Don’t mess with Gwen!

Pundits point out that a raging political issue in news media has a life as good as only two weeks before fading in the public consciousness. Except that when there is no effective closure as answering the clamor for public trust, the issue refuses to die down.

That is the situation that Christina Codilla Frasco finds herself in and for that she only has herself to blame. Pressed by media to clarify her side, she instead turned away and avoided them. That is bad behavior. By keeping the public hanging, she prolongs the issue and extends its life in the public imagination because it is the public who hold the reins of public trust.

Does her mother Gwen get it? In fact, Gwen has worsened the problem. The distasteful threat she gave – “Don’t mess with us!” – resonates very badly, to say the least. It evokes that the political family is untouchable, is exempted from public accountability, and rules by tyrannical threat. The law provides them no such entitlements.

Gwen Garcia appears to be Christina’s bigger picture. Scuttlebutt among Cebuanos say the bigger picture may in fact be political – Gwen is said to be eyeing a senate run in the 2025 midterm elections. Will she admit this?

By saving her daughter and navigating through the adverse public opinion she has generated from her own actions, Gwen needs to salvage her family’s national honor so that it does not stain her 2025 run. That is the message she instead conveys.

But what is Gwen Garcia outside Cebu, outside her fiefdom of political vassals? Again, her national image comes from herself, not from “coordinated sabotage.” Her controversial demeanor during the pandemic – public shaming of critics to her pandemic decisions, among whom was a medical doctor who attested to Gwen’s medical usurpation – has made her a femme fatale, a Lucrezia Borgia of the Visayas in the eyes of the public, a monarch who cuts the head off of her critics.

Gwen Garcia does not hide hubris. Her own apologists have transformed her supervillain image into a political capital, that she is the Iron Lady of Cebu. But those outside Cebu may not look at it the same way. The Philippines of social media age may not pay obeisance to her as all-powerful monarch as Cebu province does.

She tried to distort public opinion by presenting a false and unsupported belief – that her daughter was being sabotaged by a coordinated effort. There was no such effort, of course. That approach proved to be a deficit for her. Gwen cannot factor that Singapore Minister of State for Culture Alvin Tan had posted in his Instagram account a photo of him being gifted in Yogyakarta, Indonesia with a bag of Titay’s Otap that had the photos of Christina and her husband Duke Frasco, one of the deputy speakers of the House of Representatives (don’t expect then the exclusive club  to investigate the Frasco fiasco).  

Indonesia Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno has also attested that he saw the Indonesia stock footage being passed off as sceneries of the Philippines when Christina showed the video in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

A well-known travel blogger and photographer of Cebu (yes, Cebu) who had seen the promotional Love the Philippines video can attest that one of the footages shown was the old church of Liloan where Christina and her husband had both served as municipal mayors. A case of sipsip to the tourism secretary. Christina had not seen the video before realizing it had faked Philippines images? That makes her an absent-minded tourism manager, at the very least.

At the Medellin, Cebu inauguration of the Tourist Rest Area, the entire program appeared like Gwen Garcia orchestrated it. That is possible. A Cebu writer describes her well: “She will always say the party is the one deciding when we all know that decision making in One Cebu is just in the hands of one person, Gwendolyn Garcia, the iron lady and the golden butterfly from Dumanjug and Barili.”

The Medellin Tourist Rest Area was indeed inaugurated, but a bigger slice of the program was devoted to apologize for Christina. An audiovisual presentation was shown that sounded like Christina’s mother herself wrote it. A manifesto was presented signed by 44 mayors and 12 congressmen – you don’t answer a problem of public accountability by a political show of force.

In fact, it was a parade of predictable manifestos by honorary consuls, tour operators, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cebu province (but of course, Gwen’s power turf), and even the Japanese consul in Cebu. Ego-tripping dwarfed the new facility in Medellin.

It was all unnecessary. The show of force instead evoked political horse-trading and strong-arms tactics. What price did these vassals pay if they went against the manifesto? In the meantime, where are the answers for where the buck stops on the plagiarized video and where the public output lies on the grammatically wrong slogan? And what about the epal Titay’s Otap gift to the Asean tourism ministers?

In Christina Frasco’s fiasco, the only message it tells us is that accountability of a public office is now a carcass, a dead body that rhymes with Frasco’s fracas. Who is messing with our democratic principles? Not us.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.