A video of Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto confronting a businessman for demolishing informal settlers’ shanties has gone viral – as it shows a different side of the usually calm and collected city mayor.
"Ano po gusto ninyong mangyari dito? Gusto ‘nyo makulong kayo? O mumurahin mo rin ako gaya ng pagmumura mo sa tao ko?" Sotto began. (What now? Do you want to be arrested? Or are you going to cuss at me the way you cussed at my people?)
Lao then asked Sotto, "Alam mo ba kung ano'ng nangyari dito (Do you know what happened here)?"
"Oo, alam ko. Sinubukan mong mag-demolish nang may tao sa loob ng bahay (Yes, I know. You tried to demolish houses while there were people inside them)," Sotto replied.
Lao tried to deny it, but Sotto said the incident was caught on video. The businessman then argued that the shanties occupying what he said was his property were part of a "drug den."
"May karapatan ka bang mag-demolish? Eh bakit hindi ka tumawag ng pulis?" Sotto told Lao. (Do you have the right to demolish? Why didn’t you call the police?)
Lao insisted that it was within his property, but Sotto pointed out that the businessman did not have a court order authorizing him to demolish settlers’ homes.
When Sotto asked him why he went ahead with the demolition even if there were people, including children, inside the shanties at the time, Lao claimed the settlers placed the children inside to try to stop the move.
The argument then escalated when Sotto told Lao that a building he owned covered the sidewalk, and that trucks he had brought in ruined the pavement.
Lao denied there was damage to the road, so Sotto challenged him to walk to the spot and check it out, which they did.
The video shows a container van and a crane occupying the narrow street, the pavement under the crane partially cracked and caved in.
Lao kept defending his position, and his lawyer – his daughter – explained that they decided to take action after some 40 officers from the city hall came to inspect the premises following "rumors" of illegal activity.
The lawyer said the party from the city hall presented a "demolition order," which they could not produce when Sotto asked for it. The lawyer said they were not given a copy of the document.
Sotto said it was the city’s peace-and-order squad that came to check the place, and it was their job to make such inspections.
Whatever the matter was, the mayor said it should have been coursed through the proper legal channels, and Lao should not have taken matters into his own hands. The problem immediately at hand were the crane and a container van blocking the road, which Sotto wanted cleared.
Lao’s lawyer said they could not immediately find the trucks’ drivers because they ran off when the party from the city hall arrived, which included Pasig City Police chief Colonel Moises Villaceran Jr.
Lao's lawyer explained that they were trying to clear the area for storage.
"To continue your illegal construction," Sotto said.
Lao then asked why Sotto seemed "biased" against him, a constituent and taxpayer. The mayor pointed out that Lao did not secure a permit from the local government for his project.
"As a government official, I will treat things fairly. Kung walang permit, hindi puwedeng mag-construction (No permit, no construction)," Sotto told Lao.
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.