“To my fellow citizens in the City of Cebu, hangyo lang ko ninyo. We cannot win this battle if we are not united. We should be one. We just have to follow the very basic minimum health protocols...Hangyuon ko kamo mga kaigsuonan nako sa dakbayan sa Sugbo, maghiusa ta. Kanang dinautay, kanang political posturing, ato usa nang ipadaplin.”—Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella
Unite, yes, well and good. But when the chips are down, some words fall flat. If only Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella finds it in himself to fully empathize with his constituents’ ruling mood, he’d know exactly what to say and do.
It’s rather anachronistic for him to make this lofty call for unity at this time of the day, four months deep into this mess of a lockdown and we’re still in rehearsal mode.
Too late in the day, and it has been almost three months since the Cebu Citizens-Press Council had called on the City Government to marshal clear crisis information in the most conspicuous platforms available.
This is one of what the CCPC asked in its April 21 statement: “Summary of major points of the message, with graphics or visuals, under the official ID or brand of the source of information, lends authority and genuineness and separates the information from dubious material peddled elsewhere.”
This call for clarity and transparency has been echoed mostly by enraged netizens on social media and elsewhere, if only the good mayor had been paying attention. The plea was not without valid grounds. For one, it would have spared the City the migraine of having to parry persistent misinformation.
And, yet, even as the prevailing mood rages for openness, the Cebu City Health Department (CCHD) clams up, saying it will stop posting daily Covid-19 cases upon the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). The move, the CCHD said, is meant to avoid confusion while it had to harmonize data with the Department of Health (DOH). One can only be amazed at the sort of torpor that could possibly miss a screaming disharmony for months now.
It isn’t as though this crisis is devoid of leading examples as far as successes are concerned. Leaders who turned out to be more successful in the handling of the crisis pointed out key points in their management approaches.
While the nature of the crisis is persistently mercurial, it had become inherent for governments to make timely responses—they had to contain the crisis by recognizing it head on. In contrast, we have a City Government who singularly looked at the face of the moon and thought the other side was also as bright. It lifted the lockdown and the case count blew on its face like mad.
Most of all, it is about public trust. Successful leaders in this pandemic recognize it as a key pillar to function effectively. Connecting with people with clear messaging is therefore sacred.
This call for unity comes from someone who can’t read a room. That is not what the citizens want to hear. They want information on the crisis with which they can navigate through their respective lives. They want clear policies and directions from government, the one and only entity with whom we have entrusted our biggest resources to keep our communities in order. The public wants to hear how much government has internalized its accountability.