LAST Friday, May 26, 2023, during flag retreat at Cebu City Hall, Mayor Mike Rama "declared independence" and vowed "sole allegiance" to his constituents.

The mayor could just be hyping up the top theme of the June 12 celebration -- Kalayaan, Kinabukasan, Kasaysayan -- for which his office prepared weeklong activities that, for those interested to know where the tax money goes, will cost the City about P11.5 million. Yet the context of Mayor Mike's remarks tended to tell more or something else.

MIKE'S RIDDLE. Mayor Mike sounded like he was giving a riddle, with gaps for the listeners to fill. He talked about self-restraint on the exercise of power: "Dili molupad tungod sa gahum." About the duty to clean up and beautify the City being not his alone: "Akoa ra ba? Wa mo kuyapi?" About critics who're "trying to taint his reputation and destroy him."

Starting that day, May 26, the mayor said, "Si Mike Rama independente na nga mayor!" "What did I mean," he asked rhetorically. "Katawhan na akong kuyog... Kuyogi ko." But then every leader seeks support. He must be referring to another thing as he said he wouldn't anymore be shamed: "Husto na, dili na." By what, he didn't say.

Foremost, independent of what or whom? People might infer that he was talking of influence or pressure from within his party or from private interest outside City Hall.

The "not-anymore" refrain may tell that forces have made him not free and such forces have been there for some time.

'KAPOY NA, HUSTO NA.' Mayor Rama said, "Kapoy na mag-adjust, kapoy na, husto na," he'd listen only to one voice, implying that many people had been telling him what to do or influencing his decisions... "Politics should pass," but in the same breath he said, "friendship should last, family ties forever," when friendship could also lead to bad decision-making, family ties to reckless flirting with nepotism.

The mayor himself must have realized he wasn't being clear enough last Friday. The following Monday, May 29, during the flag ceremony, Mayor Mike assigned City Administrator Collin Rosell to clarify what the mayor meant.

ROSELL SAID IT: PRESSURE. Even though the city manager didn't specify a single name, the audience must have a fairly good idea whom the mayor wanted to be free of and what he wanted: political pressure from within and external pressure from private interests. "No sacred cows, no one is indispensable," Rosell said for the mayor. "No more corruption, deceptions and pretensions."

The city administrator, who said he was reading "from a document," prefaced his clarification with the oft-quoted precepts, such as government authority coming from the people and loyalty to one's party ending when loyalty to one's country begins. And about the Rama administration being "people-centered": the mayor wants the people to support, "own, claim and love" their government and elected leaders.

THE DALUZ ELEMENT. But references to political meddling, pretenses and being "mentally dishonest" and the vow "to fight for what is right" unavoidably call to mind Mayor Rama's current scrimmage with party mate and ally, former councilor Jose Daluz III.

Daluz has defied the mayor's wish to remove him as MCWD chairman. The leadership dispute -- wherein Daluz challenges Rama's authority as mayor and administration leader -- has visibly taken up much of the mayor's time and energy during the past few days. Which inevitably links, at least in the public mind, Mayor Mike's "declaration of independence" to the "Daluz problem."

The MCWD board may decide to keep or replace Daluz as chairman, probably in a meeting on the issue this Friday, June 2. The ultimate fate of Daluz will depend on how this legal concept actually works: Water districts like MCWD in legal theory operate independently of the local government.

Independence can be declared, in the statute books or at a flag ceremony, but the result, not the bickering, is mostly what people care about.