In the midst of this COVID-19 chaos, Filipinos on lockdown—frustrated, antsy, and constantly looking for something to do—are, in the immortal words of Bonnie Tyler, in need of a hero. And based on the growing number of social media threads that are waxing poetic or downright fangirling, it seems like many have found one in the millennial Mayor Vico Sotto.
Since he ended the 27-year hold of the Eusebio family in Pasig in the May 2019 elections, Sotto has been a fairly silent working man—an endearing enigma to even those outside of his constituency, and a clean-shaven vessel by which their self-proclaimed values may be lived through.
In contrast to some of his political contemporaries, the 30-year-old politician is not given to excess. He does not speak about his private life, nor has he given interviews for lengthy profiles, and could only roll his eyes at requests or clamor for either. On many occasions, he would address his constituents only on the important matters that concern Pasig, with healthcare projects and curbing corruption being the top priorities in his platform. As he recently said so himself, he has no time: for trolls, politicking, or any other trivial pursuits.
Sporadically, he would give in to his musings—like that one time he wrote on the Facebook page Humans of Ateneo about his struggles as a new player in the game of politics.
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In this essay, he wrote, in part, “So, in the end, it is really just a matter of finding the right balance. Obviously, you don’t want to move too slow, because nothing’s gonna happen. If you try to move too fast, the people, the institution, the organization might not be ready for it.”
Then entered 2020, when a disease called COVID-19 began to spread across the country at a frighteningly rapid pace. Now is the time when moving “too fast” may be the best recourse. It is also a time for leaders to be loud and present, to be blasting through social media, report their every move—not to brag but to appease a panic-stricken constituency, to show people solutions are being made, and that help is on the way.
And maybe solicit much needed help, too. Today, Mayor Sotto is that leader—and he is unstoppable. You can see the tons of worry line his forehead, you can almost feel the lump in his throat as he begged government to allow tricycles to ply the streets of Pasig so that those who needed to be brought to hospitals make it there on time. Looking at the mayor’s efforts, it seems like when most were still not minding the virus spread like the life and death situation it is, he was already attacking the issue head on, killer smile attached.
Here is everything that Mayor Vico did in the last few weeks with regards the coronavirus sitch:
March 8: Prepared the Rescue Emergency Disaster (RED) Training Center
The mayor went live on Facebook, to explain the precautionary measures he and his team were taking to prepare for the effects of COVID-19. In the video, he can be seen talking to people in-charge of the Rescue Emergency Disaster Training Center in Pasig. On the same day, he assured the public they are in close coordination with the Department of Health (DOH), adding, “Please understand that this being a public health situation, we must make decisions based on set protocol and guidance from experts in the field; not public opinion/pressure.”
Vico is, of course, known not to give in easily to public opinion. While his parents’ fans were waiting for him to step into the showbiz limelight, he chose to serve the people instead of brandishing his mug for profit. While there is no doubt he could sell box office tickets and amp up TV ratings, we have never been happier of someone’s career choice.
March 9: Adopts guidelines from the DOH and WHO the day Pasig reported a COVID-19 patient
The DOH announced that a confirmed COVID-19 patient was admitted at The Medical City hospital in Ortigas, although the patient is not a resident of Pasig. Mayor Vico simultaneously announced there was a Pasig resident who is confined in a hospital outside of his jurisdiction. While the news alarmed his followers, he emphasized the need to implement the guidelines of DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) to avoid further spread of the virus: contact tracing, having dedicated response teams observing proper protocol, disinfection of public spaces, cancellation of all public events and gatherings; putting on hold applications for permits for large private events.
In the succeeding days he would give his constituents constant reminders, written in both Filipino and English. He would either go live on Facebook or post bullet points about the salient topics discussed in his everyday meetings with other members of the government.
March 11: Disinfected public places, visited The Medical City
The people tuning in to his live video Wednesday before last felt a little more secure about the rising number of confirmed cases when he showed disinfecting machines roaming around public places. At the time, Mayor Vico was at the Pasig Elementary school, and informed the public that all 45 public schools in the city will be disinfected that week. “The City Hall, annexes, the Mega Market, other key areas are being disinfected EVERYDAY,” he wrote on his caption.
Around the same time, while everyone was desperate for new information, a supposed internal memo from The Medical City circulated in the Internet. The memo contained instructions for its staff to refuse patients as they had diminished resources. It caused a ruckus on social media. Mayor Sotto was quick to clarify the issue. “Partially because of the rumors, I went to The Medical City Pasig to meet with their officials,” he wrote on his Facebook page, then categorically denied the rumors. “TMC is NOT refusing patients…Hospital operations are continuing as normal.” In the same post, he reminded citizens:
“Disinformation/misinformation is now spreading faster than the virus itself. LET’S HELP EACH OTHER spread true and useful information,” said the Mayor turned fake news slayer.
In the afternoon of the same day, he showed, through a live Facebook feed, how Dr. Stuart Santos, assistant city health officer and point person for COVID-19-related concerns, was re-briefing some of Pasig’s health workers about protocols and dealing with symptomatic patients.
March 12: Reports contract tracing has been successful
As the confirmed cases and death around the world continue to soar, photos of Pasig’s staff in personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting public places every day, worked like a comfort blanket, even for those who aren’t residents of the city. Even the mayor’s short announcements bring about feelings of ease, at least for a little while: “Our contact tracing has been successful so far. All who have had close contact with the patients are under strict quarantine,” the post on March 12 read. In some of his posts, he inserts a few verses from the Bible—the mayor is a known practicing Christian.
Meanwhile, his constant reminders to wash hands and to stay home have become a daily dose of reassurance to Pasigueños online.
March 13: Discussed the recently-announced community quarantine
On March 13, a day after the government imposed a community quarantine, Mayor Sotto talked to his constituents, again through a live Facebook feed, about the implications of the order. He did so after attending an emergency meeting with local government units (LGUs) and department heads. Behind him was a screen, where clear and concise bullet points about the quarantine were projected. While many things remained uncertain, he wanted people to understand how this could affect their lives and how they could deal with this news. “Kaya natin at malalagpasan natin ’to,” he said.
As tensions rise, so do his team’s efforts: giving away additional backpack sprayers with disinfectants and PPEs for Pasig’s 30 barangays and posting infographics that make it easier to comprehend perplexing rules that change more often than anxious nerves could cope.
March 15: Surveyed the checkpoints
When the government announced the travel restrictions, the mayor, wearing a mask, went around the city, inspecting all checkpoints, talking to men in uniform. He also turned over a few supplies to the Philippine National Police, including kits with knapsack sprayer, gloves, alcohol, and thermometer guns.
March 16: Announced the Anti-Panic Buying and Hoarding Ordinance
The travel bans significantly decreased the number of people going out of their houses, and the effect was felt by the tricycle drivers, who depend on their day-to-day earnings to survive. Social distancing also mandated drivers to take only a maximum of three passengers—down from the usual five. To compromise, the mayor had a meeting with the Tricycle Operators and Drivers Association (TODA) and agreed to increase fares by 50 percent. “Maawa naman tayo kung sa 8 hours na biyahe, 50 lang kikitain nila,” his empathetic Tweet read.
An hour later, he announced the implementation of Ordinance No. 07, or the Anti-Panic Buying and Hoarding Ordinance of Pasig, inserting a table containing the maximum quantities food and other basic necessities that a person can buy in a day.
When the government banned all public transportation on Monday, March 16, he pleaded, with much frustration, to allow some tricycles to travel so they could serve as transportation for health workers, staff assigned to essential services, and for emergency situations. This, he announced, after studying the context surrounding his constituents [written as is]: “Ginagamit natin ang mga sasakyan ng lungsod para sa #LibrengSakay pero kulang na kulang ito. Our risk assessment shows that we CANNOT completely ban tricycles.”
In another impassioned post, he added [written as is], “Pano na po ang mangyayari kung hindi makasakay ang mga HEALTH WORKERS at LIBO-LIBONG MGA PASYENTE NA NANGANGAILANGAN NG TREATMENT? Palalakarin ba talaga natin ng 5 kilometro ang isang dialysis patient na senior citizen? Ang cancer patient na bagong opera Pano na rin po kung magkaroon ng EMERGENCY, lalo na sa mga lugar na tricycle lang ang kasya?”
But Mayor Vico remained diplomatic: “Sana makita po ng mga ginagalang nating lider—na may perspektibo kami sa LGU na maaaring di nakikita mula sa mas mataas. I am not yet even considering the social and economic effects of prohibiting tricycles—we are talking about the potential damage to public health and a possible loss of lives.”
He has assured that members of the Pasig local government, including those under the “no work, no pay” job order will be paid in full. “Gagawan natin ng paraan. Basta, mag-ingat, at hangga’t maaari sa bahay lang muna,” he wrote on his page. Those who are on the front line will receive hazard pay, overtime pay, and other benefits.
March 18: The good deeds keep coming
The good deed will keep coming, that much is certain. But as of March 18, Pasig now has sanitation tents at the entrance of City Hall, Pasig City General hospital, and Pasig City Children’s Hospital. The LGU has also prepared food packs—complete with a copy of purchase request form posted on the mayor’s Facebook page—and vitamins, which will be distributed to those who need it soon. And better still: his name is nowhere to be found at these giveaways, which many elected officials forget isn’t in any way a requirement.
March 19: Dahlia Hotel was converted into a quarantine facility
The mayor sought the help of Dahlia Hotel in Pasig to allow Persons Under Monitoring (PUM) and Persons Under Investigation (PUI), with mild to moderate symptoms, to stay under their roof for a strictly supervised 14-day quarantine. The hotel can hold at least 300 people. This move is a way for the city to minimize community risk.
And while everyone’s thinking this young man is a cape-and-cool-weapons short of becoming a real-life superhero in these trying times, Pasig procured drones—3 units of DJI MG-1P—to disinfect the city. According to DJI’s website, this octocopter is usually used in agriculture, and can carry 10 kgs. of fluid to assist in pesticide and herbicide delivery. So, he’s just a cape short.
While we see the danger of putting anyone, especially a public official, on a pedestal, pointing these examples out isn’t meant to lionize but to blue print. It’s possible to be effective and reassure your constituents at the same time. It’s possible to do your job without making it all about you. It’s possible to lead and find respect without demanding it.
Now, if only we could see others following suit.
Photographs from the Official Facebook of Vico Sotto