Vico Sotto, the morning after: ‘Tuloy ang trabaho’

JC Gotinga
The Pasig mayor says there should be 'good interaction' between local governments and the national government during a time of crisis

VICO SOTTO. Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto during an interview with Rappler in October 2019. Rappler screenshot

MANILA, Philippines – Hours after Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto received a summons from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday, April 1, he posted photos on social media of the city’s frontliners at their posts, doing their bit to make living through the coronavirus pandemic more bearable.

“Mga kapwa ko Pasigueño, ‘wag ‘nyo intindihin ang mga isyu-isyu na ganu’n. Nagbigay na ako ng statement sa mga nagtatanong tungkol sa abalang dinala sa akin ng NBI kanina. Okay na ‘yun. Mga national officials na rin ang nagsabi na mali ‘yung ginawa nila,” he said in the caption to the photos.

(My fellow Pasigueños, don’t mind those issues. I already gave my statement to those who were asking about the hassle the NBI brought me a while ago. That’s okay. Even national officials said what they did was wrong.)

Ang mahalaga, tuloy ang trabaho (What’s important is, the work goes on),” Sotto added.

He reassured residents that despite the local government’s imperfections, it is striving to assist the disadvantaged to get through the crisis.

He then enumerated ongoing efforts, including an increase in the subsidy for tricycle drivers – from P3,000 to P4,000 – with the help of the City Council. Aside from that, 100,000 families were to receive financial aid from the national government soon.

‘Politicized and sensationalized’

The morning after, however, Sotto still had to address lingering questions from the day before.

In an interview with  ANC, NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said it was “well within the powers” of the agency to summon Sotto for an explanation, and that other local executives have been issued the same “invitation” to air their side on alleged anomalies in their implementation of the national government’s lockdown.

In fact, local officials from Las Piñas, Cebu, and Masbate were summoned, too. The NBI is also looking into the altercation between police and a group of poor protesters in Quezon City on Wednesday.

The only thing that set Sotto apart, Lavin said, was that his “invitation” drew more attention from the public.

“Medyo na-politicize lang ito, na-sensationalize, ‘yung kay Mayor Sotto (It was somewhat politicized, sensationalized, the one of Mayor Sotto),” Lavin said. 

Sotto tweeted his reaction: “I agree. But with all due respect, Sir, please stop and think why it reached this point: Side ‘nyo ang nagleak ng kopya ng sulat sa reporter. Nagpareceive tao ‘nyo sa opis ko, may kasama pang media (It was your side that leaked a copy of the letter to a reporter. Your guy had me receive it at my office with media in tow).”

‘Overwhelming support’

News of the NBI summoning Sotto to answer for an “alleged violation” of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act revived the hashtag “Protect Vico” on Twitter, trending worldwide in a matter of hours.

The issue was about tricycles. Sotto had initially allowed them to make limited trips to service health workers, essential employees, the elderly, and the infirm who had no vehicles of their own at the beginning of the lockdown on March 17, when all mass transport was grounded.

Sotto then asked the national government if that could be allowed to continue, but it was rejected. Sotto promptly complied, and tricycles were banned from Pasig’s streets starting March 19.

The Bayanihan Act, which gives President Rodrigo Duterte special powers to address the pandemic, wasn’t passed until March 24.

National officials including Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who oversees the NBI, said Sotto could not possibly be accused of violating a law that, at the time, did not yet exist.

Filipinos from Pasig and beyond thought as much, and questioned the government going after a local executive who had been working in earnest, and whose ideas have thus far been helpful.

“Thank you all for your overwhelming support. Ngunit ‘wag na po sanang gamitin ang isyu na ‘to para sa politika (But I hope this issue doesn’t become fodder for politics),” Sotto tweeted after responding to Lavin.

“Panahon po ngayon ng krisis. Mula barangay hanggang nasyonal, kailangan maganda ang pakikipag-ugnayan (Now is a time of crisis. From the barangay to the national government, there needs to be good interaction),” he added.

A warning

Sotto then tweeted a third time on Thursday morning: photos of the city’s Mobile Palengke or roving markets in its current location in Barangay San Joaquin, right by the Pasig River ferry station.

He reminded people to practice physical distancing to avoid infection, and to head home as soon as they’ve done their shopping.

He warned them that police have so far apprehended some 790 people for violating the order to stay at home as much as possible. Some are now facing formal cases.

“‘Wag na po tayong magpadagdag sa bilang na ‘to, mga Pasigueño (Let’s not be added to this number, Pasigueños),” he said. –

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.