Garma, made during the “miting de avance” last Saturday (May 4), was much heavier than Gwen’s public complaints and charge of robbery filed against Garbo with the ombudsman (for “illegally” removing tents of Gwen’s supporters on Capitol grounds).
Tomas resurrected charges against Garma for alleged bribery from Bohol gambling lords when she headed CIDG, the police elite investigation group. Looked and sounded like the mayor was trying to demolish a rival for public office. Which Garma is not. Which would be grossly unfair, if her tasks were accorded presumption of regularity, with no partisan purpose or color.
But accusations hurled from whatever source and whichever direction these few precious days before May 13 cannot be resolved soon enough. People aren’t sure whom and what to believe. Garma said the case was already dismissed and the issue was revived because of her reported impending career shift to PCSO, the sweepstakes office, as its administrator.
Tomas apparently is trying to “marginalize” Garma’s capability to lead a police-powered offensive, in whatever form--legal or on the fringes, disguised or in the open--against the mayor’s reputed 11th-hour seal-the-vote operations.
In Manila, the mayor got the support of Sen. Ping Lacson whose tweet Monday (May 6) about alleged police meddling in Cebu City got PNP chief Oscar Albayalde’s response: he would look into it.
But if this long-rumored presidential order is true--that President Duterte has instructed the police to avert vote-buying-- then the local police checkpoints may be justified. Minus, of course, the threats of violence and the selective, suspiciously partisan choice of targets.