THE city has lost its father. Edgardo C. Labella passed away at dawn Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, of septic shock secondary to pneumonia, ending a string of hospital stints that had plagued him since the start of the year.

Labella, 70, served less than 900 days of his term as Cebu City mayor, leaving Vice Mayor Michael Rama to serve out the remaining 200 days.

During a debate held days before the May 13, 2019 elections that propelled him to the city’s highest post, Labella offered his loyalty and integrity to the people of Cebu, saying he had neither political lineage nor wealth. This, he said in the face of the challenge he was facing in the race against the incumbent, Tomas Osmeña, a former ally descended from a long line of politicians that included a former Philippine president.

Labella was not new to public service, though, having served as director of the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas from 1994 to 1998, Cebu City councilor from 1998 to 2001 and from 2004 to 2013, and Cebu City vice mayor from 2013 to 2019.

Outside City Hall, he was an avid jogger, frequenting the Cebu City Sports Center where like-minded fitness enthusiasts could see him in the flesh, an ordinary man yet not so ordinary.

During the May 10, 2019 debate organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City Chapter, Labella spoke of facing a three-headed monster: floods, traffic and garbage.

His to-do list also included expediting the processing of business permit applications, upgrading the 30-year-old traffic light system, settling the balance of the loan for the South Road Properties (SRP), finishing the construction of the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC), giving free access to school uniforms and breakfast for the city’s public elementary school pupils, and establishing a Cebu City College. He vowed to plant three million trees in three years.

But the coronavirus disease outbreak early in 2020 upended the first-term mayor’s plans, redirecting government efforts to enforcing lockdowns, channeling aid to those affected by the mobility restrictions, and propping up a health care system weighed down by exhausted frontliners battling a pernicious disease that has hit the city in three waves so far.

Despite everything, Labella was able to achieve some of his targets. Business permits can now be processed in one day. And the Cebu City Government approved the P4.5 billion first supplemental budget last July that included P1.2 billion for the payment of the remaining balance of the SRP loan. The city’s P238 million intelligent traffic light system was unveiled last March. And after five years of construction, the new CCMC finally soft-opened its first three floors in December 2020, officially opening last September. The completion of the hospital’s remaining seventh to 10th floors is also in sight with the City Council including a P1 billion allocation for it in July’s first supplemental budget.

SunStar Cebu was the first to sit down with then mayor-elect Labella for an interview after his victory in the 2019 polls. In that May 17 interview streamed live on Facebook, he spoke of seeing a Light Rail Transit project started during his term and of joining the Metro Cebu Development and Coordinating Board again to work better with other local government units in solving common problems.

Labella leaves this world with unfinished business but with the city he orphaned grateful for his selflessness, wisdom, compassion and grit in taking the pandemic, the biggest challenge the modern world has seen in decades, by the horns.

Thank you for your service, Mayor Labella. Godspeed.