Seares: Politics aside, questions on (1) Cebu City mayor's health, impact on Covid and (2) 'big mess' at City Hall remain. VM Rama, Mabatid not minor critics.

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

SHOVE aside for now the issue of politicking. In a way, both Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and Vice Mayor Michael Rama are politicking. They have been so engaged since they joined elective public service. For each policy or deed, they consider, consciously or not, its impact on votes.

Mike Rama called out in open session of the City Council Friday, January 5, for Edgar Labella to report back to City Hall (bringing not just his body but his "body and soul" no less) and lead hands-on the campaign against the pandemic. He stopped short of asking, Edgar, tell us how physically fit you are. Mike only said, You know your own self. You know what to do.

But last Sunday, February 7, at a press-con, Rama raised the stakes higher by explicitly asking Labella to tell the people the state of his health ("angay masayod ang lungsod").

Reporters asked Mike if he believed the mayor had only an ear infection. Would he coax the Sanggunian to compel Labella or his doctors to disclose his health condition?

Rama is not a doctor. Doctors are gagged by confidentiality except by court order, among a few cases. And it is doubtful if Labella and his doctors can be compelled by legislative or judicial action to produce his "workouts," as Philippine Women's Commission member Rowena Burden publicly urged the mayor to do.

The mayor has been physically absent from his office since he took his leave last January 20 and started working from home last January 25.

Mayor's health, Covid fight

How much difference would physical presence of the mayor make?

Labella has the system and people in place. Aside from having supervisors at departments, especially the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), the mayor has planners and operations lieutenants. There's his city administrator, for heaven's sake, who, under the City Charter's corporate structure, manages City Hall.

The mayor has liaison officers linking with crucial national agencies such as Department of Health, the police, office of the presidential assistant, and the national anti-Covid task force. And he has the gadgets and devices to communicate back and forth, including visual contact, with anyone.

Obviously, VM Rama believes the person on top must be visible and accessible, for the symbolism and as rallying figure, if not for the actual management work. Otherwise, the mayor does not have to report at City Hall.

The ECQ experience

A City Hall veteran watcher noted that when the city went under ECQ or enhanced quarantine last June and July when retired generals working with IATF, the inter-agency group, flew in from Manila to assess the situation and then left one of them, Melquiades Feliciano, to oversee operations at the city's EOC.

Feliciano, briefing last February 3 the Sanggunian on the new spike of cases, tagged the delay of EOC, hobbled with lack of people, in extracting positive cases from households, as having worsened the problem of rising infections.

But what did last year's emergency, and perhaps the current uptick in cases, show? The mayor would not have to do hands-on work if others, especially experts, were present.

He could wait all right

But the mayor's job is not just waging the defense against coronavirus and the results of its assault. It is also maintaining basic services and putting back the economy on its feet and rebuilding it.

VM Rama was often heard at the City Council saying that if he were the mayor, he would do this and that, which led some people to believe he could not wait.

He could wait for 2022 all right. Served two full terms as mayor: been there, done that. But while waiting, Mike apparently would want the people to know he was not rusty in management skills. The media exposure, oxygen to most politicians, also would be welcome.

What 'big mess'?

Then there's the question of the "big mess" that Councilor Prisca Nina Mabatid emblazoned on her Facebook wall at weekend.

Just as Rama is not a minor official who confronted the chief executive on the Covid issue and the mayor's health, Mabatid is #2 councilor in Cebu City north, a majority party Barug stalwart.

Her social media post griped about the way City Hall was being run, which involved not just the Covid response but also how City Hall was being managed.

She complained about being left out but also on the mistakes, the fumbling: "Sila2x ray plano puro ra ba palpak." And, worse, the implicit allegation of corruption when she disclosed about an alleged "ungo" (witch) at City Hall who runs City Hall, controlling purchase of rice for the Covid campaign and "dictating puppet councilors."

Conspiracy theory or what

That casts suspicion on both the City Council and the mayor. The Sanggunian may ignore it. Or it may choose to look into the allegation from one of its own top members, especially that it relates to the use of P3.5 billon still-unliquidated Covid fund. The mayor may placate Mabatid for now, but it alleges leadership by proxy, presumably an unelected mayor calling the shots, a potentially explosive election issue.

And working from home tends to reinforce suspicion of loss of control. A reporter asked in Sunday's Rama press-con: Could we be sure the signatures on documents are authentic? A conspiracy theory or a cause for serious concern.