Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto is undeterred by the national government’s rejection of his appeal to let tricycles have a limited run on his city’s streets during the coronavirus lockdown of Luzon.
Although Malacañang denies it, Sotto’s stand on the tricycles certainly is one of the reasons, if not the, reason that President Rodrigo Duterte put out a video past 1 am on Friday, March 20, scolding local governments for having their own ways of implementing the lockdown.
Stick to the national government’s idea of the lockdown, or else face administrative and even criminal cases, the President warned local executives.
Never mind that Duterte himself, a few nights earlier, charged local governments with making the lockdown work in their constituencies.
Sotto had inadvertently put himself on a collision course with Duterte by taking the liberty of making an executive decision and standing up for it when it was challenged, citing risk assessment and common sense.
On the first two days of the lockdown, he let tricycles in Pasig make limited trips to service health workers, essential business staff, and the infirm who did not have their own cars.
These were people exempted from the lockdown anyway, and if only one passenger sat in the tricycle’s side car and another one behind the driver (usually two passengers sit behind the driver), social distancing could still be practiced, Sotto pointed out.
Or else, people will die, he said. Based on a proper risk analysis, poor patients needing dialysis or post surgery care would have to walk as far as 5 kilometers to the nearest public hospital (there are only 3 in Pasig) if they couldn’t find a ride.
With the metropolis on lockdown, all public transport is grounded, and those without cars have no choice but to walk – even the elderly.
Even with all the city’s buses and vans out servicing exempted workers heading to their workplaces, it wasn’t enough, and the mayor saw a solution hiding in plain sight: tricycles, on a limited basis.
So he raised his hand and asked national authorities if that could be allowed. He got a “no” from Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Wednesday evening, March 18, and an even more resounding turndown from the President the following night – a message to local executives not to improvise or challenge what the boss has ordered.
How is the first time mayor taking this?
“I will always just do what I believe is right, informed by the collective wisdom of our team,” Sotto told Rappler when asked whether the incident would affect the way he leads Pasig.
He never intended to defy the higher-ups, he said. When Malacañang rejected his idea, he promptly said his city would comply, and his team would just look for other ways to solve the problem.
“We have actually been compliant with national directives. Now is not the time for making issues or arguing, but let’s just do what we can to save lives,” Sotto added.
After that rebuff from the Palace and the ensuing maelstrom of social media trolling, the hashtag “Protect Vico” trended on Twitter, fueled by Filipinos – from Pasig and beyond – who recognized his ingenuity in responding to the pandemic.
To wit, the Pasig government under Sotto has:
Before the lockdown
- Set up and trained response teams to handle COVID-19 cases
- Disinfected all public schools, the city hall, the public market, much-frequented places, and even the streets and sidewalks
- Met with a major private hospital’s executives to make sure they were not turning down suspected COVID-19 patients
- Enlisted medical professionals to brief local health workers about the pandemic
- Distributed 500 disinfecting kits to the city’s 30 barangays, with more than 1,000 sets of equipment all in all
- Regularly went live on social media to inform his constituents about the situation and what precautions to take
During the lockdown
- Inspected checkpoints
- Enforced a nightly 8 pm to 5 am curfew starting March 15
- Ensured full salaries for all city government employees
- Worked out schedules to sustain frontline government services with a skeleton staff
- Ordered penalties on hoarders of food and essential supplies
- Deployed the city’s fleet of buses to service essential workers
- Allowed limited tricycle trips for people with legitimate reasons to commute
- Set up sanitation tents at the city hall, Pasig City General Hospital (PCGH), and Pasig City Children’s Hospital (Child’s Hope)
- Continued disinfecting public places
- Procured and used drones to spray disinfectants
- Lent “Pasig Bike Share” bicycle units to health workers and other frontline personnel
- Started a “food truck” effort to provide 2,000 packed meals for health workers, security officers, and other frontline personnel
- Started procuring supplies for 400,000 food packs to be distributed to Pasig residents, similar to the Pamaskong Handog last Christmas
- Started sourcing vitamins to be distributed to residents; 5,000 bottles already in the inventory with more expected to come in
- Arranged for the use of motels as quarantine facilities for persons under monitoring or investigation for COVID-19
- Set up a meeting with teams from The Medical City, PCGH, Child’s Hope, and the City Health Office, to coordinate efforts and share procedures in responding to the pandemic
At these, many people on social media commented, “sana all,” wishing all politicians were as prolific and responsive to the situation.
Some teased Sotto about his future prospects in politics. How would he like to be president someday?
“Bagama’t na-a-appreciate ko ang magagandang komento ‘nyo sa akin, 1 – I’m only 30, with no interest in your national politics; 2 – Kasama sa trabaho ko ang pag-report ng ginagawa ng (local government unit), but our social media team is composed of only two people, and we really can’t control what goes on here.”
(Although I appreciate your positive comments about me, 1 – I’m only 30, with no interest in your national politics; 2 – My work includes reporting what the local government unit is doing, but our social media team is composed of only two people, and we really can’t control what goes on here.)
It’s as though he was apologizing for calling attention to himself.
On Wednesday, as he was inspecting food preparations for health workers at Pasig Rainforest Park near the PCGH, reporters trailed him to get an interview on the city’s response to the pandemic and his appeal about the tricycles.
He noticed the head of his two-man social media team, Ron Angeles, was also holding up a camera at him.
“Naka-live ka ba? Mamaya ka na mag-live! Camera-shy tayo eh,” Sotto told Angeles, half-joking. (Are you live? Do it later! I’m camera-shy.)
But at the rate he is going, Sotto cannot dodge the cameras anymore. As some netizens put it, he is getting attention for being a good leader, which they rarely find in this government. Of course people want to see and hear more from him. (READ: Kasalanan natin kung bakit kinukuyog si Mayor Vico Sotto)
But what makes a good leader?
Sotto granted the reporters an interview, in which he appealed to national leaders, explaining why he had to let the tricycles stay on the road. Videos of that interview went viral and resonated with people, but Malacañang would have none of it.
And so the tricycle drivers who took his word were flagged down by police and issued violation tickets. No worries, Sotto said. He would pay for each P500 ticket himself.
He took the fall, and the heat from the higher powers, for a decision he had made. As he said, a pandemic is not the time to argue or make issues. Lives are at stake, so to put the matter to rest, he did not push his way.
He can take “no” for an answer. He knows how to be a good follower. – Rappler.com