Photography by Jar Concengco
Grooming by Pia Manglo
As we traverse the streets of Pasig going to the city hall, this writer was expecting tarpaulins and banners bearing the name and handsome face of current city mayor Vico Sotto to turn up along the way. In the local political landscape, it’s a norm for those in position to assert their dominance over their “territory.” But there was clearly none in sight. Even as we enter the city hall and the mayor’s office, we hardly see his photo or name. In one of the rooms where we are received, there is a cabinet where some of his recognitions are discreetly tucked, but that’s about it. That’s when this writer is reminded, showing off is not Mayor Vico’s brand of politics. He doesn’t like fanfare. He doesn’t subscribe to traditional politics, and he had made this clear since Day 1.
“I decided to challenge [traditional politics] because I am not afraid to lose,” he recalls his decision to run for councilor in 2016. “Para sa akin, posisyon ’yan, maganda kung makuha ko pero hindi diyan nagtatapos ang buhay ko. (For me, it’s a position, it’s great if I get it, but my life doesn’t end there.) I’m here because I wanted to introduce a different style of politics. Kumbaga manalo o matalo, ang importante sa akin (Win or lose, what’s important is), I did things that I believe are right. And thankfully, there are a lot of people who believe in what I want to do.”
His first bid for a Sangguniang Panlungsod seat bore good results—the neophyte politician topped the polls even if he lacked the political machinery and ran as an independent candidate. One of his landmark accomplishments as a single term-councilor was pushing for the Pasig Transparency Mechanism Ordinance, which seeks the disclosure of public records, including financial documents and contracts, upon request by ordinary citizens. Upon its passage, it became the first-ever localized version of the Freedom of Information Law in Metro Manila. Although it did not get implemented at that time, it had ordinary citizens talking about transparency. “The good thing that came out of that campaign was that it sparked the consciousness of Pasigueños about the importance of transparency in governance.
Looking back, Mayor Vico says everything that he had done in his life had always been geared toward government work. But how he toppled a Goliath and won the mayorship in Pasig is a different story—destiny must have played a part.
His decision to run for mayor came about because he saw the need for change in the political scene in Pasig City, and he saw that no one else wanted to run. “Until the very last minute before filing my certificate of candidacy for mayor, I kept saying ‘If anyone else wants to run for mayor, hindi ako tatakbo; susuporta lang ako, basta maiba lang. Medyo ma-shift lang namin ang ihip ng hangin dito sa Pasig, masaya na ’ko; hindi kailangang ako ang tumakbo.’ Pero hanggang sa pinakahuling minuto walang ibang kandidatong lalaban sa nakaupong pamilya at that time. Kaya sabi ko, kung walang ibang tatakbo handa naman akong lumaban. (Until the very last minute before filing my certificate of candidacy for mayor, I kept saying ‘If anyone else wants to run for mayor, I won’t run, I will just support; let’s just change the course. If we can just sway the attention of Pasigueños, I’d be happy; I don’t need to run.’ But until the last minute, there was no other candidate who was willing to challenge the incumbent family at that time.)”
He knew it was a risky undertaking but he stuck to his guns telling his team that it’s okay to lose, as long as they do what they believe is right. “Manindigan tayo (Let’s stand up for what is right),” the then 29-year-old urged his supporters. And their strong convictions won and ended the Eusebios’ 27-year reign.
PREDESTINED FOR GOVERNMENT WORK
People who don’t know the 30-year-old son of actors Vic Sotto and Coney Reyes might think he is too young and still unripe for the position. But his CV says otherwise. Truth is, Victor Ma. Regis Sotto discovered his calling very early on—thanks to his older brother, LA Mumar, who exposed him to the field of governance. “My kuya would come home from college—he is 11 years older than me—tapos ikukuwento niya sa akin ‘yung lessons niya sa school. Ituturo niya sa akin ‘yung Constitution. So from a very early age, naging interested ako. Hindi ko alam, baka na-brainwash ako na gusto ko ang gobyerno pero hanggang sa tumanda ako, ito na lagi ang inaaral ko, binabasa ko. (My brother would come home from college—he is 11 years older than me—then he would tell me about his lessons in school. He would teach me the Constitution. So from an early age, I got interested. I don’t know, maybe I got brainwashed that I want government work, but when I had gotten older, it’s what I studied and read.) So I became more and more interested,” he recalls.
At age nine or ten, he had already made up his mind that he wanted to do governance work—which didn’t necessarily mean entering politics, but simply becoming a government worker. In high school, he would take elective subjects like economics and when he entered college, he took up Political Science, followed by Masters in Public Management.
He worked as a legislative staff member for a couple of years and later on as a civil society member. “It’s like an NGO (non-government organization), and my work was with Government Watch (G-Watch) and Political Democracy and Reforms (PODER). That’s where I got my grounding and foundation in politics and governance work,” he notes. “There are many who want to enter politics but are ill-prepared for what it entails, kumbaga superficial lang ang understanding sa paggo-gobyerno [they only have a superficial understanding of governance].”
Looking back, Mayor Vico says everything that he had done in his life had always been geared toward governance work. But how he toppled a Goliath and won the mayorship in Pasig is a different story—destiny must have played a part.
“To be honest I really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that people were ready for change,” he remarks on his win by a large margin of over 87,000 votes. “I decided to run because I felt that people wanted change. I wouldn’t say that I was surprised but neither would I say that I expected it. Of course, in politics, it’s very hard to predict, so we were just taking it one step at a time. Basta lalaban kami hangga’t kaya. Bahala na kung ano mangyari. (We will fight for as long as we can. Whatever will be, will be.)”
THE FIRST 100 DAYS
“[My first 100 days as mayor were] the most challenging 100 days of my life. Pero sa tulong po ninyong mga Pasigueño, naging makabuluhan ang nakaraang 100 days. Napakalayo na po ang narating natin mula July 1 (But with your help, those 100 days became meaningful. We’ve gone a long way since July 1),” he declares in his State of the City Address.
He refuses to be bogged down by external pressure because he knows that he’s doing his best—consulting the best people, making his teams strong, governing the best he possibly can. There has been a lot of institutional changes, a lot of concrete changes happening over the short period of time that he’s been mayor. He has mainly focused on his administration’s Big Five Agenda—transparency, universal healthcare, affordable housing, education, and participative governance.
To combat corruption, Mayor Vico made sure people knew that he is strongly against any form of bribery, “kickback” or red tape. “Ako mismo bilang pinuno ng aming pamahalaang panlungsod, wala akong tinatanggap na hindi ko dapat makuha. Ang natatanggap ko lang na pera ay ‘yung sweldo ko, ‘yun lang. (As the leader of the city government, I don’t get anything that I’m not supposed to receive. I only get my monthly salary, that’s it.) And I think it will really have a trickle down effect; it will go down the ranks. Dahil hindi ako gumagawa ng ilegal, or hindi ako tumatanggap ng lagay o kickback, puwede akong manita. Kung corrupt ang mayor, ano’ng sasabihin ng department head niya? ‘Sa akin Php50,000 lang, sa iyo isang milyon.’ (Because I don’t do anything illegal, I don’t accept bribes or kickback, I can call out the offenders. If the mayor is corrupt, what will his department head say? ‘I got Php50,000, while you got 1 million.’) It won’t work that way, it has to come from the top,” he insists.
The city government has also introduced a lot of institutional changes even in their Bids and Awards Committee. They get external observers to ensure that an open public bidding takes place. And if they receive corruption complaints through their Ugnayan sa Pasig (USAP) unit, Mayor Vico makes sure that these are addressed. “Inaaksyunan talaga namin [We act on it], we don’t turn a blind eye when we see something or when we hear a complaint. Iniimbestigahan namin (We investigate). Right now, we have a department head and one rank-and-file employee who are under suspension. There were some who got suspended, removed from their posts, or weren’t renewed because of evidence of corruption; others opted to resign,” he discloses.
Healthcare is one of the priorities of Mayor Vico’s administration. They have in fact earmarked 21% of their funds for the improvement of healthcare services in the city. One of the immediate steps they have taken is to ensure that there are medicines in all their health centers; they evaluated and made the necessary changes in their delivery schemes. They also looked into the rationalization of their healthcare staff. “We’re adding around 300 positions for our city’s healthcare professionals, putting in the resources, and asking help from external experts. We are also partnering with medical institutions like Medical City—they have adopted five of our health centers and potentially other healthcare institutions.”
There have been a lot of institutional changes, a lot of concrete change happening over the short period of time that he’s been mayor. He has mainly focused on his administration’s big five agenda—transparency, universal healthcare, affordable housing, education, and participative governance.
He assures, “Our target is for universal healthcare to be fully implemented by 2020. So for instance, our budget for medicines will increase three-fold in 2020—making it 200-plus million. We want to make sure that healthcare is accessible, so no one falls to poverty.”
In the area of education, Mayor Vico’s administration has identified several problems that need to be addressed, with the relatively low literacy rate as a major concern. “To think that we are already an urbanized city, we should at least expect that everyone can read. But that is not the case. We found out that only 35% of our Grade 6 students can read independently. The rest hindi makapagbasa or frustrated readers—ibig sabihin nade-decipher nila per letter pero kung walang tutulong sa kanila, hindi nila maiintindihan yung binabasa nila. (The rest can’t read or are frustrated readers—meaning, they can decipher letters, but if not assisted, could not understand what they are reading.) This is a pretty alarming rate,” he points out.
On the same day that LEAGUE met with Mayor Vico, the city’s local school board was scheduled to convene. He says they would like to veer away from the system of patronage, wherein all the requests of schools will have to pass the mayor’s office, making the approvals slower. “Pondo natin ito. Gamitin natin nang buong-buo. Hindi kailangang malakas ka sa mayor para taasan ang pondo ng school mo. ‘Yung programa natin para sa lahat, kung ano ‘yung pangangailangan ibibigay natin. (This is our fund. Let’s utilize every bit of it. A school doesn’t need to earn the mayor’s favor to be given a budget. Our program is for everyone, let’s provide what’s needed.)” The City of Pasig has allotted over Php1 billion for its education programs and projects.
For their local school board and education governance, they have adopted a more participative approach wherein groups and stakeholders are given the chance to join the discussions. “We went beyond what is required by the Local Government Code and we’re inviting people, ‘Sali kayo dito, baka meron din kayong mga ideya na maganda (Join us, you might have good ideas). As the mayor, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not an expert on education, so even while I study it, I also consult the ones on the ground. We’ve conducted several consultation meetings with the students, parents, with PTA members, teachers, principals, etc,” he says.
OUR TARGET IS FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE TO BE FULLY IMPLEMENTED BY 2020. SO FOR INSTANCE, OUR BUDGET FOR MEDICINES WILL INCREASE THREE-FOLD IN 2020—MAKING IT 200-PLUS MILLION. WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT HEALTHCARE IS ACCESSIBLE, SO NO ONE FALLS TO POVERTY.
Resolving land ownership issues is cumbersome, the good mayor admits, and this is a major hurdle in addressing housing problems in the city. But he’s happy to report that the city has finished its land inventory, which allowed them to identify government lands where they can build affordable housing for the poor Pasigueños. “I was recently in Barangay Kalawaan and we have identified a piece of land there where we’ll build housing units next year,” he happily informs LEAGUE. He stresses that the city’s housing program is designed for the poor—“ibig sabihin, ‘yung monthly payments nila mababang-mababa lang, yung penalties hindi na compounded kagaya ng last administration (this means that the monthly payments are really low, the penalties are not compounded, unlike in the last administration).”
SOLVING TRAFFIC CONGESTION
Traffic is a Metro Manila-wide problem and Pasig is unfortunately one of the cities that has to take the brunt. One of the major reasons is that Pasig City is the gateway of Rizal residents to Metro Manila, causing the heavy vehicle volume on its streets. This is made even worse by the inadequate public transport, which compels people to bring their own cars.
“We have no viable alternatives, so we have short-term interventions—retraining our traffic enforcers, making sure that our intersections are properly manned. To ensure the smooth flow of traffic, we’re constantly recalibrating our stoplights. The anti-corruption drive of our traffic enforcers has greatly helped,” he points out.
Starting this November, the city government will test-run two river ferries that will ply the Pasig and Marikina Rivers. “These are two 50-seaters. I know it’s not a lot, but we want to test first how feasible it is. Most likely, we’re going to use them as point-to-point ferries. If it works, we will add more. I’m all for making Pasig River and the Marikina River thoroughfares para less traffic.”
He reiterates that these are short-term solutions that won’t solve the traffic problem totally especially with the projected increase in private vehicles every year. “Sabi nga ng MMDA, about 3,000 vehicles are sold per day. Sa isang taon, nasa isang milyong vehicles na ‘yon— saan natin ilalagay yun? (According to the MMDA, about 3,000 vehicles are sold per day. That’s over a million vehicles per year—where do we put those?) We cannot demolish buildings to do road widening projects, that’s not feasible. We need to think of long-term solutions—so it’s still public transport.”
The mayor isn’t exactly proud of the number, but he took note of the significant drop in Pasig City’s traffic. “There’s a little improvement,” he says. “But of course, when you’re stuck in traffic hindi mo na mapapansin na gumaan ang traffic ng five minutes. Mararamdaman mo pa rin ‘isang oras na ako rito.” (But of course, when you’re stuck in traffic, you won’t notice that you spent five minutes lesser on the road. What you’ll feel is, ‘I’ve been sitting here for an hour!’)”
To spur the economy in Pasig, especially in depressed areas, Mayor Vico says they are looking to revise a lot of their ordinances. To make Pasig more business-friendly, he pledges to lower the business charges to make way for investors. “If you have a location like Pasig City which is in the middle of Metro Manila, many would naturally want to invest. Pero marami pong lumalayo dahil either masyadong mahal or maraming humihingi ng lagay, tumataas ‘yung business cost. Hindi na business friendly. (But many won’t want to invest in Pasig because either the fees are high, or many are asking for kickbacks, increasing the business cost. It’s not business-friendly.)”
Reports have reached him that it takes a year for business permits to be issued in Pasig because of red tape. The mayor says they are starting to address this problem, and in no time, the city will become very competitive again. “Basta sumusunod lang tayo sa batas. (Let’s follow the law.) Again, it goes back to our earlier point about fighting corruption. If we’re business-friendly, we’ll be able to provide more jobs to Pasigueños,” he quips.
Pasigueños interviewed by LEAGUE swear by the noticeable changes in their city over the past 100-plus days. Even former Eusebio loyalists have put in good words for him. They could only wish for the continued growth and development of their city, and for the honest-to-goodness governance of their mayor, Vico Sotto, to influence, inspire, and motivate others to also do their share in pushing the frontiers of progress in Pasig.—LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA
PASIGUEÑOS INTERVIEWED BY LEAGUE SWEAR BY THE NOTICEABLE CHANGES IN THEIR CITY OVER THE PAST 100-PLUS DAYS. EVEN FORMER EUSEBIO LOYALISTS HAVE PUT IN GOOD WORDS FOR HIM. THEY COULD ONLY WISH FOR THE CONTINUED GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR CITY, AND FOR THE HONEST-TO-GOODNESS GOVERNANCE OF THEIR MAYOR, VICO SOTTO, TO INFLUENCE, INSPIRE, AND MOTIVATE OTHERS TO ALSO DO THEIR SHARE IN MAKING PASIG GREAT AGAIN.
What they say about Mayor Vico
With a young, dynamic and very approachable mayor, there is a palpable sense of excitement from people who wish to communicate their needs to him. Pasig now has a mayor that engages them sans the air and aloofness of an authoritarian figure.
With the creation of Ugnayan sa Pasig, the city’s transparency mechanism unit, Mayor Vico created an avenue where the Pasigueño may access information on government projects and services, forward suggestions and complaints, and be assured that action will be forthcoming.
The city has earmarked Php2.5 billion for the strengthening of health institutions and the implementation of Universal Health Care. This is over three times the amount of the previous years’ budget. 13,000 scholars have been registered this year and over 4,000 citizens will have the opportunity to earn additional income for various short-term work. Households will have their Christmas gift packs personally delivered to them. Soon, senior citizens will no longer have to queue to get their cash gift and other assistance, with the issuance of ATM cash cards.
The city will have challenging months ahead still, but the light is certainly shining bright at the end of the tunnel. Change has indeed begun and the wheels are turning mightily.
WINNIE RAYOS DIMANLIG
Head of Ugnayan sa Pasig
Before, securing permits was difficult and expensive, but not anymore. You just have to submit the needed documents and fill out the necessary forms and you get what you need.
The Ugnayan sa Pasig is very helpful for Pasigueños, because now there is a forum to air our grievances regarding erring government employees. Now that there is Ugnayan, government employees are challenged to provide better service.
Group Manager, De Guzman Foods Group
There are a lot of changes in the administration of MVS—from the way government transactions are done (e.g., employees are now more accommodating to Pasigueños needing assistance) to the suspension and firing of corrupt officials. Many city hall employees now are good- mannered, although some still stick to their old ways and practice red tape. Mayor Vico’s first 100 days in office is a good sign that we’re moving toward a better Pasig City!
Gender and Development Monitoring
Mayor Vico’s focus is good governance. And we in the Budget Office support his mandate by practicing transparency. We do open bidding, pinapa-livestream pa namin [we do live streaming]. Gusto nya talaga open sa lahat [He wants the biddings to be open to all]. Then the lowest bidder wins. By doing this, we’re able to save. Mayor definitely has the full support of the budget office.
MA. DELIA C. CONCEPCION
City Budget Officer
He has a good heart. Wala siyang iniisip na bad things sa nakaraan. Basta sabi niya “babayaran natin lahat yan, ilagay lang sa tamang proseso.” Kumuha lang siya ng 5-6 tao na nag-evaluate. Marami na kaming nabayaran—both medicines and other projects. Basta nakita nilang nandyan ang projects, binayaran. (He doesn’t hold grudges. Pertaining to projects of the previous administration, he said, “We’ll pay everything, just make sure everything is processed properly.” He hired five or six people to evaluate. We have paid a lot—both medicines and other projects. As long as the projects are there, we pay them.)”
Maraming tatanggapin ang mga taong benefits kasi marami siyang itinuloy na projects. (The people of Pasig will receive a lot of benefits because he continued a lot of projects.) From 11,000, our scholars are now 16,000. Our health budget used to be 83 million, now it’s 256 million.
We’re happy that we have a mayor who’s committed to changing the way things are done here in Pasig City. There’s a commitment to doing things the right way and following procedures, observing transparency, and making sure that the money of the city is spent properly.
Traffic-wise, Mayor Vico is committed to continuing the programs for sustainable transportation.
Our priority is low-carbon transportation and public transportation. According to him, road widening—the traditional way of thinking—isn’t always the solution. We need to focus on making things better not only for those who have cars but also for the commuters, pedestrians, and persons with disabilities.
ANTON SIY CTDMO
City Transport Head
Not only was our health budget increased by more than three times, the manpower was also rationalized.
In my opinion, the best thing Mayor Vico has done as far as healthcare is concerned is the decentralized decision making. He has empowered the healthcare professionals to decide what is good for the system. Anyway, mas alam naman talaga nila kung ano ang pangangailangan sa baba (they know the needs of the people since they are the ones on the ground].
Pasig also has a centralized social welfare assistance center, so if you need medical, financial assistance, if you want to process your application for PWD and senior citizen, PhilHealth etc.— you only need to go to one center. The elderly, PWDs, and patients won’t have difficulty anymore in processing their request for assistance.
DR. STUART SANTOS
City Health Office
At first, we were asking why the budget for infrastructure was cut. But eventually, we realized that there are infrastructure developments that aren’t needed yet and there are other projects that need to be prioritized. It’s also a learning experience for us, finding out options that are more cost-efficient. The mandate given to us was: you start adjusting the price provided it’s justifiable, feasible, and doable.
Mayor Vico is easy to work with—he trusts us and lets us give our sound judgment. Malaking bagay din ’yon para ma-boost yong morale namin (It’s a big help in boosting our morale). We’re comfortable around him, there’s no sense of intimidation. He always tells us, “Hindi ko alam lahat. Kaya kung ano ang forte nyo, ano ang pwede nyo mai-offer, sabihin lang.” (“I don’t know everthing. So whatever your forte is, whatever you can offer, just let us know.”) He’s a collaborative leader. Pasig City is very lucky to have him.
ARCHITECT CARLO O. MARTINEZ