MANILA (4th UPDATE) - Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has been named by the US State Department as among the world's anticorruption champions.
The 31-year-old local chief executive is among a dozen "brave individuals" given the International Anticorruption Champions Award launched by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to "recognize individuals who have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing and combating corruption."
Sotto "is a standard-bearer for a new generation of Philippine politicians who prioritize anticorruption and transparency initiatives in their election campaigns and in office," the agency said in a statement released Tuesday.
Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law also congratulated Sotto for the feat, noting that the Pasig City mayor spent a month in Iowa as part of a US-sponsored Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellows Program in 2018, a year before he ran for the mayoralty race.
"I am especially proud that the Mayor was able to use his participation in a YSEALI Professional Fellows Program in Iowa to help advance transparency initiatives here in the Philippines," Law said in a statement.
"Today’s award recognizes Mayor Sotto’s early work to bring more transparent and open government to the citizens of Pasig," he said.
In a social media post Wednesday night, Sotto thanked the US Department of State for the recognition.
He also expressed hope that this recognition can help raise awareness among Filipinos.
"If we want better long-term governance, we need to fight corruption. We have to denormalize it, get it out of our culture," Sotto said.
Sotto first entered public service as a city councilor in Pasig in 2016. He ran for mayor in the 2019 polls and dethroned the Eusebio family, which has held the Pasig mayoralty for nearly 3 decades.
The agency said Sotto's previous work on the city council resulted in freedom of information legislation, which allowed city residents to request documents without having to provide a justification. It is the first such law in the Metro Manila area, it added.
The city mayor also vowed to fight kickbacks in the awarding of government contracts, established a 24/7 public information and complaints hotline and formally involved civil society organizations in the city’s budgeting and policy making, the agency noted.
The young leader also mandated that the value of all city government contracts be reduced by at least 10 percent -- a measure intended to reduce bribery in the contract awarding process, it added.
"Sotto has sought to solidify his reputation as a fresh voice with a new, more transparent approach to governance," the US State Department said.
On social media, Sotto, son of movie stars Coney Reyes and Vic Sotto, has accumulated followers drawn to his fresh take on politics.
The other anticorruption champions are:
- Ardian Dvorani, judge and member of the Justice Appointments Council of Albania
- Diana Salazar, attorney general of Ecuador
- Sophia Pretrick of investigative advisor for the compliance investigation division of the Pohnpei State Auditor of the Federated States of Micronesia
- Juan Francisco Sandoval Alfaro, chief of the Special Prosecutors Office Against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala
- Ibrahima Kalil Gueye, chair and cofounder of the non-governmental organization Organization for Positive Change in Guinea
- Anjali Bhardwaj, an active member of the Right to Information Movement in India
- Dhuha A. Mohammed, director general for electronic payments at the Central Bank of Iraq
- Bolot Temirov, investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of Factcheck.kg of the Kyrgyz Republic
- Mustafa Abdullah Sanalla, chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation
- Francis Ben Kaifala, commissioner of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission
- Ruslan Ryaboshapka, former prosecutor general of Ukraine
"The State Department continues to stand by citizens around the world calling for transparent, accountable governments. We proudly recognize these international champions of anticorruption and all those who have taken a stand against corruption," the US State Department said.
In a separate statement, Blinken said he launched the award to demonstrate US' commitment in fighting corruption and show support to anticorruption leaders and innovators.
"As President [Joe] Biden has emphasized, our commitment to truth, transparency, and accountability is a mission that we must live at home and exemplify abroad. I commend the dedication of these 12 brave individuals to these same ideals... They inspire us and so many of their counterparts pursuing these ideals around the world," he said.
Some $1 trillion is paid in bribes every year while an estimated $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption, according to a 2018 United Nations study.
To combat global corruption, Blinken said the US was first to criminalize foreign bribery and had recovered and returned more than $1 billion in stolen public assets in the past 2 years.
The US also publicly designated and denied entry some 41 corrupt foreign officials and immediate family members and sanctioned 14 individuals and entities in connection with corruption under the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program.
"We will defeat corruption by implementing sound reforms consistent with international anticorruption commitments; developing transparent, accountable institutions; and empowering citizens, journalists, and civil society organizations to help defeat this global threat to security and democracy," Blinken said.