Mayor Joseph Estrada - Image Source: newsinfo.inquirer.net
Mayor Joseph Estrada – Image Source: newsinfo.inquirer.net

CHICAGO – When I advised then San Juan (Metro Manila) Mayor Joseph Estrada to ignore an order of Revolutionary President Cory Aquino in 1986 to vacate the San Juan municipal hall, I based may advice on the questionable validity of the order because it was not addressed to anybody.

I told Mayor Estrada the anonymous order was an insult to his person and his office.

Later, Estrada vacated the mayor’s office after the violent takeover by the Aquino forces.

I was already here in Chicago when Estrada dramatically tore the order — that was reminiscent of Andres Bonifacio’s tearing his cedula (residence certificate). This very act later catapulted Estrada’s political fortune to the stratosphere.

Of course, I don’t want this kind of incident to happen in Cebu. And I am now appealing to former President Estrada and his allies, including Vice President Binay and Senate President Enrile, to tell Cebu Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia to vacate the capitol while she is appealing her case.

The case of Garcia, whose six-month suspension was imposed by the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo was upheld by President Noynoy Aquino’s Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., is not similar to Estrada’s case.

In Estrada’s case, the order came out of the blue. In Garcia’s case, there was a full-blown administrative hearing in which she was given a day in court.

Robredo found Garcia guilty of, among others, grave abuse of authority for usurping the appointing power of the Vice Governor, for hiring 19 consultants without prior authorization from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), and for “slashing the vice governor’s budget. The last act, while not illegal, is suggestive of harassment, oppression, and vindictiveness by the respondent (Garcia).

Garcia’s trouble started on Nov. 8, 2010 when the late Vice Gov. Gregorio G. Sanchez, Jr. filed complaint against her with the office of Secretary Robredo for alleged encroaching upon Sanchez’s legislative powers, grave misconduct and abuse of authority.

On July 26, 2012, a few months before his death, Secretary Robredo issued a ruling suspending Garcia. The ruling was later elevated to the Office of the President “for appropriate action.”

According to a decision of the Office of the President, Garcia gravely abused her authority by: (1) encroaching on the appointing authority of the complainant over employees of the Office of the Vice-Governor (Sanchez); (2) slashing the budget of the Office of the Vice Governor by 61%; (3) stopping the publication of the Legislative Gavel and non-payment of honoraria of the publication staff; (4) transferring the funding of the Legislative Research and Codification Project from the Office of the Vice Governor to the Office of the Governor; (5) hiring consultants without prior authority from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) or Provincial Board; (6) withholding the overtime pay of the personnel of the Office of the Vice Governor; and (7) issuing a check worth PHP10-M without prior authority from SP.

Garcia denied the allegations in the complaint with respect to acts that occurred before June 30, 2010, (when she was re-elected for the third time as governor), invoking the case of Aguinaldo V. Santos. The case held that a public official’s re-election to office operates as condonation of the official’s misconduct committed during a prior term. I could agree with this ruling only if the misconduct was made known to the voters on or before the election.

Garcia was later accused of charges she had committed after June 30, 2010.

The ruling did not give credence to her claim that all acts complained of are within a governor’s powers of supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the provincial government.

Prior to the investigation of the complaint, Sanchez died. But DILG moved forward with the formal investigation, requiring parties to submit their respective memoranda.

In her memorandum, Garcia moved for the dismissal of the case due to the death of the complainant, “absence of a valid substitution of complainant” and lack of interest to proceed on the part of the complainant’s successor in office.

In his ruling, Robredo said “administrative case survives the death of the complainant and is not rendered moot by the dismissal of related civil cases,” adding, “unilateral acts of a private complainant will not bind the disciplining authority in its exercise of disciplinary power over erring public officials” and “complainant is only treated as witness.”

The ruling also found Garcia to have usurped the appointing power of the vice governor, who has the power to appoint “employees of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, as well as those of the Office of the Vice Governor, whose salaries, are paid out of the funds appropriated for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.”

After Sanchez died, Garcia restored the salaries and wages of contractual employees of the Vice Governor, and this smacked of “malice and bad faith,” “suggestive of an arbitrary exercise of authority,” the ruling stated.

But when Sanchez’s successor, Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale,“transferred to another political party,” Garcia suddenly reduced “the budget of the Vice Governor and the SP for 2011,” and again this indicated “malice and bad faith,” the ruling stated.

Garcia also gravely abused her authority when she hired 19 consultants without “prior, express and separate authorization from the SP.”

The ruling declared, “continued practice does not justify an illegal act and no vested right can be acquired by an administrative official from an erroneous construction of the law.”

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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