IN THE ’70s, Cebu was heroically defiant of Marcos’ dictatorship. By some quirk of fate, it is again proving to be the nemesis of a more modern type of one-man rule, this time mainly based on the power of media and with a Machiavellian expertise in manipulating laws for its vile aims.
For nearly two weeks now, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has resisted President Aquino’s brazen move to remove her from office on the basis of flimsy charges—five months before the May elections. It is undoubtedly a plot to weaken her camp and strengthen the Liberal Party’s weak candidate for governor Hilario Davide III, the former chief justice’s son who lost in the 2010 elections.
The bigger booty though for Aquino’s Liberal Party: Next to Metro Manila, Cebu has the biggest number of voters in the country, and it would be a crucial edge for its senatorial slate if the reins of the provincial government were held by Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, sister of Aquino’s Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.
Garcia’s defiance has turned into a historic showdown, with the country’s second and third most powerful political figures—Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile—together with the still-popular former President Joseph Estrada supporting Garcia. If the three leaders turn tail now, it would be an ignominious setback for their United Nationalist Alliance, even before the real fight, the May elections, has started.
Mainstream media have been burying the game-changing political battle in the country’s second most strategic area. There hasn’t even been a press outrage over Magpale’s order to close down—to review its budget, she claimed—Cebu’s popular Sugbo TV and Sugbo newsmagazine, which have been supportive of the governor.
The President’s spokespersons think Filipinos are stupid when they claimed that “there’s no politics involved” in Aquino’s Christmas blitzkrieg. But Aquino’s strategists even executed the assault during the holiday season, calculating—wrongly it has turned out—that fun-loving Cebuanos wouldn’t give up their parties for some inconvenience as resisting an emerging despot.
Aquino’s political spokesperson Ben Evardone claimed that Garcia was being penalized just as Kalinga governor and Liberal Party stalwart Joel Baac was. But Baac stormed the government’s Radyo ng Bayan station with his five goons, and bloodied the broadcaster who was critical of the politician with his microphone. Instead of being forever banned from public office for attempted manslaughter and for attacking the press, Baac was given a month’s suspension.
In sharp contrast, the charges against Garcia—for which Aquino wants her suspended for six months—did not involve graft or any crime, but essentially technical issues as whether she has the authority to appoint new staff at the Office of the Vice Governor or to reduce an office’s budget. I’ve posted Garcia’s defense in the website www.trigger.ph, so you can judge for yourself. Just to summarize two of the most important points:
• Believe it not: The charges against Garcia mainly involves her appointment of staff in the Office of the Vice Governor and in the provincial board which the complainant, the late vice governor Gregorio Sanchez, alleged was an “abuse of authority.” But not only has the Civil Service Commission but the Supreme Court itself ruled in other cases that a provincial governor has the authority to do so.
• In order to prevent a president from using administrative cases as a Damocles’ sword against those unsupportive of him, the Local Government Code prescribed that investigation of a complaint must be completed in 90 days, and the President must issue a decision 30 days after. In Garcia’s case this should have been on Sept. 30, 2011. Believe it or not: Aquino issued his decision on Dec. 27, 2012—474 days after the investigation and more than two years after it was filed in October 2010. (The complainant Sanchez had also passed away in May last year, with no other person or entity taking over as complainant, as required by the Rules of Court). The move against Garcia was obviously decided after the candidacies had been filed, after Aquino’s camp evaluated the Cebu political landscape, and realized that the Liberal Party’s bets had a chance of winning only if Garcia were taken out in the runup to the elections.
The widely acclaimed book “Why Nations Fail” emphasized that one crucial factor for a nation’s economic success is its embrace of the rule of law. It emphasized, however: “The rule of law is not the same as rule by law.” It explained that despots—especially modern ones—seldom rule by the sheer force of arms: Laws are passed and invoked to crush their enemies. In our case, it is a myth that Marcos ruled through the military, as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile elaborated in his autobiography. His dictatorship was based on his interpretation of martial law, which the Supreme Court upheld, and on the 5,000 presidential decrees and letters of instructions he issued which up to this day remain laws of the land.
Mr. Aquino’s regime is not a rule of law, but a rule by law: The selective use of laws and legal technicalities to take out his enemies, which is what the case against Garcia is all about. It is also what the removal of former Chief Justice Renato Corona (which was based on his understating of his assets) was all about, what the imprisonment of former President Arroyo (which is based on the “non-bailable” charge of electoral sabotage, which totally hinges on the sole testimony of an Ampatuan massacre suspect) is about.