EXPLAINER: Cebu City taxpayers need proof of the mayor’s fitness to work, not just proof of life. 7 takeaways on Mayor Labella’s health issue.

·5 min read

WHAT WENT ON BEFORE. A sworn-to “taxpayer’s complaint” filed by businessman-engineer Crisologo Saavedra Jr. prompted the Cebu City Sanggunian to invite Mayor Edgardo Labella to a meeting at its next session Wednesday, October 6. Saavedra complained of frequent absences by the mayor and the alleged usurpation of functions by the city administrator, Floro Crisologo Jr.

Earlier, last August 18, the City Council invited the mayor to its August 25 session but he begged off. Last Wednesday, Saavedra suggested that a committee of councilors, accompanied by doctors, visit Labella and see for themselves how he is. That didn’t gain traction; instead, the Sanggunian issued a second invitation to the mayor for October 6, its next session. Labella will complete his latest medical leave this Sunday, October 3 and is scheduled to return to work the following day.

[1] ILL MAYOR HAS UPPERHAND. Mayor Labella may appear next Wednesday before the City Council -- or he may not.

If he reports to City Hall on Monday and holds activities that will show the public he can walk, talk, and do other things that prove his fitness to work again, he may not even need to “meet” with the councilors two days later.

Or failing to show his physical and mental competence before Wednesday, he may talk with them from his home or office during the virtual session, insist that his illness is not permanent, and declare again he is recovering and will be up and about soon.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Cebu City Director Ian Kenneth Lucero told the councilors last September 29 that the mayor’s word about the state of his health prevails over the claim that he is unfit to work and no agency or office can investigate the fact of illness except a “court of general jurisdiction.” The law on succession for temporary incapacity apparently leaves to the ill official the right to decide whether he is fit or must step down. A flawed law because the claim of the ill, or the persons speaking for him, must be self-serving but there it is.

[2] SERIAL ABSENCES, LITTLE PROOF OF LIFE. The multiple leaves -- this is his seventh -- have strained credibility to most people who want a full-time crisis manager for the City.

Not helping were ineffective attempts on proof of life. Labella’s handlers could not produce a believable picture of a person reading the day’s (July 31) newspaper. The last image the public saw of the mayor was the dark outline of a person at the back seat of his car, which dropped by City Hall last September 4, supposedly for him to say hello to his staff.

[3] ‘KA-IKOG’ VS. ACCOUNTABILITY. The City Council most likely won’t push against another declaration of Mayor Labella that he is not incapacitated and is fully recovering from illness. That goes against the Cebuano culture of “ka-ikog” and respecting the privacy of the diseased and the weak. It will be an imposition, said Majority Floorleader Raymond Alvin Garcia. Leave him alone, wrote Manila-based newspaper columnist Jesse Bacon II.

Minority Floorleader Nestor Archival supported Saavedra’s complaint and Bando Osmeña–Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) Councilor Alvin Dizon’s view that public interest requires transparency and accountability, which means the people must be told about the true state of the mayor’s health.

[4] BARUG CONTROL OF SANGGUNIAN. Even if BOPK councilors push harder a juicy issue, their Barug colleagues still dominate the vote. Most resolutions, even those that seek to inquire into alleged wrongdoings, are passed unanimously by the good graces of the majority. The Labella invitation didn’t require a division of the house.

But when the real crunch comes, Barug simply calls for a vote and the noise ends.

[5] HOW ‘REGULAR’ MAYOR CAN HELP. The minority in the Sanggunian may argue that the administration party is short-changing the public by insisting to keep a mayor who does not or cannot work “full-time, hands-on, and totally mobile.” Propaganda fodder for the minority BOPK. But “regularizing” Vice Mayor Mike Rama’s stint at the top post would benefit him and Partido Barug too, particularly in this election season.

Rama serves as acting mayor during each medical leave of the mayor but Mike used to complain aloud about the frequent interruptions. He couldn’t finish a project or correct an anomaly or irregularity before the mayor would re-assume his post. The garbage problem created by a “badly chosen” supplier under a contract “disadvantageous” to the City is stark example.

And personal and party interest suffers. Barug is in power but, just a few months before the election, its mayor is hobbled by illness and its acting mayor has clipped powers under the law.

[6] RAMA HOLDING THE BAG. Mayor Rama as administration candidate for mayor most likely will be defending the host of criticisms against Mayor Labella. He is part of the Barug administration. If Rama were running against Labella too, Mike would’ve joined in using the mayor’s health and anti-Covid spending, with other alleged wrongdoings against the incumbent mayor.

During the campaign season, Mike Rama would be lugging the bag and the mess in it.

[7] LABELLA STILL IN THE RUNNING? Those who lead the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and Barug alliance in Cebu City have long decided that Mayor Labella is not among the contenders in 2022 anymore. Since the agreement last mid-July, forged in Clark, Pampanga, Labella had already been taken by his colleagues out of the slate.

His key people, one theory runs, must still cling to the hope that the mayor could recover his health in time, not just to get back to work but also to run for reelection.

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