FIRST off, I must admit I campaigned for then mayoral bet Edgardo Labella in the 2019 elections. I personally visited the then vice mayor’s office and offered my services. I believed then that despite his limitations as both a legislator and a leader, he possesses the character to lead the city against an opponent who is not only arrogant but is also on his waning years as a leader.
I told my editor about my intention one time while I was preparing for my retirement. I was told at that time not to write about the Cebu City electoral campaign in my columns, which I did comply with. I am no longer with Labella so I think I could write about city politics now.
That was but a year ago. I visited the Cebu City Hall when Labella was a few months into his post and saw how the mayor rebuilt the government bureaucracy to his liking. I saw from afar some of the people who took leading roles in his campaign and who were appointed to sensitive positions in the bureaucracy.
One unforgettable scene that I saw was when I was at the topmost floor of the city hall where the new mayor first held office. Another important area there were the offices under the city administrator, a post held by Labella’s loyal lieutenant and law office partner Floro Casas Jr. That floor got the bulk of people who were bringing with them their applications for employment in city hall.
The place was very crowded, which only showed the number of people in the city looking for jobs. While a system was in place to accommodate the flood of job applicants, that apparently wasn’t enough. That prompted Casas and the others to come up with a new setup. He then went out, stood on a platform and announced to the applicants the new system, which was designed to decongest that particular floor.
I smiled. Here was a neophyte trying to make good in his new job as city administrator. Which is what critics of the Labella administration may have forgotten. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit early this year, the City Hall bureaucracy was only half a year old. More than that, no template can be had on how to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
And this. The neophyte City Hall leadership had to learn to lead under dangerous circumstances. As somebody who was once an organizer in a war situation, I know how difficult the balancing act is: leading while ensuring your safety. Ask City Councilor Joel Garganera and Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan this, and they would agree. Both were infected by the virus and luckily survived. Another City councilor, the former congressman Antonio Cuenco, sadly didn’t.
I am not trying to make light of the failings of the Labella administration. Indeed, there are many things Labella and his team could have done better, especially in organization and communication. But that is water under the bridge. I am writing about this because an assessment of the Labella administration’s failings needs to consider this, too. That is if our intention is to help, not to pull down.