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Will Vice Gov Magpale take over today?

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and her camp yesterday braced for a suspension order to be handed down by the Office of the President as a penalty for a 2010 case of usurpation.

She won’t step aside easily.

“Let them do their worst and we will do our best,” Garcia was quoted as saying by her spokesman and legal counsel Rory John Sepulveda at the Capitol where metal guard rails suddenly went up in the driveway and security measures for visitors tightened.

“The governor sees a silver lining in every situation. She’s combative.”

Three busloads of female barangay health workers arrived and occupied the Capitol social hall as a show of “support”.

If a  six-month suspension order is served today, Garcia’s political opponent Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale will assume office as the highest official in the Province of Cebu –  and Garcia’s eight-year term as Cebu’s first woman governor would be symbolically over even as her candidacy as 3rd district congresswoman hangs in the balance.  The suspension  would run up to the May 2013 election.

No document was shown yet but rumors swirled of an oath-taking for a new governor by 8:30 a.m. today.

Both sides knew it was coming.

Garcia remained out of sight and silent yesterday, not returning calls or text messages from reporters.She let her spokesmen do the talking.

“If that’s true (a suspension order), this is a plain and simple power grab,” said her brother Rep. Pablo John Garcia, whose own candidacy for Cebu governor in 2013 would be impaired if he loses access to the Capitol.

“They tried once to remove the governor through the will of the Cebuanos but failed.  Now they’re asking Manila to overturn the will of the Cebuanos,” he said in  a text message.

Magpale declined to give a statement.

However, journalists were sent text alerts for an 8:30 a.m. oath-taking of Magpale, who belongs to the  Bakkud party of the Durano clan.

Following normal procedure, a suspension order will be served by a representative of the Departmet of Interior and Local Government. If Garcia is not around, the order can still be received at her Capitol office.

The case stems not from the P98.9 million Balili land purchase fiasco or recent allegations of secret landfilling of underwater lots, but a 2010 administrative case for usurpation filed in November 2010 by then vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr.

After his death of lung cancer in April 29, 2011, Sanchez’s daughter Gigi Zaballero pursued the case, placing copies of the complaint in President Aquino’s hands when he went to the vigil wake to condole with the family.

Sanchez had accused the govenor of slashing the budget of his office, stripping him of  staff and consultants by taking over the signing of  their appointments, and other measures  to diminish his role after their political alliance ended bitterly.

In her defense, Garcia said she acted within her right as governor to appoint  employees and appropriate funds under the Local Government Code.

The hearings wrapped up in September 2011. A DILG hearing officer from Manila came to Cebu for the series of hearings, where the governor’s daughter Christina Codilla Frasco appeared as her legal counsel.

Since the admnistrative charge involves a governor, the decision and penalty, if any, will be given by the Office of the Persident.

Garcia’s legal advisers – her father, Rep. Pablo Garcia, brother Pablo John and daughter Christina – were believed to be discussing countermoves in anticipation of today’s service of a suspension order.

Sepulveda, who used to represent Garcia in the usurpation case, said he doesn’t know what the strategy would be but that remedies open to the governor include  filing a motion for reconsideration with the Office of the President or a petition for certiorari or review before the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

After Sanchez died, Magpale filled his seat as the top vote-getting Provincial Board member. Although she and Governor Garcia ran  as allies under One Cebu in 2010, they parted ways last July.

Relations turned from  civil to  hostile after Magpale’s Bakkud party forged an  alliance with the Liberal Party to field Magpale as vice governor in the 2013 election and Hilaro Davide III for governor. /Ador Vincent Mayol and Carmel Loise Matus

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Tags: Cebu , Graft and Corruption , Gwendolyn Garcia , legal issues , suspension

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