EXPLAINER: Casas says Labella family, group to make 'big decision' in next few days, fueling talk of possible breakaway. Those who criticized Edgar are 'the same people who now praise him,' says ex-city manager.

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FLORO Casas Jr., law partner and right-hand man of Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and former city administrator, made a rumor-provoking announcement at the necrological service Friday, November 26, 2021. Casas in closing his tear-filled speech ominously said the Labella family and his group of supporters "will make a big decision in the next few days."

Casas preceded the disclosure with a request for guidance from the departed mayor, saying the "Labella boat was sinking" and their group, like Mayor Labella who survived the 1998 M/V Princess of the Orient sea tragedy, wants to survive too amid "this tragedy" and "this oppression."

What would Casas expect the public to think, except that Barug might have some problem appeasing and keeping the Labella faction for the 2022 elections?

CRITICISMS PAINED LABELLA. Labella's City Hall manager ("You manage City Hall. I'll manage the city.") said it pained the mayor that he was being criticized despite the efforts and sacrifices he made, especially during the height of the pandemic. Casas said "these self-proclaimed experts in social media" who criticized him were the same people who publicly praised Mayor Labella after he died.

The ailing mayor, Casas said, wondered if the criticisms would stop or subside if the critics would know about his physical suffering.

TALK OF ‘OPPRESSION.’ Casas didn't say it but the reference to "oppression" could be due to the perceived threat on the tenure of Labella supporters, starting with Mayor Michael Rama's "warning" this week about evaluating casuals and job order employees and, later, the "suggestion" for coterminous employees not to report for work in the meantime.

On the same day that Rama announced that office overseer Ma. Suzanne Cardosa has taken over the city administrator's office, Casas also publicized his resignation, though he didn't hint of any grievance against Mayor Mike. Later though, in Friday's necrological rites, he talked about "oppression."

PEOPLE LABELLA PRAISED. Casas included Mayor Mike in his list of people whom Labella was grateful to and had respect or friendship for (Rama was No. 2, next to businessman Ben Sun). Casas said Labella was grateful to Rama for the 8,000 votes he got in Basak-Mambaling in the 2019 election. "Taas kaayo iyang respeto nimo, Mayor Mike." Noticeably not mentioned was the work of Rama in the several times he was acting mayor.

Others whom Casas mentioned for their help and being good to Labella, included: Presidential Assistant for Visayas Mike Dino who chose and supported Edgar even before Dino knew him well; Joey Daluz, Labella's chief political adviser; and Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia ("a true friend").

At the same time, Casas set off speculation that he was hitting someone, possibly Mayor Mike, when he said that as a vice mayor, Edgar didn't meddle with the executive functions of either then mayor Tomas Osmeña or mayor Rama. "Ang akong mayor," Casas said, "dili palaaway, dili traydor, dili hilabtanon, dili plastic."

In the context of vice-mayor-to-his-mayor, who else could Casas have in mind?

SIX PEOPLE KNEW IT. Casas said Mayor Labella told him about his physical condition in June 2020 when he was summoned by the mayor to a one-on-one talk over breakfast. Mayor Edgar said, "Di mayo akong gipamati, Dong." His boss told Casas he'd get tired easily, he'd feel weak, and he couldn't stand for long, his knees and feet would hurt ("sakit kaayo"). That's why, the mayor said, he'd often lean on Casas or "Madam" (Labella's wife Joy).

Labella asked Casas not to tell anyone else about the state of his health; "only six people know."

But Dong was not to worry, the mayor said, "My doctors said I wouldn't die in the next 15 years." Why the secrecy, which caused critics to complain? Casas said the mayor didn't want to be pitied; he wanted them to see his accomplishments, not his illnesses.

Later in the following days, Labella would say he felt his "end was near" and Casas would comfort him with the doctors' talk about a 15-year lease on life.

WHAT CASAS STANCE TELLS. The Casas reference to "tragedy," "oppression" and the traits of a good mayor are not direct or specific accusations against anyone. It may not be shots fired at Mayor Rama. But it is a strong indicator that not everything is OK with the relations between the Labella group and the Rama group. The cracks on the floor, only seen faintly before, begin to show.

People recall how Mike Rama, then the acting mayor, joined the demand for disclosure of Labella's state of health, complaining that he couldn't even contact the mayor, and, as presiding officer of the Sanggunian, encouraged if not led inquiries into the spending of Covid-response funds and questioned the Carbon Market project and other controversial decisions of the executive department.

One anti-Barug propaganda even uses a voice clip of Mike Rama in its attack on the Labella administration. And the dirty bombs have barely started exploding.

EMOTIONAL STATE. Casas was visibly shattered by the death of his boss "who was like a father" to him. The anecdotes he told, many of which were intimate and personal to Labella and his inner circle, visibly shook up the city administrator, also affecting listeners who included other members of the "core group."

Perhaps prudence by the Labella group's leaders and prompt change of strategy and pace by the Rama group may help avert the disaster that a split in Partido Barug can bring. BOPK warriors may not wait on the wings for long.

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