MANILA—It’s been raining since early morning but Pasig City hall employees and residents of the city eagerly waited for Mayor Vico Sotto’s first flag-raising ceremony.
The band started playing dance tunes—“Sumayaw, Sumunod” and other classic beats—as people filled up the quadrangle in front of the city hall.
To the delight of the audience, an elderly woman went up on stage and started dancing. One by one, other women followed suit, making up their own dance moves, swaying their hips and moving their feet to the beat.
"They weren’t like that when Mayor Eusebio was in power,"one woman told her friend in Filipino.
“It’s really like that. He’s a celebrity,” the other woman replied, referring to Sotto, who is the son of celebrities Vic Sotto and Coney Reyes.
While the 29-year-old mayor of Pasig has tried to define himself as someone who is not dependent on the star power of his parents or the political influence of his uncle, Senate President Tito Sotto, he has admitted that he cannot change the fact that he was born into a family of celebrities.
But like his campaign rallies, Sotto’s first flag raising ceremony on Monday was straightforward and brief, devoid of fanfare—besides the spontaneous dancing of the old women before the event.
After the singing of the national anthem and other usual flag raising activities, a priest led the morning’s prayer. He spoke about how government officials should not be considered as idols. They are servants, he said.
People cheered as soon as Sotto was called on stage.
“Ang resulta po ng eleksiyon, ang mandato po na natanggap natin ay isa pong pakita ng Pasigueno na naghahanap sila ng pagbabago,” Sotto said.
(The result of the elections, the mandate that we received is proof that Pasiguenos are looking for change.)
“Pero ang pagbabago na pinag-uusapan natin siyempre may kasama pa rin pong continuity,” he added. “Masaya ko pong sinasabi sa inyo lahat po ng contractual, lahat po ng job order at casual wala po tayong tatanggalin.”
(But the change that we are talking about has to come hand-in-hand with continuity. I am happy to say that all contractual, job order and casual employees will be safe from dismissal.)
Sotto said the only thing he wants in return is cooperation.
“Maging receptive po tayo sa pagbabago, sa mga gusto nating palitan, sa mga lumang kalakaran, sa mga lumang nakasanayan pero hindi tama,” he said.
(Let us be receptive to change, for things we want to change, old habits that we have gotten used to but are not good.)
“Maasahan ko po ba kayo?” (Can I rely on you?)
“Yes!” an enthusiastic crowd shouted back.
However, he asked for patience since the renewal of contracts will take weeks.
While he said he had prepared a speech, he decided to end it in 3 minutes because of the rain.
The people soon swarmed around him, hoping to get selfies.
After briefly going around the city hall to greet employees, he holed himself up in his office, ready to receive hundreds of people hoping to meet with him.
PROMISE OF CHANGE
Among those who trooped to the city hall this rainy morning was 61-year-old Lhuz Zamora and her neighbors.
“Para magkaroon ng pagbabago sa aming bayan,” Zamora, who has been at the city hall since 5:30 a.m., said when asked why she voted for Vico.
(So there will be change in our country.)
Sotto ran on a platform of change. His Twitter hashtag was #ibanaman, the opposite of then Mayor Bobby Eusebio’s campaign hashtag #EusebioForever.
This is why Jessie Odiame and his neighbors from Manggahan decided to stand in line to meet with the mayor.
“Karamihan ay 17 years na walang kuryente ang lugar namin. Karamihan nakiki-submeter lang,” he said.
(Many of the houses in our community have not had electricity in the last 17 years. Many use submeters.)
Odiame is hoping that Sotto will sign their request for right-of-way for the electricity cables to be installed in their community.
HOPEFUL CITY EMPLOYEES
City hall employees are not yet fully convinced that Sotto will fulfill his promises. But they are hopeful that there will be good change.
Architect Renzel Silva, who has been working at the city hall for 5 years, said he hopes Sotto will be true to his word, especially when it comes to his earlier remarks that he will not grant favors or threaten employees.
“I hope the services will continue,” he said.
Mildred Manzano, a midwife who has worked for the Pasig City government for 20 years, said she voted for Sotto because of his promise to prioritize health care.
“May mga gamot naman pero hindi siya sapat,” she said. “Kami 'yung preventive eh.”
(There is medicine but it is not enough.)
Manzano said she hopes Sotto will also be sincere in caring for the employees.
“Mahalin n'ya ang empleyado. Iyon ang hindi namin naramdaman sa previous,” she said.
(I hope he makes the employees feel loved. That’s something we didn’t feel from the previous.)
At the lobby of the city hall, ABS-CBN was able to talk to 3 casual employees—Nancy Bernal, Ricky (who refused to give his family name) and Bong Aguado.
Bernal and Aguado have been casual employees at the city hall for 18 years.
“Bago siya umupo maraming kabado. Lalo na 'yung mga job order talagang sabi tatanggalin daw mga job order,” Bernal said.
(A lot of us got nervous before he became mayor, especially those who were job orders because the rumor was that he will remove all job orders.)
Ricky said city hall employees have been trying to be neutral.
“Kung sino ang manalo doon po kami,” he said.
(Whoever wins will have our loyalty.)
“Sinabi niya na 10 years pataas mare-regular. Sana maging totoo. Kagaya ko mag-18 na ako rito eh,” said Aguado.
(He said those who have worked for 10 years will become regular employees. I hope it comes true. Like me, I have been working for 18 years here.)
All 3 said they didn’t vote for Sotto because they might be removed from work if they did.
“Alam naman niya 'yun,” Ricky said of Sotto, who has said that he will end the culture of fear at city hall.
(He already knows that.)
MORE WORK AHEAD
Barangay Manggahan Councilor Quin Cruz, who was part of Sotto’s campaign team, said their work is now more challenging.
“Nakita namin 'yung pangangailangan na alalayan pa rin si Mayor Vico,” he said. “Hindi natatapos 'yung laban ng election. Kundi nag-uumpisa pa lang sa pag-upo niya. Sa ngayon nakikita namin hindi magiging smooth. Hindi ganun kadali 'yung transition.”
He echoed Sotto’s worry about uncooperative individuals.
“Kaya kahapon nagulat rin kami na out of 12 city councilors, 5 lang ang umattend ng turnover and oath-taking ceremonies. Nagulat rin kami na out of 30 barangays, 11 lang na kapitan ang nakita namin dito,” Cruz said.
(Yesterday we were surprised that out of 12 city councilors, only 5 attended for the turnover and oath-taking ceremonies. We were also surprised that out of 30 villages, only 11 captains were here.)
This, amid Sotto winning in 28 out of 30 villages in the city.
Nevertheless, he said Sotto knows how to deal with people, especially since he values professionalism.
By Monday afternoon, the young mayor finally went out of his office to announce the suspension of Pasig City’s supposedly confusing odd-even scheme.
It was eventually revealed that the mayor’s office, which was in the hands of the Eusebio family for 27 years, has been stripped of appliances and equipment like computers.
After the elections, Ateneo School of Government Dean Ronald Mendoza, Sotto’s professor in graduate school, said it is more difficult to deliver change than defeat a political dynasty.
He said there would be a lot of “obstacles” deliberately left by the previous administration. This is why politicians like Sotto need all the help they can get from the public.
Meanwhile, Cruz said they have committed themselves to helping the young mayor.
Residents like 61-year-old Zamora believe in the need for more support as well.
“Kailangan niya ng pasensiya at kooperasyon ng lahat. 'Yun ang kailangang kailangan para magtagumpay ang Pasig,” she said.
(He really needs patience and cooperation of all. That’s what’s needed for Pasig to succeed.”