Vico Sotto: I will always just do what I believe is right

JC Gotinga
For making his point before the national government, Vico Sotto is hailed by many as a good leader. In getting a ‘no’ and complying with it, the Pasig Mayor shows he is a good follower.

FOLLOWER, LEADER. Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto waiting to deliver his first State of the City Address on his 100th day in office on October 8, 2019. With him are his mother, actress Coney Reyes, and Pasig Representative Roman Romulo. File photo by Lisa Marie David/Rappler

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.

Tricycles, limited

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.

‘No’

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.

#ProtectVico

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

During the lockdown

Future President?

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?

As in the early days of his term, he deflected such suggestions. He tweeted:

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.

Camera-shy

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

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.