Nalzaro: Gwen’s gambit

If Cebu Third District Rep. and Deputy House Speaker Gwen Garcia decides to run for governor against incumbent Gov. Hilario Davide III in 2019, it will be a “battle royale.” Garcia, who is still on her second term, is considering to run for governor following an ombudsman dismissal order for an allegedly anomalous transaction over the back-filling of the submerged parts of the Balili property in Naga during her stint as governor.

She admitted that she was challenged by the anti-graft body’s swift decision, claiming it was coupled with a personal motive on Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’s part because of her active participation in the ongoing impeachment case in the House against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Morales is also facing an impeachment complaint and maybe she is next in line.

I have said this in my previous column that I may not agree with Garcia’s contention that the ombudsman has an ulterior motive to dismiss her. The anti-graft office may have just found enough evidence to administratively penalize her. What is needed in administrative cases is preponderance of evidence, unlike in criminal cases that it should be beyond reasonable doubt.

But anyway, she need not worry because the House leadership, especially House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, is on her side. Alvarez will not enforce the order, saying that there is no provision in the Constitution that allows him to do so. There have been several cases that the order of the ombudsman to dismiss a member of the Congress have been set aside. The anti-graft body cannot force Congress leaders to execute its order unless perhaps with finality. Meaning, all legal remedies have been exhausted.

Members of Congress are treated separately against any ombudsman action unlike other elective and appointed officials that they can be dismissed anytime.

But then again, an ombudsman decision can still be appealed before the Court of Appeals (CA). And there have been several cases that an ombudsman decision was reversed by the CA. One is the case of Cebu City South District Rep. Rodrigo “Bebot” Abellanosa, who was also ordered dismissed for grave misconduct. Gwen has enough time to seek a reversal on the anti-graft body’s decision from the CA.

I doubt if her contention that her dismissal was coupled with an ulterior motive by the ombudsman can convince the CA to reverse the former’s decision. She has to confront the issue head on to prove that she did not commit an anomaly.

But here’s another bone of contention if Gwen decides to run for governor. If her term in Congress will expire in June 2019, and whether she will win or lose in the gubernatorial elections and if until that time she cannot seek a reversal from the CA, will the ombudsman decision still hold water? We are not only talking about the dismissal. Included in the decision is perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of her benefits. Anyway, we will leave this to the court.

Davide, on the other hand, welcomed Gwen’s decision to challenge him, saying “the more the merrier.” Gwen’s clobbered Davide in his first attempt for governor in 2010. In his second attempt in 2013, Davide defeated Gwen’s brother, Pablo John, and another brother, Winston, in 2016. If the two will clash in next year’s elections, it will be perceived as a “battle royal.”

When Davide challenged Gwen, the issue raised against her was graft and corruption because it was the time when the controversial Cebu International Convention Center was constructed and the purchase of the equally controversial Balili property. If they face each other again, Davide can no longer hype the corruption issue because his administration has also been accused of corruption. He no longer has moral ascendancy to criticize Gwen because he and some of his people are allegedly committing corruption.

At least, Gwen has been exonerated from some of the charges like on the CICC issue.

I will no longer enumerate the list of corruption issues under Davide’s watch. Either he knows but chooses to ignore because he’s benefiting from it or he does not know at all. And what do you call a leader who has no knowledge of what’s happening around him? A scarecrow. Kanang tawo-tawo sa humayan.
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