Pasig’s Vico Sotto kicks off ‘Pamaskong Handog’ distribution

JC Gotinga
Pasig’s Vico Sotto kicks off ‘Pamaskong Handog’ distribution
Savings from cleaning up the local government enables the city to produce 400,000 goody bags – enough for every Pasigueño family – to end the old 'palakasan' system, says Sotto

MANILA, Philippines – Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto launched the distribution of this year’s Pamaskong Handog or “Christmas Present” on Thursday, November 28, and for the first time, every family in the city can expect to receive one.

The city government’s efforts to “clean up” its finances resulted in “big savings,” Sotto said, so they were able to realign some P260 million to produce 400,000 goody bags – more than double the 180,000 the city used to prepare in previous years.

“Maraming savings ang lokal na pamahalaan ngayon. Una, kasi naglilinis kami ng gobyerno. Sinisiguro namin, walang overpricing, tama ang presyo nung binibili namin, kaya maraming savings. So itong savings na ‘to, kanino ba dapat mapunta? Isauli na lang natin sa tao sa pamamagitan ng Pamaskong Handog,” Sotto told reporters after visiting a few households in Barangay Sto Tomas to hand out the first batch of goody bags.

(The local government has big savings right now. First, because we’re cleaning up the government. We make sure there’s no overpricing, we buy stuff at the right prices, so there’s a lot of savings. These savings, whom should they go to? Let’s just give them back to the people through the Pamaskong Handog.)

Each goody bag costs around P600, Sotto said. It includes:

  • rice
  • spaghetti
  • spaghetti sauce
  • cheese
  • corned beef
  • luncheon meat
  • Vienna sausage
  • condensed milk
  • fruit cocktail
  • nata de coco

What the recipients won’t find on the items and on the tote bags they come in, are names or faces of politicians, Sotto pointed out.

DATA GATHERING. Part of distributing the Pamaskong Handog to Pasig residents is a survey of their basic information to help the city government in policy-making, Mayor Vico Sotto said. Photo by JC Gotinga/Rappler

A survey, too

Distributing the goody bags will take 2 to 3 weeks, and will be done per cluster of Pasig’s 30 barangays. A household will receive as many bags as there are families living in it.

Some 2,000 city government workers and volunteers will go from door to door throughout the city until mid-December to personally hand the Pamaskong Handog to each recipient, and to carry out a survey of the residents’ basic information, akin to a census.

“Hindi lang ito tungkol sa Pamaskong Handog. Ito, pagkuha na rin natin ng tamang datos tungkol sa populasyon natin. Ilang pamilya ba sa loob ng eskinita na ‘to? Sa looban na ‘to, ilan ba ang nakatira dito? Sa ngayon kasi, hindi natin matiyak,” Sotto said, adding that the city’s data on hand is imprecise.

(This is not just about the Pamaskong Handog. This is also a gathering of accurate data about our population. How many families live along this alley? How many in this neighborhood? Because right now, we can’t be certain.)

“Gusto natin, sa susunod na taon, alam na natin kung ilan eksakto. Ilan ang maysakit sa lugar na ‘to? Ano ‘yung sakit nila? Ilan ang pamilya dito? Ilan ang senior citizen? Ilan ang kabataan (What we want is by next year, we should know exactly how many. How many are sick in this place? What ails them? How many families here? How many are senior citizens? How many are youth)?”

FROM SAVINGS. Cleaning up the bureaucracy yielded savings in the local government's finances, enabling Pasig to produce enough goody bags for every family in the city. Photo by JC Gotinga/Rappler

One for all

Assuring each family in Pasig of their own Pamaskong Handog cuts the old practice of “palakasan” or currying favor among members of associations and organizations that used to be the local government’s conduits in distributing the yearly handouts.

The Christmas tradition that Pasigueños have come to anticipate every year used to be quite politicized, Sotto said. Local officials benefited from the scarcity, letting their favored ones hoard the goods at the expense of others who received none.

“Marami naman, nakakatanggap, 2, 3, 4. Tingin ko, hindi naman patas ‘yun. Hindi ‘yun makatarungan. Pera nating lahat ‘yun eh. Pera ng Pasigueño ‘yun eh (There were many who received two, three, four. I don’t think that’s fair. That’s unjust. That’s all our money. That’s Pasigueños’ money),” he added. 

In a Rappler Talk interview in October, Sotto promised all Pasig residents, even his political opponents, will get their fair share. He would give former mayor Bobby Eusebio, who had protested his electoral victory, a Pamaskong Handog if he wanted one, Sotto said.

Sotto campaigned on a promise of sweeping reform and improvements on social services. Pasig’s P12 billion budget in 2020, the first drafted under Sotto, allots the lion’s share to social services, with health getting 21% as the city prepares to implement the Universal Health Care Law.

Reforms take time, Sotto said when he marked his 100th day in office in early October, so he said the people would probably feel the first effects of the internal changes in governance at around Christmastime, through the Pamaskong Handog. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.