LAST week, I exchanged text messages with Mayor Edgardo Labella. Because he is the mayor, I let him have the last word. Words, actually. He said, “I need prayers too.”
I met the mayor last Friday but only briefly. He was in a meeting with the city’s barangay captains on the 8th floor of the building where I also had another meeting and I went up to pay my respects after we adjourned.
He has visibly lost weight and looked like five years had been added to his 69 since we last met under happier circumstances at breakfast before Covid-19. When I commented about it, he smiled wanly.
Yesterday morning, I had the chance to talk to him longer than the “hello, how are you, can we do this” that has become standard stuff in our rare conversations since the quarantine.
He hasn’t had a decent sleep for weeks, he said. So many thoughts come to mind and he couldn’t wait for the day to break so he could sound off his closest advisers to help him decide which ones are workable. “We have a plan in place to fight the Covid,” he said, “but each day provides a new challenge.”
He said that while he listens to advice, at the end of the day he is responsible for making the decision. He is the elected mayor; he makes the call.
Not everyone realizes that, unfortunately. Labella isn’t the fire-breathing type of leader who is not shy to proclaim what he wants others to think of him. Some of his friends wish that he showed more aggression and that he would seize the narrative rather than allow others to define him. But that is not the way he is wired.
People mistake this for weakness, a perception that he has unwittingly allowed to fester by refusing to answer criticism because he does not want to be sidetracked. This is what I think is wrong with the mayor. In choosing to suffer in silence, he has exposed himself as fair game for target practice by even the dumbest shooter.
Take, for example, that Friday meeting he had with the barangay captains. The regional director of the Department of Health, Dr. Jaime Bernadas, was there to brief the village executives on the latest score in the Covid-19 situation in the city. The health official was concluding his speech when I arrived.
Councilor Raymund Garcia, who was apparently emceeing the program then announced that lunch was ready and urged everyone to practice social distancing. I left to have my own lunch.
In the afternoon, the social media was abuzz with stories about Labella having a birthday party even if his birthday was two weeks ago. Worse, whoever it was who spread the canard tried to tie up the supposed party with the arrest of seven protesters at the UP Cebu even if they were completely unrelated.
Labella will probably not comment about the accusation again. That would be consistent with his nature. Still, I wish that he would and as vigorously as possible because a lie that is not timely disputed will eventually sound like the truth after constant repetition.