..GOVERNOR Gwendolyn Garcia began by recalling how a “fierce battle” delayed by six hours her oath-taking on June 30, 2004 as the first woman governor of Cebu. She ended by assuring Cebuanos she is ready to do battle still.
The governor deplored what she said were attempts to keep her from delivering her last State of the Province Address (SOPA) yesterday and the efforts to discourage her bid for the Senate in 2013.
“Sayod kita kung unsay ilang gusto mahitabo. Ako ilang ipa-preso aron ako di makahatag og husay kaninyo niining hapona (We all know that they wanted me arrested to stop me from facing you this afternoon),” said Garcia, who posted bail some three hours before she finally delivered her speech.
It highlighted, like most SOPAs, her administration’s accomplishments in 12 areas and the Province’s finances. Garcia, reported, for example, that Cebu Province had P29 billion at the end of 2011, when it earned P2.3 billion or 12 percent more than the year before.
The province is not only the richest in the country, but also “remains absolutely debt-free,” Garcia said.
She also recalled one of the early challenges to her administration, when opposition lawmakers proposed to divide Cebu into four provinces. She thanked Cebuanos for choosing to unite against “the forces of division”.
“It has been a long, difficult, but most exhilarating journey,” the governor said.
The governor said she learned of her impending arrest a day before her annual speech, but said the charges were tired, rehashed and already answered. She referred to the Office of the Ombudsman’s resolution to file charges against her and seven others, in connection with the purchase of the Balili property in Naga.
“They now hope to use it again to deprive you of a governor you did elect and to put in place someone you did not,” Garcia said.
Notably absent from the SOPA audience was Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, who is running for vice governor next year with the administration coalition.
The governor said she is ready to “fight for all Cebuanos” and to face those who want to keep her from bringing the Visayan voice to the Senate.
In an interview, Vice President Jejomar Binay said the filing of the charges against the governor on the day of her final SOPA was a form of harassment.
He said he hopes Garcia will have the chance to do for other parts of the country the things she has accomplished in Cebu. He also expects the reports of her political harassment would push her rankings up.
Garcia was a businesswoman before she began working as a consultant of her father, then governor Pablo Garcia (now deputy speaker of the House of Representatives), before the 2004 elections.
She defeated former congressman Celestino Martinez Jr. in 2004, former congressman Antonio Yapha in 2007 and former Cebu City councilor Hilario Davide III in 2010.
Among the highlights of her eight years as governor so far were the construction of the Cebu International Convention Center in time for the January 2007 Asean Summit and the tourism promotion caravan “Suroy-Suroy Sugbo”.
She credited private sector support for many of her administration’s accomplishments, including the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the promotion of community-based tourism and various companies for investments that will guarantee enough base load power for Cebu’s “unprecedented growth”.
Garcia reported yesterday, among others, the provision of microfinance services to women entrepreneurs, aid for some 150,000 senior citizens, and the effort to plant eight million trees and a million mangroves.
She also said the province has forged sisterhood agreements with 16 provinces, cities and regions in 10 countries.
“We have reached out to the world to tell them of the treasure that is Cebu,” she said.
In the past eight years, Garcia said, she has kept “impossible hours” and made difficult journeys to live up to her vow to be “the governor who was there.”
“I’ve been accused of many things and that goes with the territory, but I cannot be accused of not being there,” the governor said.
She said she expects more challenges ahead, but added, “I shall stand my ground, and I shall endure this storm that the dark clouds of traditional politics portend.”