Gwendolyn F. Garcia is the first woman elected as governor of Cebu, the country’s premier province. She had served for three consecutive terms from 2004 to 2013, and is the only Cebu governor to ever come back for a fourth term in 2019. In the 2022 elections, she yet again carved another milestone by becoming the first Cebu official to have breached the one-million-vote mark when 1,478,436 Cebuanos gave her a most resounding vote of confidence — with a lead margin of over 1.1 million votes over her closest rival.
Under her watch, Cebu is debt free and the richest province in the country in terms of assets, which now stand at P215 billion, according to the 2021 Commission on Audit report. She runs Capitol like a business enterprise: efficiently and professionally, with the best interest of Cebu and the Cebuanos as her guiding principles in crafting policies and decisions.
Cebu led the way for the entire country in terms of pandemic responses and post-pandemic recovery efforts. She was the first local chief executive to reopen tourism as early as August 2020, junked the required RT-PCR tests for travelers coming to Cebu, and made the wearing of facemasks optional in open and well-ventilated spaces. While the IATF was not pleased with these policies, she was not deterred because she knew the situation on the ground better than them. Since then, she has been vindicated, with the national government now adopting her policies for nationwide implementation.
In December 2021, Cebu was badly hit by Supertyphoon Odette, affecting 32 local government units and over 400 thousand households. She rallied the private and public sectors in expediting Cebu’s recovery efforts. Capitol allocated P1.8 billion for the Dasig Sugbo Program where beneficiaries could claim from partner stores food and housing materials to rebuild their homes. But instead of handing out cash, the assistance was contained in QR-coded cards that were presented to stores. This way, taxpayers’ money not only spurred the local economy but was spent only for its intended purpose.
At the height of the pandemic, Capitol allocated P100 million for the Sugbo Negosyo Program aimed at helping micro and small entrepreneurs in the province jumpstart their businesses. Its beneficiaries were screened by the offices of the Vice Governor and the Board Members. After a thorough mentoring by the DTI and the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry, beneficiaries, which reached close to 10 thousand individuals, were given financial assistance contained in QR-coded cards with which they can present to partner merchants and redeem stocks and other materials for their business. Now, another P100 million has been allocated for the same program for its second round of implementation.
For those businesses that needed additional capital, she introduced the Enhanced Countryside Development Program where Capitol hooked up borrowers with partner financial institutions for very low-interest rates. Capitol processed the applications and served as co-maker of the loans of qualified borrowers. The Cooperative Bank of Cebu and Small Business Corp. even lend money without zero interest under the program. Since its inception, it has helped facilitate the release of some P95.6 million to over a thousand qualified borrowers, with thousands more applications currently being processed.
Her Sugbusog Program, introduced during the pandemic, is a backyard gardening initiative intended for Cebuanos to become productive while in isolation, boost their immune system by eating vegetables and help the province achieve food sufficiency and sustainability. It was first adopted all over the province from the city and municipal levels, all the way down to the barangays, puroks, and households, with Capitol providing incentives like infrastructure projects to top-performing units. Because of its success, all police stations and public schools in the province, as well as all Capitol-run hospitals, are now implementing it.
Another P100 million has been set aside by Capitol for the Sugbo Kahanas Program. It provides free skills training for Cebuanos, especially those who lost their jobs during the pandemic, to help them land jobs here and abroad, or start their own business. At least 22 Tesda-accredited tech-voc training were that gave over 4,300 Cebuanos their NCII certificates and starter tool kits. Another season of the program is underway.
Because mobility was restricted during the pandemic, Capitol made sure that Cebuanos would still get basic services by bringing Capitol services into the towns and component cities. Gov. Garcia accompanies ten stops of the Caravan of Provincial Government Services each quarter for every year, bringing the total to 40 Caravans all over the province each year. The Caravan offers medical, dental, optical, and laboratory services; as well as minor operations and animal vaccinations. Social amelioration is a major part of the Caravan, with PWDs, farmers, fisher folk, and barangay volunteer workers as beneficiaries. Today, other agencies of government have joined the Caravan, including the DILG, DSWD, DA, GSIS, and the Registry of Deeds, as well as the IBP, among many others
Under her watch, Cebuano culture and heritage have taken center stage. The Suroy-Suroy Sugbo was revived after the pandemic, with its latest installment had Capitol leading 11 busloads of participants in discovering the gem that is northern Cebu. The Pasigarbo sa Sugbo, Festival of Festivals also made a comeback, with the entire One Cebu Island taking part in the grandest festival showdown this country has ever seen. The CPDRC Dancing Inmates are also making waves online, concrete proof of the power of transformative leadership that Gov. Garcia has been displaying through the years.
Today, she has become a unifying force in Cebu, with the entire island, including the independent chartered Cities of Lapu-Lapu and Cebu, now looking to her for guidance in crafting important policies for Cebu and the Cebuanos. Indeed, Cebu is now a One Cebu Island, thanks to the trailblazing leadership of Cebu’s Iron Lady and the Governor of the People: Gwendolyn Fiel Garcia.