EXPLAINER: Rowena Burden’s 2025 election bid may explain her serial attacks on governor. Doctor disappointed in Gwen not showing up; others disappointed in Burden stalling on ’big reveal.’ Doc’s lawyers include Inocencio de la Serna who survived gun ambush in 2019.

Dr. Rowena Burden with her lawyers, led by Inocencio de la Serna (left). (Screenshot from live video posted on Burden’s Facebook page)
Dr. Rowena Burden with her lawyers, led by Inocencio de la Serna (left). (Screenshot from live video posted on Burden’s Facebook page)

[1] POLITICAL AMBITION, to become the next Cebu governor, may be seen as the biggest reason for Dr. Rowena Burden's serial attacks in social media against Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia.

Burden announced Thursday, September 28, 2023, at a live-streamed press-con at I.T. Park, Cebu City that she'd run for governor in the 2025 elections. The press-con became an informal launching of Burden's candidacy.

She admitted she has been "lambasting" the governor since "mid-2020," largely because of Guv Gwen's anti-mask policy and order requiring "tuob" among Capitol workers, which the doctor said were "pseudo-science," allegedly resulting in the death of several persons during the Covid-19 pandemic. With Thursday's announcement, the political agenda overwhelms other motives, as it does in this country where trying to promote "the common good" -- slogan of Burden's "Save Cebu" Movement -- is also trying to get oneself elected to public office.

Before the press-con, Burden had been posting taunts and darts directed at the governor, including a sort of threat that the governor resign or the doctor would "expose" her. Political watchers blamed it on personal hatred. With the political motive explicit in Burden's election bid, media watchers wonder if the enmity bred the plan to run or the plan has been there all the time.

[2] HOW ROWENA COULD BE A BURDEN TO GWEN. Those familiar with Cebu politics may quickly dismiss Dr. Rowena's announcement to run for governor as bold but quixotic.

Burden is described in one of her social media accounts as a "medical doctor (graduate of Cebu Doctors College), biologist, social activist and women's right advocate" and an advocate in the LGBTQ community, based in Cebu. At the press-con, she referred to herself as "a patriot" and "a protester and activist."

She doesn't claim to have experience in government public service. Burden doesn't have the popular appeal and political machinery of veteran, no-election-lost Gwen Garcia who amassed a staggering majority over her rival Ace Durano in 2022 (1.478 million or 80.80 percent of the votes against 341,000 or 18.66 percent). On the basics of poll surveys, how would the doctor compare on awareness/recognition and desire to vote? How would she fare in Carcar City where her family roots were?

Rowena repeatedly cited at the press-con her experience as a "political operator": not just local or national but "WORLDWIDE" (in all caps, hers). She was the "operator" for the 2016 Duterte campaign ("I ran the Visayas HQ"), she said. She gets president's elected, why can't she get herself elected as governor -- so must go the line of reasoning.

Either now or in the run to the 2025 elections, a lot of things could still happen. Battle lines are still to be drawn; party alliances might change. But the way things are, for now, Guv Gwen controls the province and her dominance is such that she can say with confidence, "Don't mess with me." And Rowena doesn't have a political party yet; her "Save Cebu Movement" had still to be officially launched.

Whatever though, Rowena could prove to be annoying, if not destructive to the governor. Unlike other critics, Burden would say what she thinks and what most other people would say in public against another person, much more a powerful governor of the assets-richest and a top vote-rich province in the country. She wouldn't wish to face the doctor but that may not stop Burden from her steady attack and teases. (A typical taunt: "I am still on 2nd gear... you haven't seen what a full Rowena Burden means.") That can offend and distract.

[3] DE LA CERNA LEADS ROWENA'S LAWYERS. Guv Gwen's supporters may want the doctor silenced or muffled, if not locked up by any of the 11 libel complaints against her. (As of September 28, it wasn't known how many of the 11 were filed by the governor.)

As if to show the doctor is prepared for those libel charges, Rowena's had three lawyers in tow at the press-con, led by Inocencio de la Cerna. It was probably the first live-streamed public appearance of the prominent practitioner who four years ago (on September 2, 2019) survived a gun ambush in front of the Cebu City Hall of Justice, Qimonda IT Center, North Reclamation Area. De la Serna spoke briefly about the legal aspect of the controversy.

Aside from her trust in her lawyers, Rowena said, "I'm not scared (with all the complaints)... Because I never said anything that benefits me," citing the "common good" that her activities and pronouncements seek to achieve.

That means Burden will rely on the defense of "absence of malice," which may be tougher to prove -- or to keep, if legally presumed -- because of the passion and fury in her social media statements against the governor.

[4] SHE'S DISAPPOINTED, THEY'RE DISAPPOINTED. Towards the close of the live-streamed, one-hour-and-a-half press-con of Dr. Burden, she looked straight at the camera and purportedly addressed the governor, "Governor Gwen, I'm disappointed. Stop playing chicken..."

Burden had invited the governor to the press-con and, a week earlier, a media outfit based in Manila invited Gwen and the doctor to a nationally broadcast program. The governor reportedly didn't answer both invitations, let alone show up, which explained Burden's chicken-tagging.

Many people, who love to see dirty laundry publicly hang, were probably disappointed but few ever expected a confrontation, even digitally. As to Burden, she had been telling her Facebook followers that she'd reveal details and evidence of her accusations against the governor, ranging from alleged corruption to alleged abuse of power, the pledge laced with taunts, complete with a set deadline.

Burden didn't deliver although she spiced her remarks with anti-Gwen notes. Instead she set a condition, which she hadn't put there before. She demanded that Garcia sign a waiver of rights under the Data Privacy Act before the doctor would reveal what she had promised.

[5] ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. Why would a doctor who's apparently successful and well-off wage a personal war against the most powerful woman politician of Cebu province? Why risk her "fortune, liberty and personal safety, and peace of mind" over a dispute during the fight against Covid-19?

"She must be crazy," maybe not just in a figurative sense but literally, said some comments published digitally before the press-con, which cited the content and manner of Burden's verbal attacks against the governor. Yet, her state of health, physical or mental, was not raised by Burden or anyone else in the room.

She said the governor wasn't answering her because she was brave enough to speak out, unlike many others allegedly "bullied" by Capitol.

[6] MANILA'S ATTENTION. Apparently because of the bold and strong criticism and the courage or foolhardiness that it requires, the Burden-Garcia tussle -- actually one-sided, so far, in the public view as it's only the doctor who's sniping -- has already caught the attention of Manila-based news outlets.

That interest may lessen, with the disclosure of the element of personal political ambition. It might turn out to be a political ploy to get some traction early for the 2025 campaign.

[7] WHAT'S NEXT: BLOOD COMPACT? The day after her press-con, on Friday, September 29, Dr. Burden posted on her FB page a proposal to the governor for "a covenant signing and blood compact" and joint appearance on national TV declaring, among others, that each would face the other in next elections.

Not weirdly novel enough? Before she'd agree to those rituals, the doctor said, she'd like both of them tested for sexually transmitted diseases -- HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis, gonorrhea, among others -- and measures to "avoid salivary spray" that she said she fears even though she had "SEVEN" Covid vaccinations.


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