I am not a lawyer but I have observed some flaws and loopholes in the complaint filed by the Sanlakas Partylist against Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia on her administration’s alleged failure in the Covid-19 response. Although the complaint was administrative in nature and what it needs is only a preponderance of evidence, the complainants and their lawyers should have conducted a thorough research on the issues they raised and crafted the complaint well so that they would have a strong case that will warrant the imposition of penalty against the governor.
Preponderance of evidence is the weight, credit and value of the aggregate of evidence on either side and is usually considered to be synonymous with the term “greater weight of evidence” or “greater weight of credible evidence.” A “preponderance of evidence” and “beyond reasonable doubt,” in criminal cases, have different standards, requiring different amounts of proof.
For me, the complaint was hastily done. If the complainants’ intention was only for publicity mileage because Sanlakas is seeking a partylist representation in the House of Representatives in next year’s elections, they have achieved their agenda.
(Note: My analysis on this issue is based purely on the report of SunStar Cebu entitled “Gwen faces grave misconduct complaint over Covid response,” which was published last Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 as I failed to secure the original copy of the 15-page complaint.)
According to the complainants, the governor violated Republic Act 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the Administrative Code of 1987. They claimed that the governor downplayed and belittled the pandemic, leading the public to believe that Covid-19 is a simple flu, and advocated the use of the scientifically unproven “tuob” or steam inhalation to treat it.
The complainants further argued that Garcia failed to immediately purchase vaccines and conduct aggressive vaccination among her constituents, resulting in a low vaccination rate that prevented the province from reaching a strong herd immunity status. They stated that to date, the Province of Cebu, even with the staggering amount of public resources that it enjoys, only has a vaccination rate of 20 percent while public education and campaign for vaccination have been very limited.
The governor’s move to disregard the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) rules on the conduct of swabbing for returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was also criticized by the complainants who said it resulted in the third wave of the pandemic in the province that even spread to Mindanao. Included in the complaint is the governor’s alleged unjustifiable underusing and withholding of public funds that were allocated to her office in the year 2020, as out of the P13 billion budget, only P3 billion was spent for Covid-19 response.
Consider this: Did the complainants cite what particular provision of RA 6713 Gwen allegedly violated? This special law, which was approved by Congress in 1989 and mostly deals with the conduct of government officials and employees, has 17 sections. The complainants also alleged that Gwen violated the Administrative Code of 1987 of the Civil Service Commission. This Code consists of several chapters and sections. What particular provision did Gwen violate under this Code?
The complainants also alleged that Gwen failed to immediately purchase vaccines to protect her constituents from being infected with Covid-19. I can say with fear of contradiction that the complainants and their lawyers did not do some research or did not listen and read the news. Why? Because until this time, no local government unit (LGU) or any private company has been allowed to purchase vaccines directly from the various manufacturers abroad because of the tripartite agreement. It is only the national government that is allowed to purchase vaccines. The first wave of the vaccines we used were all donations from China, Great Britain and later, the US and Russia. Yes, some LGUs appropriated funds for the vaccines but it was never used. Correct me if I am wrong but please tell me which LGU has been allowed to purchase vaccines.
The complainants also alleged that Gwen failed to conduct a massive and aggressive vaccination drive in the province which resulted in the deaths and low vaccination rate. Did Gwen really fail on this aspect? This is purely perception. We cannot convict a person purely on perception. Even the national government failed to convince people to get vaccinated and has been exerting some pressure so that more citizens will get jabbed.
Gwen did not defy the IATF’s swabbing policy for ROFs and OFWs. She just modified the IATF’s policy. In fact, what she introduced was double-swabbing. Did the complainants support their complaint with data showing that the laxity at the Mactan airport and Gwen’s swabbing policy for ROFs and OFWs caused the spread of Covid-19 in Mindanao?
They also claimed that Gwen promoted the scientifically unproven method of “tuob” as cure for Covid-19. From the time the Covid-19 cases rapidly spread throughout the world and even until now, there has been no known cure or medicine for it. We have been scrambling on how to combat the disease. We drink coconut oil, take herbal medicines and other possible remedies. Is it a mortal sin if others adapted the traditional and primitive way to cure the disease? Most people will not go to the doctors and be admitted in the hospital because of the high cost of hospitalization. Medical doctors may laugh about this but this is the real situation in our country. Mahirap at mahal ang magkasakit ngayon.
Did they know that even the government encourages the adaption of traditional medicine through Republic Act No. 8423, Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act, which recognizes the importance of traditional and alternative medicine in providing health care to the people? Although “tuob” is not specifically mentioned, it is one of our practices. I even adapted it in my hometown during my younger days if we encountered a respiratory illness. We used the leaves of the “tuba-tuba” (Jatropha) when we had stomachache. If we had fever, our parents would just let us drink Royal Tru-Orange mixed with native chicken eggs.
And as to the budget for the Covid-19 response, we cannot just pour our entire budget or a big part of it for the Covid-19 response, or medical services for that matter. The government has other concerns like infrastructure, campaign against criminality, livelihood and other programs that also need funds.