EXPLAINER: So how are things after that Rama, Mabatid bombshell? All's well, says Mike. Niña may be appeased by Barug on 'big mess' charge. VM to push P3.5B liquidation by mayor.

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

FOLLOWING Cebu City Vice Mayor Mike Rama's (1) challenge to Mayor Edgardo Labella that the mayor disclose the real state of his health, whether he could still effectively lead the city's response to the Covid-19 crisis, and (b) Councilor Prisca Niña Mabatid's blast on Facebook that an unelected person, an "ungo" or witch, was calling the shots at City Hall on a number of decisions, including purchases for the pandemic, here are the updates after that stormy February 5 to February 7 weekend:

Rama in 'Vaccines Storm'

What's Mike Rama's role in the anti-Covid campaign? For now, he remains as the City Council's chairman of committee on health and chairman of its committee against Covid, both legislative work.

Mayor Labella announced Tuesday, February 9, he would appoint Rama as "vaccine czar," after he talked with the vice mayor the day before. The vice mayor quickly said "no, thanks" but when he said he didn't need the title, that didn't mean a rejection of the job.

Earlier, the City Council created the post, which he help create and accepted, of chairman of the City Council committee on vaccine rollout, with City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. as his co-chairman. In an interview with Freeman Online Monday, February 8, he confirmed his role in what he called "Vaccines Storm." He also told SunStar he'd be content with the title of convenor.

The mayor's EO was still to be issued. It was not yet known how the "Storm" group, comprising of councilors from both parties and key department heads, would work with the Labella-created Vaccine Board.

In sum, the mayor remains on top of the Covid fight, working from his home, with Rama and Casas overseeing the vaccines rollout and coordinating presumably with the Vaccines Board and the Emergency Operations Center.

Mike and Edgar now OK?

From the optics and sound bites, it would seem that the rift was being healed. Whether the political alliance under Partido Barug would hold is something else.

Rama said he was angry over the politicking charge from the mayor but he said his anger already "subsided" when he talked with Labella Monday. After that talk, Mike told twice Freeman's Fred Languido and Joeberth Ocao in the interview: "All's well that ends well." "My mayor, our mayor." At the same time though, the VM said, "There's light at the end of the tunnel," like it is not over until it's over.

From his side, Mayor Labella talked about him and Mike being "in good terms" and "we're like brothers," with a "bond that cannot be untied." And, the mayor said, they "cannot go their separate ways," at least "it won't be that easy."

But what's the harshest remark that each hurled against the other during the three-day exchange? No outright slur. But Rama demanded disclosure of Labella's state of health, saying the mayor knew, thus implying that chief executive was hiding something from the public and there could be something more serious than an ear infection that requires a long "stay-home" regimen.

Health issue, P3B liquidation

The question of health is not yet settled. VM Rama would still not vouch publicly for the mayor's health. It would be "improper and disrespectful."

The mayor personally had to talk, directly and fully, about his illness. Labella had declared he was "more productive" now while working from home. City manager Casas posted on Facebook a photo of himself and the mayor in his house, with the caption saying in effect he found the mayor to be physically fit.

Both were self-serving declarations and may not quell the curiosity of many people, as Rama himself has kept pointing out when the issue of health is brought up. He seems to have stuck to his earlier position that it is the mayor himself who must clarify whether he could still lead the battle against the pandemic.

Rama is more categorical about the liquidation of the Covid funds amounting to about P3 billion that the City Council appropriated and were released to the mayor's office in lump tranches to cope with the health crisis.

He said he would continue to push it until the officials finish their term, indicating that if it would not be done, there would be the ultimate remedy: "the ballot." Meaning, it would be a major election issue.

Councilor's 'ungo' scare

On the other bombshell that exploded simultaneously with the mayor's health issue -- Councilor Mabatid's FB expose of the "big mess" at City Hall and the witch or "ungo" who supposedly wields some of the mayor's powers -- Mike Rama told media the Barug party would take up the problem. Councilor Mabatid, in a talk with SunStar, said a caucus was set for Thursday, February 11.

Ostensibly, Mabatid raised the complaint of being shut out, apparently over the bulk purchases of rice, but it is a potential issue against the Labella-Rama administration. Rama would not give his opinion on the suspected irregularities, if not acts of corruption, but he had sayings to throw at prying media: "Way asong makumkom" and "Put up or shut up."

Mabatid earlier told SunStar she would not have to identify the "witch" at City Hall as most people, especially her party mates, "already know who he is." But she might be forced to do so in a closed-door talk with Barug stalwarts. The stance of the vice mayor, who keeps saying about transparency and accountability, may be severely tested.

He will run, not for VM

Then there's the question of election season 2022, which, Rama often reminds people, will start in October, deadline for filing COCs or certificates of candidacy.

Would Partido Barug still be active in the elections? "Yes," the vice mayor answered.

Would he run as Mayor Labella's vice mayor? "No." He repeatedly had said in Sanggunian sessions, dating back to the last quarter of 2020, he would "no longer run as vice mayor" to anyone.

Would he run for mayor then, probably against Labella? "We (Labella and I) will talk." As evasive as his earlier answer: Nobody could order him to run or not to run for mayor ("Naa diay magbuot kon modagan ko?")