Seares: Mayor Rama was suspended twice, in 2015 and 2016. Governor Garcia suspended once in 2012, now faces threat of a second suspension. Complaint with the president’s office filed against Guv Gwen by, drum roll, Mayor Mike. Goodbye ‘One Island Cebu’

[] How might mid-term elections influence presidential decision on complaint against the governor? [] Not the same timing and circumstances as in past Garcia suspension and Rama’s two suspensions
CEBU. Governor Gwen Garcia and Cebu City Mike Rama.
CEBU. Governor Gwen Garcia and Cebu City Mike Rama. File photos

COMPLAINT IS ABOUT GWEN’S ORDER ON BRT. Last Monday, March 20, 2024, a complaint against Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia was filed with the Office of the President in Malacañang for “usurpation of judicial and/or quasi-judicial powers” over Cebu City’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project when she allegedly issued a cease-and-desist order (Memorandum #16-2024) that would stop all work on properties belonging to the Provincial Government.

Because of Memorandum No. 16-2024, Governor Garcia is accused of “abuse of authority, oppression and grave misconduct, and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees,” for which preventive suspension of the governor is asked because “she has the power to influence potential adverse witnesses or tamper evidence” against her.

And her accuser? Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, with whom the governor has been promoting the concept of a “One-Island Cebu” that rallies the island’s governor and city and town mayors to a united front working and defending the interest of Cebu and the Cebuanos.

QUICKLY, THE IMPLICATION: That movement is dead or in death’s throes. What could be the last semblance of unity was displayed in banners during the 2024 Sinulog last January. The text on giant streamers and stage backdrop included the word “still” in describing the alliance of local government units and their leaders. “Still One-Island Cebu” was a shout-out and catchphrase for Mayor Mike’s effort at saving Cebu-City Capitol relations, at the time strained to a breaking point by the dispute over the Sinulog site in 2023 and 2024.

It could lead to Mayor Mike and Governo Gwen figuratively locked in combat in the next months, probably even spilling into the next election season.

NOT GWEN’S FIRST. If the new administrative charges -- filed by Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama -- would lead to preventive suspension, the preventive sanction wouldn’t be her first.

On December 19, 2012, on her third term as governor (2004-2007; 2007-2010; 2010-2013), she was suspended for six months by then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (2010-2016), through executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. Governor Gwen was charged in 2010 by then vice governor Greg Sanchez with “diverting the province budget for anomalous contracts.”

From December 19, 2012, to January 29 the following year, she had holed in her office at the Capitol, after declaring that she’d accept the suspension “over my dead body.” After she was discovered to have secretly left the Capitol on the 29th, then-acting governor Agnes Magpale ordered locked up the building’s entire wing where Gwen Garcia held office.

It was her only suspension from office so far and she made it memorable in form and style, complete with police troops on Capitol grounds.

GWEN’S ACCUSER, MAYOR MIKE, ALSO SUSPENDED, TWICE. Before his current term (2022-2025), Mike Rama had served two terms as city mayor (2010-2013; 2013-2016). The office of the president, still under Noynoy Aquino, suspended him in December 2015 and again on April 20, 2016, the last stretch of his second term before Tomas Osmena defeated him in 2016.

Malacañang, through DILG or Department of the Interior and Local Government, announced on December 9, 2015, Mayor Rama’s first 60-day suspension, on the basis of a complaint filed in 2014 by Labangon barangay captain Victor Buendia who alleged that Rama ordered the unlawful demolition of the barangay’s center island.

Rama should have done it through judicial process as the center island was not a nuisance per se and should’ve been removed through court proceedings. The charges listed: culpable violation of the Constitution, grave abuse of authority, grave misconduct, and oppression.

On April 10, 2016, Rama was suspended again for another 60 days, this time along with then vice mayor Edgardo Labella and 12 councilors for abuse of authority, for granting P20,000 each cash aid to City Hall personnel. One Reymelio Delute, who described himself as a lawyer and taxpayer, alleged the city government officials and employees were given assistance when they were in fact not victims of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake and super-typhoon Yolanda that hit Cebu and Bohol in 2013.

POLITICS IN SUSPENSIONS. Mayor Rama cried political harassment over his two suspensions in 2015 and 2016, just months and weeks before the elections. Then-president Noynoy Aquino was with the Liberal Party supporting Mar Roxas for president and Tomas Osmena for city mayor against UNA’s Jejomar Binay and Mike Rama respectively. Rama alleged he was taken out of office to boost LP’s chances in the city. Binay and Rama lost but so did LP’s Roxas, to Rodrigo Duterte of PDP-Laban.

Governor Gwen wrote then about her 2012 suspension on Twitter,” I have always acted within the bounds of my authority. This is clear use and abuse of political clout for obvious politician gain.” She said the charges and her suspension were “politically motivated.” Then vice governor Agnes Magpale served as acting governor during the suspension and in the 2013 elections ran under the Liberal Party as Hilario Davide III’s running mate. Their tandem won.

Timing and other circumstances -- just before a coming race, with the president whose office decides on the suspension being with the rival political party -- inevitably raised suspicion of politics in the past suspensions of Gwen Garcia and Mike Rama.

WHICH CAN HARDLY BE SAID OF ANY GWEN SUSPENSION THIS TIME. The governor supported President Bongbong Marcos in the 2022 election. So did the mayor. Marcos Jr. got 1.515 million votes, out of 3.2 million voters, a “dramatic turnaround” from the 2016 vice presidential race when Leni Robredo buried Bongbong with 800,000 votes over his 300,000 votes.

Both Governor Gwen and Mayor Mike helped the president win. But Bongbong would look more than once at the 2022 Election results in the province: Gwen got 80.8 percent of the vote against rival Ace Durano’s 18.66 percent (or 1.478 million votes versus 341,455 votes).

Would politics influence presidential action on the complaint of the mayor against the governor, both of whom helped put President Marcos Jr. in office?

With still seven months before filing of candidacy certificates in October and 14 months before the elections in May and less than halfway of his own presidential term, prudence might prevail and keep out politics from the exercise of national supervision over local governments. Or it might not.


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