CEBU City incoming mayor Edgar Labella used the catchphrase “Uban ta sa kausaban,” which asked voters to join the movement for change: a change of leaders and governance, a “kausaban” in residents’ lives.
Hardly original concept to voters and candidates for public office wooing them. It is a campaign cliché that has not lost its appeal in a country known for its high “ant-incumbency bias.” Even the party that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio organized in collaboration with her dad, President Duterte, promises change: “Hugpong ng Pagbabago.”
When Duterte endorsed Labella last May 6, a week before election day, the President urged the city’s voters to “let go of people who for many years have behaved like despots and dictators nga wa sa lugar.” Duterte called for “change” by ending decades of Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s control of the city by himself or through surrogates.
To Labella, who will take oath with the new elected city officials on June 30, change won’t be just a change of style in leadership.
But style change will be evident. The outgoing mayor is described by his supporters as a strong leader and by his critics as excessively arrogant. In contrast, Labella was marketed in the campaign as “ligdong,” “lantip” and “lig-on.” Upright, sharp, strong. City residents don’t like a wimp for a leader, one who can’t reject a manipulative bad advice or an unsound though populist move.
Labella can show firmness without becoming the “dictator or despot” that Duterte said he found in Tomas. Edgar can build consensus without slamming dissent.
The big problems
For impact, the change should be more on the big problems that several terms of Osmeña rule have not solved or controlled. Most city residents know the list: decongesting traffic even as they await long-delayed mass transit and alternate arteries; efficient garbage collection; addressing urban blight, stabilizing water supply; flood control; and law and order, particularly the rash of unsolved execution-style killings, not necessarily in the order.
The new mayor must have different action teams tackling each urgent problem at the same time, even as he must scan the landscape beyond the three years given him by the last election. Tomas had been engrossed on SRP, getting even with his foes and getting ready for the elections.
Reelection plans inevitably compete for a sitting mayor’s attention and energy. Coping with an expectedly hostile City Council, which BOPK will control with an 11-7 vote, Labella will juggle his time between governance and building political fences. Unless, he is content with being a single-term mayor and won’t be bothered if an Osmeña will retake City Hall in 2022.
Labella has to show he can run the city more efficiently than his predecessor Tomas. That appears to be the requirement for reelection, as it did when Mike Rama won his second term on his own strength. (Tomas was Mike’s political nursemaid in 2010 when Rama first became mayor and the weaning happened in the latter part of his term.)
Same chance, theme
Labella now has the same chance that Rama had after he beat Tomas in 2013. Labella can pick up some insights from the three years of Rama rule, during which Mike could’ve been more prepared for the 2016 fight with larger accomplishments for the city and a stronger political machine.
Mike failed and the circle comes around again, with Labella this time carrying the banner for their party.
The outcome may depend mostly on the changes the winners promised they’d make. The theme of change helped bring Labella to power. Similarly, it could help him stay on for two more succeeding terms, or take him down after the first.