WHAT the public knows about the June 5, Friday meeting of barangay officials at the MCWD social hall, with these facts being not disputed:
 The attendees were elected barangay captains and appointed Milo (mayor's information and liaison office) representatives from the city's barangays. Barangay captains belonging to the opposition BOPK were invited but did not come, a news source told GMA-7 broadcaster-SunStar columnist Bobby Nalzaro.
The prohibition against mass gathering of public officials during quarantine is not expressly prohibited. On the contrary, it is impliedly allowed since the business of fighting the pandemic has been a continuing program. Governor Gwen Garcia, it is pointed out, has been meeting with mayors and health officers and nobody has complained.
 Progress of the city's campaign against Covid-19 was discussed by DOH Regional Director Jaime Bernadas. That was adequate reason for calling the meeting.
No news was reported by news media during or after the meeting. It could mean there was no new development or media didn't cover the event. Instead, media reported the controversy bred by the gathering: accusation and denial that it was a birthday party.
 Video and photo shots published didn't show balloons, birthday greetings and songs, and the like. But food was served, as indicated by the hiring of a caterer.
But serving of food have made a difference on the issue of liability because of alleged violation of quarantine rules. Food is routinely served for such meetings. The governor serves food at Capitol for similar meetings on the Covid campaign. Why couldn't the mayor who celebrated his birthday two weeks before provide it?
The mere gathering would violate the quarantine guidelines if it were not a meeting of officials, but it was. The trappings of the party -- food, singing, greetings and the like -- would only tend to disprove the purported intent of the meeting, but except for the food, the indicators were not present. Or so the evidence so far shows.
(Interesting footnote: If it was a birthday party, it was really a belated one, considering that items in the internet about his birthday say Edgardo Colina Labella was born on May 22, 1951. The June 5 "celebration," if it was one, was late by 15 days.)
Plausible verdict for now
Independent City Hall watchers look at the controversy this way: It was a legitimate meeting with a valid and timely purpose but, deliberately or not, was also used as an occasion for celebration or, at least, expressing felicitation to, and thanks from, the city chief executive. "It's the culture of the Filipino," they say. There was food catering but then catering is not just for birthday parties.
Unless an aggrieved person sues the people concerned, debate on the issue -- kept alive largely by the concurrent controversy on the arrest and charging of eight persons at another gathering, at UP Cebu on the same day -- won't be resolved.
'You think you own MCWD'
Collateral issue that has come out from the exchange on the "party or not-a- party" controversy is the exchange between MCWD board chairman Jose Daluz and a number of netizens, believed to be connected with the water district.
It would appear, from social media posts, that City Hall has been using the MCWD social hall ("among social hall") for meetings with taxi drivers, barangay captains and collecting specimens for the Covid rapid tests.
The same Facebook posts suggest that the list of attendees at the June 5 meeting signed their names not as a requirement of City Hall but as MCWD requisite for entry into the building. Photo shots of pages from the MCWD logbook were leaked, not City Hall attendance sheets.
Comments on Facebook -- talking about the use of the MCWD social hall, calling it an imposition the employees must bear ("kalooy nato ani," "this is too much") -- drew this retort from Daluz, or purportedly from him:
"For a long time you think that you own MCWD... MCWD is for the people. Our sacred duty is public service. In the time of Covid, we all must help. You are not corporate employees... we are not a private company. Look what is happening with MCWD. Walay agas. Shame on us."
Social function venue
Not known to many of us is that the water district's social hall is rented out for parties and other social functions.
The social hall, located at the back of "La Nueva" department store, near Sto. Nino Church and Magellan's Cross, is available for birthday parties and conferences.
It is being promoted by Cebu Balloons as among "the seven unfamiliar birthday venues," the others being the Cebu Capitol social hall, the CFI Penthouse, Fort San Pedro, CAP Auditorium and Jose Rizal Memorial Library.
Three to four hours at the MCWD social hall will cost P10,000. If City Hall uses it, presumably it won't be paying anything. That may explain the complaints from netizens who "sympathize" with the water district.
Tell us about it.