Explainer: Mayor Labella tells VM Rama, ‘Focus ta sa trabaho, Mike,’ lists 14 actions on Covid. No word about Edgar’s health, on 19th day away from City Hall.

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

ONE DAY AFTER Vice Mayor Michael Rama challenged in open session of the Cebu City Council Mayor Edgardo Labella to decide “what’s best for the city,” the mayor curtly told him, “let’s focus on work,” “now is not the time for bickering,” and “put aside politics.”

Last Friday, February 5, in its regular session continued from February 3, the City Council ditched the plan to request the mayor to delegate to VM Rama the work of leading the city’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the effects of the fireworks stayed.

In the session, Presiding Officer Rama, as chairman of the committee on health, bluntly addressed the mayor to decide: “We need to do something. If you think you cannot be back at City Hall. If you think in your situation you cannot bring your body and soul to manage City Hall, please, you know what to do.”

He prefaced that dare with the vow he didn’t want to “usurp” the mayor’s Covid functions or take over without the mayor’s authority.

FIRING BACK: “LET’S WORK TOGETHER.” In his Facebook post Saturday, February 6, Mayor Labella said he learned from fighting the pandemic that “we will only succeed when we all work together.” He rejected “bickering” at this time and “politics.” The mayor said, “we have a disease to contain, we have people to help, we have an economy to rebuild.”

Addressing the claimed cause of the vice mayor’s Friday “outburst” – concern and anxiety over the spike in coronavirus infections in the city – Labella said the rise was “expected” but “we’ve kept the numbers low compared with the projections.”

The mayor listed 14 actions by the chief executive against the plague, including the use of two hotels, and preparing three more, as sites for temporary treatment and monitoring; the opening of more barangay isolation centers; and the expansion of the city’s Emergency Operations Center by moving it to the old Sacred Heart School, assigning it more people and hiring 450 more contact tracers.

MAYOR SILENT ON HIS HEALTH. Mayor Labella didn’t mention about his ailment, earlier identified as an ear infection, which has kept him physically absent from City Hall and other places where the job of chief executive would take him.

As of February 6, when he answered Rama’s complaint and demand, the mayor had been away from his office for about 19 days already, counted from January 20 when he checked into an unnamed private hospital.

That day, the mayor and City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. separately issued denials of a rumor that Labella was in a coma. He had only an ear infection, for which his doctor advised hospital checkup and rest. He took a four-day leave, January 19 to 23. On January 24, already in his house in Barangay Bacayan, he told SunStar he would be working from home for a few days.

Last January 30, city manager Casas doused the rumor that the mayor was taken the previous night to a Lapu-Lapu City hospital. Not true, Casas said, Labella was at home, not in any hospital, and was well.

What prompted Rama’s “rant” over the absence of physical leadership at City Hall and agitation by some councilors to have Mike Rama assist involved the question of the mayor’s health.

Labella dodged the question in his initial answer. He may yet issue a medical certificate or suddenly report to City Hall again.

Earlier, on January 27, Commissioner Rowena Burden of the Philippine Commission on Women (PWC) asked the mayor in a Facebook post if he had no “physical and cognitive” disabilities, daring Labella to produce his “workup results” after his surgery for gallbladder last September. Burder -- who had offered the mayor and Governor Gwen Garcia her services as a doctor to help the anti-Covid response -- said disclosure of the public official’s state of health is “important for the well-being” of the city residents.

Rama, as Burden did, got no more detail than what Labella chose to disclose through media.

PRINCIPAL ISSUE AND POLITICS. The core issue is whether the campaign to manage and keep Covid at bay, help city residents, and revive the economy can be waged successfully even with the mayor directing it from his house.

To VM Rama, the general must be on the field of battle, as if the Covid war zone were defined, in the city’s case, at the command center in the chief executive’s office or anywhere else where his physical presence is needed.

A number of councilors feel more confident with the mayor being “visible and within reach.” Other councilors just believe Labella needs “all the help he can get.”

And politics? Former Cebu City OIC John “Sonny” Osmena once said, “Nothing at this City Hall is not tied to someone’s political tail” (more colorful in Cebuano-Bisaya). Yet in the latest Rama-on-Labella assault, politics is probable motive but not the driving force and, to the city’s populace, not relevant to the problem at hand.

ROLE OF RAMA AND COUNCIL. City Hall watchers wonder though if the mayor’s physical presence would help if he would not work together or, at least share information, with Rama and the City Council. For example, had the Sanggunian been told about the 12 things the mayor said Saturday he had done or been doing about Covid, would they have mounted that near-coup of February 5?

The restiveness in the City Council -- highlighted by VM Rama’s latest moves, including his assumption as “convenor” on the rollout of vaccines -- suggests that the lawmakers, Rama more strongly, want to take part in the anti-Covid policymaking and operations. They want more than appropriating tons of money for anti-pandemic response and then “cast away.”