Palace suspends Cebu governor for usurping powers of vice governor

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08:47 PM December 19th, 2012

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December 19th, 2012 08:47 PM

Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — For usurping the authority of her vice governor to hire contractual employees and consultants, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia was suspended for six months by the Office of the President.

The suspension order, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa on Dec. 17, will last beyond the May 2013 polls.

“As a public officer, respondent has a sacred duty to observe the law. Respondent’s action in hiring employees of the office of the vice governor and SP (Sangguniang Panlalawigan) even when the appointing power is lodged in the office of the vice governor, and in entering into consultancy contracts without the prior authority of the SP, were in violation of law amounting to grave abuse of authority.

“The slashing of the budget, while not illegal, is suggestive of harassment, oppression and vindictiveness with respondent utilizing the powers of her office and affinity to the SP,” said the decision in OP Case No. 10-K-504.

The recommendation to suspend the three-term governor was one of the last acts of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash on August 18 in Masbate City.

In a report dated July 26, which was forwarded to the Office of the President on July 31, Robredo “found the respondent guilty of grave abuse of authority with a recommended penalty of suspension for six months.”

She was found to have committed “grave abuse of authority” on three grounds:  “encroaching on the appointing authority of complainant over employees of the Office of the Vice Governor,” “slashing the budget of the Office of the Vice Governor by 61 percent,” and hiring consultants without prior authority from the SP.

“Clearly, the governor usurped the vice governor’s power of appointment over these contractual employees,” stated the order, referring to various contractual employees appointed by Garcia whose salaries were, however, drawn from the budget of the late Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr.

Sanchez died before the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) started the investigation.

However, the Office of the President noted that in administrative cases, the death of a complainant did not warrant the withdrawal of the charges against the respondent.

Both parties had invoked the case of Atienza vs Villarosa on the charge of Garcia’s encroachment of the appointing powers of the vice governor.

The Palace decision noted that Garcia signed various appointment papers of contractual employees for the vice governor on July 1 and October 10 in 2010.

“While the appointments were made by respondent in her capacity as governor, the DILG found that the budget for the salaries of these contractuals would be sourced from the Office of the Vice Governor,” it said.

“As salaries were to be drawn, and were actually drawn, from the budget of the Office of the vice-governor, it is the vice-governor who had the power to appoint these contractuals,” said the decision, adding that a number of these contractuals were local legislative assistants detailed with the SP.

“Consistent with Atienza (ruling of the high court), the authority to appoint these contractuals or casuals is with the vice-governor,” said the decision.

The budgetary allocation for these contractuals was removed from the vice governor’s budget for “unknown reasons,” said the decision.

“Interestingly … after the death of the complainant, and the assumption of his successor to office,” Garcia returned this budget to the office of the vice governor, the decision said, adding:

“(And) this was prompted by a consensus, among respondent (Garcia) and the majority of the members of the SP … that the office of the vice governor has now become ‘a close partner and/or ally’ of the respondent and of the SP. This evokes malice and bad faith in the preparation of the budget for the office of the vice governor and the SP, and is equally suggestive of an arbitrary exercise of authority.”

Garcia had suddenly and substantially reduced the budget of the late vice governor from P47 million in 2010 to P18 million in 2011.

This action, the Office of the President said, was not due to “warranted by circumstances,” adding that this was a mere “pretense” because the allocations were “reverted back” to the office of the vice governor after Sanchez died.

All this “scheme to restrict the functioning” of the office of a political rival “undermined the separate character of the executive from the legislative branch of the local government unit.”

The Office of the President also noted that the appointments of 19 consultants were done without prior authorization from the Garcia-controlled SP.

“In the absence of a proper expense item that may be substitute the required Sangguniang authorization, this office concludes that respondent gravely abused her authority in entering into the consultancy contracts,” said the decision.

In arriving at the decision, the Office of the President gave due “consideration” to the findings of the DILG, which investigated the complaint.

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