Seares: Mayor Labella’s proof of life could’ve been better. Photo- with-today’s-paper may not kill public curiosity. Yet for now, it tells Cebuanos he’s alive.

·4 min read

NEWS OF A NON-DEATH. Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella who is still on medical leave was struck with a shocker early Saturday, July 3 with the one-line post, labeled as “breaking” news, on a radio broadcaster’s Facebook wall, saying the mayor “died of prostate cancer.”

The post didn’t say when, didn’t contain other details of the supposed passing away of the city’s chief executive, and, most important of all -- as any bringer of legitimate news would have -- didn’t tell the source of his, ah, grave news: doctor or doctors, the Public Information Office (PIO), a close friend of the mayor, a City Hall official or Barug party leader, or his family. None of that.

Worse, despite its apparent flaw, the news carried a dash of credibility. Mayor Labella is indisputably sick. He has been on a number of medical leaves, going in and out of the hospital across a number of months. Last week, the same rumor broke out, although it didn’t land as a Facebook post headline, which was splashed in white letters against black background, carrying the real name of the radioman as bearer of the news.

The post was circulated in chat rooms and reposted again and again, including one by a prominent woman attorney, which inevitably drew “May he rest in peace” comments. Some just wrote “RIP,” too lazy to spell out their good wish.

LABELLA’S RESPONSE to kill the rumor is a photo of himself, taken most likely from his hospital room. In the photo, posted on his FB and the City Hall public information pages Mayor Labella is holding a copy of a local paper, The Freeman, which shows the day’s headline “MECQ for whole Cebu.” For good measure, a folded copy of the same day’s Banat News, a local tabloid in Cebuano-Bisaya, is propped on the window sill, to the mayor’s left, displaying its own Page 1 headline.

His handlers could’ve done better. They could’ve used one more great paper for trust-boosting. Seriously, they could’ve used a video clip, showing the mayor talking. Video can be taken by phone, no need for a high-tech unit from the City Hall PIO and the video packs, in this situation, added force of credibility: the mayor’s voice.

Cartels and fringe groups linked to kidnappings elsewhere in the world also use the physical newspaper to show their hostages are alive. They seem to have found no better way to show proof of life than image of “the cowering hostage holding the front page of today’s newspaper.”

Simpler, to be sure. In its old way, the newspaper as proof of life still shows the hostage -- or, in this case, Mayor Labella as a hospital patient –- is alive and well.

Yet skeptics tend to look for telling signs in the photo. And in the released photo of the mayor, one notes that Labella is not holding the paper. Which raises the suspicion that the paper is just placed before him, actually or digitally. He may not be so fit as to hold a newspaper copy, much more talk on video, but the photo tells us he is not in the state the broadcaster’s post said.

At least, a lawyer commented, he is alive and, hopefully, well enough to reclaim his office at City Hall.

CANNOT KILL THE CAT. Public curiosity though, like the neighbor’s cat, has more than a couple of lives.

People would like to know the “true state” of the mayor. His own vice mayor, Acting Mayor Michael Rama wanted to know

how he truly was: Edgar he had not been messaging Mike back.

“We want to know if our ship captain” is fit to lead, said Councilor Alvin Dizon in the City Council’s Wednesday, July 28 session. Public interest and good governance must overwhelm respect, he said.

Doctors and medical certificates -- or short of that, video of the patient -- can provide the required information more efficiently, much better than a still photo can.

Respect? To the broadcaster who “exaggerated” the mayor’s physical incapacity, it was not shortage of respect but a lapse in basic newsgathering.

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