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A full year has passed since Governor Gwendolyn Garcia’s historic election into a fourth term as Cebu’s first woman governor. 

The months have flown fast, and the first anniversary is marked by an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) because of a faceless enemy that’s threatening public health and leaving the economy on the brink of collapse.

“Wala na man lang gani ko kabantay nga one year na diay tungod aning Covid-19, although dili pa full one year kay I came in by July, pero (it) feels like 20 years,” said Garcia.

The Cebuanos, however, are only thankful to have voted for her a year ago, seeing that her steadfast dedication and swift action is what’s making Cebu Province stem the tide in this otherwise disastrous worldwide pandemic.

Viewers of her daily visual presser over Sugbo News Facebook page, who comprise of Cebuanos, those from other provinces and Filipinos outside the country, couldn’t help but express their admiration for the governor’s zeal and intensity in leading the Province of Cebu.

“The first woman governor is smartest of them all! I may not have known or seen you personally, but your loudest motto, ‘Dili Sulti Ang Pabuhaton, Buhat Ang Pasultihon’ (is) very much remarkable to our hearts since you sat on the highest office of the provincial government. You will always be the one and only Gwen. History will not forget. Mabuhi ang Sugbuanon,” wrote netizen Alvin Solueta on the page’s comment tab.

In January, Garcia began the consultation, consensus and action against what was then a “mystery pneumonia,” which later identified as a “novel coronavirus.” 

At the time, not much information about the risks of getting infected was available yet but she immediately tasked the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) to come up with measures to ensure the protection of the Cebuanos. 

She pushed for a proactive and preventive measure, like how the Capitol managed to keep Cebu Province free from the African Swine Fever that was wreaking havoc on the country’s hog industry.

On February 3, as new cases of the novel coronavirus, officially named Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), slowly increased in different countries, the Cebu Provincial Task Force on COVID-19 was created to formulate and implement policies and guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus in province. Later on, the Capitol released cash assistance to the towns and component cities for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their frontliners and food packs for their constituents.

In just a few weeks, the province’s situation became a “creeping ECQ.” Garcia issued a series of Executive Orders (EO) for the gradual closure of ports for domestic air and sea travel, 24-hour province-wide curfew for students and senior citizens, strict border controls, movement restrictions, temporary closure of non-essential businesses, and operations of essential companies under limited workforce capacity. 

In the midst of the chaos, fear, and panic, the governor’s voice provided direction to otherwise jumbled and muddled decisions. She served as a beacon of hope even to other government officials and businessmen who looked up to her for wisdom and guidance on how Cebu can survive this pandemic.

Dr. Jaime Bernadas, chief of the Department of Health – Central Visayas for Health Development Center, himself recently expressed awe of her leadership skills and decisiveness. 

“My admiration for you, Gov, is pushed to the next level. Thank you for your wisdom. You have spoken as an authoritative spatial epidemiologist. You have analyzed the data and pushed forward the inconvenient truth,” Bernadas stated.

Spatial epidemiology is the description and analysis of geographic variations in disease with respect to demographic, environmental, behavioral, socioeconomic, genetic, and infectious risk factors.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar also commended Garcia for her swift response and for being the first local government official to act on the COVID-19 threat.

"I was surprised advance kaayo og thinking atong gobernador, unsaon pag sulbad sa problema sa n-Coronavirus. This is the first action in the Philippines coming from the provincial level, for such a very timely decision, which will affect how the other provinces, municipalities and cities and other regions will now act. Thank you so much Gov. Gwen makakarating ito kay Pangulo," he said.

For the past four months, Garcia also slowly became the “face of primetime” as she consistently delivered COVID-19 updates to the Cebuanos every day livestreamed on Sugbo News. 

She shared the Capitol’s programs aimed to help alleviate Cebuanos’ lives in the midst of the pandemic – financial assistance to local government units which translated to food packs to their respective residents, the Bagsakan Center at the Cebu South Bus Terminal, Tindahan sa Kapitolyo, SugBusog Vegetable Gardening Project, and home remedies promotion to boost one’s immune system.

Her regular visual presser became a part of the daily afternoon habit of Cebuanos here and abroad, appeasing, even just for a little bit, their homesickness and loneliness after months of not meeting their families, friends, and loved ones.

Some followers even requested to have the livestream put on a fixed timeslot so they could not miss Cebu’s “Ang Probinsyana” to go on air, alluding to a long-running soap opera of a free television network.

A year ago, Garcia won her fourth term in the gubernatorial race by an overwhelming number of votes from the Cebuanos who trust and believe that with her leadership, Cebu will become great again. 

An eventful year later, the governor continues to lead the province, in unity with all stakeholders, as it gears towards the “new normal,” the life after COVID-19, with much to be done to resuscitate the economy while keeping everyone protected from the dreaded virus. (Eleanor Valeros, Lianne Llesol, Jeanette Malinao)