Help Edgar Colina celebrate his birthday today, Facebook reminded me yesterday. He’s 62 years old.
I needed no reminder and Facebook was wrong about his age. I should know because Edgar Colina a.k.a Mayor Edgardo Labella entered college in the same year that I did. He was the star player and the favorite of the female fans of our Liberal Arts basketball team in 1967. He certainly did not look like he was eight years old then.
He has gone a long way since his basketball days. He now runs the affairs of the country’s most historic city, easily the biggest outside Manila. He has bigger concerns than how to break the man-to-man or the zone; he has to govern a city and serve its people, who most of the time have varying, if not conflicting, interests. And motives.
Watching him trying to do his darndest best and still getting pilloried by foes and allies alike, I sometimes wonder if I did not do him wrong when I added my little voice to those that urged hin to run for mayor in 2019. He was new and offered a fresher perspective than the city’s two most recent mayors. He ran and won.
A few days before he ordered a lockdown in the city last year, I told him during a Walk and Talk lunch that the Covid-19 pandemic was going to be his greatest challenge and how he handles it will make or break him. The advice was unnecessary because I knew that he knew; it did not require genius to recognize the impact that the pandemic will have on our lives and his people’s estimation of his brand of leadership.
It did not take long for us to find out. As patients began appearing in hospital ERs in numbers that our public health system was not prepared for, voices condemning the mayor’s supposed incompetence gathered and rose to a crescendo. In a way, it was understandable because the people were scared and feeling helpless and blaming the government provided some measure of relief from their anxiety.
What was difficult to comprehend was why some of his allies joined in the condemnation instead of shielding him from it. If they were not willing to share the heat from the people’s irrational anger, they could just have simply distanced themselves from him instead of joining in the mad merriment.
Amid all these, he remained stoic. On the few occasions that I talked to him and asked him why he has not responded in kind, all that he would say was that he did not want to pick a quarrel during the pandemic and besides, he trusted that God will take care of him.
All the while, he dutifully reported to his office without fail even while many in his staff fell ill with Covid-19 and even as his colleagues in City Hall hid in their homes. His sacrifice eventually took a toll on his health.
News that he was admitted to the hospital fueled another frenzy of ill-disguised glee among the same suspects. He was reported as either dead or dying even while he continued giving interviews to the media. After he was discharged from the hospital, they continued to give the same grim prognosis of his medical condition.
Last Wednesday, a political group met at the Cebu City Sports Club, attended mostly by those who ran in the last elections, whether successfully or not. One of them proposed a resolution urging the mayor not to seek reelection purportedly because of his health. It was voted down.
Some people couldn’t wait. It’s history repeating itself. When Tommy Osmeña was diagnosed with cancer, his critics said he was going to die anytime. Actually, the prediction was correct because all of us can die anytime. But while many of those who said that Tommy’s death was certain and immediate have long passed, Tommy is still enjoying playing with his granddaughter.
God works in strange ways. Happy Birthday, Edgar Labella.