My late brother Jed always wanted to cut to the chase. So in Jed-fashion, let me go straight to the point of this discourse: If not for him, Cebu may have never had its first woman governor.
It sounds incredulous but here’s how that came about.
During the 2004 elections, the race for Cebu’s gubernatorial seat featured private citizen Gwendolyn Garcia pitted against much more distinguished rivals.
While Gwen’s father Pabling was the outgoing governor, Gwen was not given much of a fighting chance because of two hurdles that seemed impossible to overcome: first, the Cebuanos have never elected a woman governor; and, second, she had never held any elective position in the past.
This was the pre-automated election era when it took days for all votes to be counted. When partial results started coming in, Gwen defied all odds by staying in contention with an outcome too close to call with just one remaining area still to report: Lapu-Lapu City. My brother Jed was stationed there as the lawyer of a presidential candidate who belonged to a major political party that under the law was entitled to receive original copies of the election returns.
On the other hand, Gwen was a political newcomer and a local candidate so her party was not entitled to originals of those returns.
“Please make sure to give these election returns to Gwen’s lawyers tomorrow because it’s very important,” instructed Jed to his colleague assigned to the Cebu Provincial Capitol where the canvassing of votes for the tight gubernatorial race was happening.
Jed’s counterpart there, also doing legal work for the same presidentiable, was a 26-year-old neophyte lawyer who was actually the one who hired and assigned Jed to Lapu-Lapu City. Since the results of the presidential elections in Cebu were devoid of any drama, the lawyer kept playing snake in his Nokia phone to fight the boredom during the canvassing in the Capitol Social Hall. But the young lawyer did hand over Jed’s original election returns to Pablo John Garcia, who was Gwen’s election lead counsel.
The immediate aftermath of that hand-off had the national headquarters of the presidential candidate telling that neophyte lawyer not to come back to the Capitol anymore to avoid further controversy involving those election returns. The eventual aftermath some days later was underdog Gwen Garcia being proclaimed as Cebu’s first woman governor by the thinnest of margins against her more decorated rivals.
My own legal work during this year’s election season reacquainted me with some of the players involved in the 2004 elections. We reminisced on those days while trading behind-the-scenes stories, some of which I was just hearing for the first time. One story involved a “midget” crawling through the ceiling ventilation system to the room where the Lapu-Lapu City ballots were stored to perhaps tamper with them. Another story was about a local election officer who received threats and was pressured by higher-ups to proclaim a candidate even before all the votes had been counted.
Could there be truth to any of these stories? It’s really impossible to verify, especially since the passage of nearly two decades may have obscured or exaggerated some details. But when I try to piece these tales together and form my own imaginary narrative, it is one where forces against Gwen attempted to present tampered Lapu-Lapu City election returns as authentic but were immediately shut down by Pablo John who was holding the originals that came from Jed.
Even though he was working exclusively for a presidential candidate, Jed had the awareness that something fishy was happening in the gubernatorial race in his assigned area of Lapu-Lapu City. Jed had the presence of mind to send his original election returns to Gwen’s camp. Jed protected the will of the Cebuano voters. If Jed did not do that selfless act, tampered election returns could have passed through unchecked and Cebu may have never had its first woman governor.
Fast forward to today, Governor Gwen’s popularity is at an all-time high as she is serving her fifth term having won the biggest mandate in Cebu history both in terms of number of votes and margin of victory. Pablo John is now on his second term as a nationally recognized top performing congressman whose accomplishments may have been too daunting for any rival to dare challenge in the last election where he ran unopposed.
As for that neophyte lawyer who delivered the original election returns from Jed to Pablo John, he sits in front of his computer writing this tribute to his dearly departed brother. Today is the second anniversary of Jed’s passing and it is about time I let the world know of how Jed may have helped in shaping the course of Cebu’s history.