Back in her seat as Cebu’s no. 1 provincial official, outgoing Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia yesterday wasted no time in getting back at “disloyal” staff in the Capitol.
She issued a memorandum firing Eduardo Habin, the provincial administrator who carried out the order locking her out of the office on Jan. 30 during her six-month suspension by the Office of the President, a penalty which ended last Monday.
Other staff changes in the Capitol are expected in the remaining seven working days of Garcia’s final term which ends at noon of June 30.
Her office, dusty and untouched for four months, was given a fast cleanup after it was opened at 9:30 am. yesterday in the presence of representatives of the Department of Interior and Local Government, Commission on Audit, and Garcia’s trusted former Capitol aides, Elizabeth Francia, Ronald Conopio and Amor Sarmiento.
Garcia walked in shortly before 4 p.m., held closed-door meetings with the DILG representative and some staffers, but did not speak with reporters or call a press conference until she left the building before 7 p.m.
“She’s back with a vengeance,” Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale told Cebu Daily News later. “We are prepared for this.”
She said they were bracing for other staff changes to be made after Garcia set aside Evelyn Senajon as OIC Provincial Social Welfare offier and restored Marivic Garces, her former representative in the bids and awards committee.
Key Capitol department heads went on leave on Monday in anticipation of Garcia’s return.
These include provincial auditor Marieto Ypil, General Services Office head Eva Encabo and provincial treausurer Emmanuel Guial, who is attending a seminar and then continuing with a leave until the end of the month.
The move is apparently a precaution to ensure that no midnight disbursements are made or that P73 million in trust funds in the provincial coffers, a pooled fund that includes pork barrel deposits of Rep. Pablo Garcia and Rep. Pablo John Garcia, are not hastily released.
A transition team was earlier formed by Magpale to prepare for the assumption on June 30 of Governor-elect Hilario Davide II and the new set of members of the Provincial Board.
“Junjun is willing to meet with Garcia’s camp to prepare for a smooth transition,” said Magpale, who added that other departments were already instructed to prepare status reports and inventories for the purpose.
Garcia’s return ended speculation that she would not reassume her position as governor. When she didn’t show up or send word about her plans on Tuesday, June 18, the first official day of her reassumption, DILG Regional Director Ananias Villacorta said she could be marked absent without leave (AWOL) and subject to charges of dereliction of duty unless she applies for a leave of absence.
The DILG official sent an order to Magpale directing her stay on as acting governor to avoid a vacancy. The June 18 order was received yesterday, but was later overtaken by events.
Magpale presided over a meeting of the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge Management Board in the morning, until she was alerted mid-afternoon by a phone call from Villacorta that Garcia was, in fact, coming back.
Under the law, the outgoing governor has the duty of turning over the office to the newly elected governor who assumes office at noon of June 30.
A DILG memorandum contains a checklist of 15 items, including status reports and property inventories, which Governor Garcia has to turn over to Governor-elect Davide.
The Liberal Party-Bakud tandem of Davide and Magpale won by a large margin of over 150,000 votes in the the May 13 election, defeating Garcia’s brother, Rep. Pablo John Garca who sought to replace his sister as governor, and Ramon “Boboy” Durano, former Danao city vice mayor.
Garcia was accompanied inside the Governor’s Office by her daughter Christina Frasco and son Paulo Garcia, together with her staff headed by Elizabeth Francia. Video cameras and staff of the former Sugbo TV were also there to record her return.
Dressed in dark jeans and a white long-sleeved shirt, Garcia went directly to her office and met with DILG OIC Provincial Director Jerome Gonzales and DILG legal officer Ayessa Nogra.
Nogra later told reporters that Garcia’s return was “mere formality” as it was Garcia’s right to sit as governor again.
A letter of re-assumption was sent by Garcia to the Provincial Board. With this, Magpale automatically resumes her post as vice governor.
“We are just glad that this is finally over,” Nogra told reporters.
Starting last Monday, Magpale stopped signing documents as acting governor to avoid being misconstrued as overstepping her boundaries.
Regarding the status of Habin, Magpale said she had advised the provincial administrator earlier to go on leave to avoid a confrontation with Governor Garcia, after her brother Byron had berated the elderly official for his “disloyalty” in remaining in the service of the new administration. After the angry encounter with Byron, Habin, who is in his 70s, fell ill.
Despite the sudden termination of Habin, he may be taken in after June 30 as a “consultant” of the Davide administration, according to Magpale.
Garcia’s return was the latest episode in the Capitol drama that started with the service of a suspension order last Dec. 18, 2012, which she refused to heed.
At 9:30 a.m. yesterday, chains and wooden boards sealing doors of the hallway leading to the Governor’s Office were opened.
Barangay Capitol site officials and employees of the Provincial General Services Office (PGSO) were among the witnssess, including Garcia’s former Capitol staffers and lawyer Joselito Ramon Castillo as representative of Davide and Magpale.
At around noon, the son of Byron Garcia delivered the keys for the Governor’s main office.
Upon its opening by 1:30 p.m., Commission on Audit auditors started to inventory the items inside, which included Garcia’s collection of portraits and photos of herself, religious icons, and personal furniture.
Janitors used vacuum machines to clean the sofa, floors and windows that had accumulated dust the office’s over four month closure.
Religious icons and Garcia’s plaques placed on a side table with a flat screen TV, printers and computers were intact in the receiving area. / With Correspondent Peter Romanillos