AFTER battling illness for several months and taking extended leaves, the death of Mayor Edgardo Labella did not come as a surprise to many, but it left a painful void in the lives of those he touched.

At Cebu City Hall, colleagues and his staff remember Labella as a simple man with firm principles.

He had a big heart for the underprivileged, they said.

“One of the first lessons he taught me was that your character is revealed with the way you treat people who can do nothing for you. He respected everyone equally and treated everyone, from other politicians to janitors, just the same,” said Mary Rose Lubino, Labella’s chief of staff.

Lubino met Labella in 2014 after the mayor helped her get into City Hall.

“I just visited his office, bringing my Bar exam result and he took a look at it. He said, ‘Wow, you have a good score. Let me help you.’ So after that, I became employed at City Legal with his help,” recalled Lubino.

Lubino said in 2016, she started to train under Labella.

“He was very careful even with red-plated cars. You could not see him using a red-plated car because he was very down to earth,” she said. Government vehicles use red license plates.

For Razel Cuizon, Cebu City’s public information officer, Labella was someone who always remembered to express his gratitude.

“When his term started, I was always with him. Both of us along with his photographer, and every time the coverage was okay, he would always text me, saying, ‘You did well today. Thank you very much, and thank you for accompanying me until the Mayor’s office has been put in place,’” Cuizon said.

“I am still reviewing for the bar exam and I have yet to take it. He would ask me about certain laws and help me review. He would say, ‘Do well, so that we can help the poor.’ That was how he really was. He had a big heart for the underprivileged, and he was deeply concerned about them,” said Cuizon.

Opposition Councilor Alvin Dizon also mourned the death of Labella.

“I have been with Mayor Labella for quite a while now. Despite our political differences when he became mayor, I have so much respect for him. This is very sad news for all the Cebuanos,” Dizon said.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Acting Mayor Michael Rama mourned Labella’s passing, calling the late mayor a “dear partner and dear friend.”

According to Rama, his partnership with Labella was formed in 2012 when Labella became his vice mayor.

“Our friendship is one that has lasted since the ‘90s. We have had many great years together in public service. I could not have asked for a better partner,” Rama said.

Rama said in the course of their long friendship, there were times when he disagreed with Labella over matters of policy, but they always reconciled their differences.

“His accomplishments in life, are kilometric, as a proud scholar, lawyer, prosecutor and public servant. He authored many meaningful pieces of legislation as a councilor and head of the Committee on Laws and Good Governance,” Rama said.

“As a vice mayor, Labella was an effective master of parliamentary procedure being a legal luminary. And as a mayor, he was deliberative, just, reasonable, fair and forward thinking. It was my honor to serve as his vice mayor. He led us during a most challenging time,” Rama added.

Other reactions

Acting Vice Mayor Dondon Hontiveros recalled how Labella was witness to his budding political career.

Hontiveros said Labella who was vice mayor at the time accompanied him and his mother to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) when he filed his certificate of candidacy for the Cebu City Council in 2018.

“I won’t forget what you told me then: ‘I see myself in your sincerity to serve the city, Don. Sigurado ko mu daog ka. Layo pud kag maabtan. Makakita pa gani ko nimo mag vice mayor (I’m sure you’ll win. You will also go far. I can even foresee you as vice mayor),” Hontiveros recalled in a statement he posted on Facebook.

Hontiveros said Labella’s words proved to be prophetic as he even recently assumed the role of acting mayor just a few days before the mayor’s death.

Cebu City Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia will always remember Labella for officiating his wedding on May 22, 2019, just a few days after Labella won the mayoral race.

Garcia said his wedding to his wife, Kate, was the first wedding officiated by Labella as mayor of Cebu City.

“It was indeed an honor and privilege to have worked side by side with one of the best mayors Cebu City has ever seen. Thank you, Mayor Labella, for your service, dedication and love for Cebu City and the Cebuanos,” Garcia said.

“I am grateful for the trust and confidence you have given me in all the years of your administration. Your legacy will be seen not only in the numerous projects and programs you’ve done but also in the thousands of lives you have touched. I am hurting now but likewise comforted to know that you are in a better place now,” Garcia added. (JKV, CAL)