The relevance of Vico Sotto

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

At a time of great distrust of the Filipinos of political leaders aggravated by the mishandling of the COVID pandemic, the award by the US State Department to Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto as one of the 12 International Anti-Corruption Champions, is a much welcome and deserving news. Among the citations, “is for leadership, courage and support in preventing, exposing, and fighting corruption”. The Philippine Senate passed a corresponding resolution commending Sotto and acknowledging the award. That there was no similar resolution in the House of Representatives, the League of Mayors, or from the Dept. of local Governments, is full of implications on the sentiments of many local officials and the national government.

Sotto, 32, has been in politics for five years. He was elected to the Pasig City Council in 2016, and won a landslide victory over an entrenched incumbent mayor in 2019. He graduated from Ateneo University with a BS in Political Science and post-graduate degree in Public Administration. For somebody in the public service for four years and in the public eye for two years, his reputation and public persona have soared all over the country, and is now noticed internationally.

Sotto ran on a platform of public consultation and transparency, anti-corruption, universal healthcare, education, housing, and data-driven governance. These are the usual motherhood statements of most politicians, but what makes Sotto stand out, is that in a span of 18 months, he has implemented 70% of his promises. Pasig City is the only Philippine city that has in place the Freedom of Information Act, and conducted real public consultations. He reduced the cost of public works by at least 10% by eliminating “kickbacks” and influence peddling, increased the salaries of the city employees, and added subsidies to health benefits of residents. Education scholarships were also increased and plans for more public housing are in place for implementation. The Pasig City government’s handling of COVID’s health and economic impact and consequences were/are better managed than those in other cities, in terms of healthcare, isolation protocols, and lifeline assistance to the lower income groups. All these in less than two years of his incumbency with a deliberate and mandated avoidance of publicity, propaganda, and image building. The accolades and positive comments from social and mainstream media aren’t from an organized group or PR team, but from citizens and netizens.

The recognition of Sotto’s achievement so far is irrefutable, but what’s more important is the impact and significance of these achievements on the Philippine political environment in the next two years and in many years to come. His ability to sustain his performance up to the 2022 election and his possible re-election may mean a political maturation of the urban electorate, and lead to the election of more non-traditional, reform-minded local politicians. Another three-year stint in Pasig City will catapult him to the national political scene. While he denies any aspirations for higher political positions, he will be eligible for a national position in 2028. In 2022, while he will likely run for re-election, his current performance and the strength of his re-election campaign will be significant beyond the borders of Pasig City. In fact in the neighboring cities of Manila, Quezon City, Pateros, Pasay, and other metropolitan cities, incumbent mayors are cleaning their acts to align with Sotto, with their eyes on the coming elections.

Depending on how the 2022 elections will go for the local and national candidates, the relevance of Sotto may be a long-term trend or could be just a “flash in the pan”. It could presage an era of good governance in the government in all levels, proof that people want good government, and that good guys win. That it would start in Pasig City, a city by the river, and flows throughout the country, is symbolic.

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