Malilong: Working from home

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

TUESDAY afternoon last week, I texted Mayor Edgar Labella to relay the request of the heads of local universities and colleges to meet with him and discuss the possibility of holding in-person classes for medical and allied courses. He replied the following morning, saying he could probably meet them this week as he wasn’t ready yet to be mingling in a crowd.

I did not ask him why but I still got the answer the following morning when, after greeting Gilbert Woolbright on his birthday, he replied to queries from fellow members of Walk and Talk on how he was. He was “ok,” he said, although his infection was still being monitored by his doctors, who have also advised him to stay out of crowded places in the meantime. “Work from home lang sa ko,” he said.

That (working from home) obviously does not sit well with Labella’s vice mayor. “Please lend me your ears,” Mike Rama directly addressed Labella at the session hall of the City Council last Friday. “If you... cannot bring your body and soul to... City Hall, please, you know what to do.”

The Shakespearean invocation was without doubt intended for melodramatic effect. Mike Rama is no Mark Antony but credit him at least for his brave, if ill, attempt at rhetoric in trying to drive home his point.

Which is that Labella should heed him because more than anyone else he knows that something is wrong with the City’s management of the current upsurge of Covid-19 cases in the city because he is not naive. And he is embarrassed by what he knows.

But what exactly does Rama expect from Labella after hearing him? He does not say other than that the mayor knows what is the right thing to do. I take that to mean that the mayor should posthaste drag his “body and soul” to city hall or, failing that, renounce his office temporarily or permanently so somebody else (ahem) can take over.

Rama’s ambiguity is deliberate and understandable. He does not want to appear as if he’s in a rush to take over City Hall. And yet on the other hand, he believes that between him and Labella, even a fully healthy one, he is better equipped to handle the City’s affairs including managing its response to the pandemic. Mike has never gotten over the fact that Edgar is the mayor and he is “only” the vice mayor.

The mayor is working from home. So were the vice mayor and the councilors during the height of the pandemic last year. Rama’s office was closed; the council sessions were conducted via Zoom. I am not saying that they were scared but I would understand if they were. Very little was known about the coronavirus then and with people dying from the disease, who wouldn’t be terrified into staying at home especially if you’re in the age bracket that is considered more vulnerable to dying from the disease?

In contrast, Labella reported to his office sometimes even on Saturdays and Sundays because he wanted the people to feel that somebody was on top. And still he was roundly criticized by many, including Rama, because in their eyes, Labella was not doing enough.

I will not question Rama’s motives for painting a dire picture of the Covid-19 situation in the city but I hope he realizes that his statements could cause panic at a time when when we needed to stay calm. That would be most unfortunate especially since the IATF deputy chief implementor in Cebu, Maj. Gen. Mel Feliciano, only very recently expressed confidence that he expects the situation to improve in the latter part of this month.

Would it have made the vice mayor a lesser leader if instead of quoting a much abused line from Julius Caesar, he simply said that he hoped the mayor was already well enough to report to City Hall soon? They’re friends, supposedly, you know.