After toppling Eusebio dynasty in Pasig, what’s next for Vico Sotto?

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 23 2019 05:57 AM | Updated as of Oct 23 2019 04:36 PM

Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto upended one family’s 27-year-old reign, and now he’s trying to rebuild a city brick by brick. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

There are 2 sides of Pasig, according to Mayor Vico Sotto — one filled with tall buildings, malls, factories and affluent neighborhoods and another of shanties and poor villages untouched by the city’s progress.

It is on this side of the river Lilia Sario has lived for 37 years, fighting off threats of demolition.

“We’ve gone through a lot. We fought for this for many years,” she told ABS-CBN News outside her home in Tawiran in Barangay Santolan, just several meters away from where small boats cross the Marikina River to ferry residents from Pasig to Quezon City.

Sario said she bought the rights to her house decades ago, after leaving Bicol and finding work in Manila. Her children, now adults, work in call centers in Pasig.

“Caruncho, Raymundo, Eusebio—the old one, then the mother, then the son, then the wife of the son, then the son again,” Sario enumerated all the mayors who supposedly failed them. “This is the first time that we have a leader who actually cares for us.”

Sario recalled how her family was almost forced out of their homes after Typhoon Ondoy, which flooded Pasig and other cities, despite not being within the no-build zone beside the riverbank. There were also no plans for their relocation.

“We did not sleep for fear of being demolished,” she said, adding that her son, who was still a minor then, was even beaten up after breaking a fight between residents and the demolition team.

During the campaign, Sotto promised to address the problems of the urban poor in Pasig, even going to the communities.

It is not surprising then that Sario and her neighbors supported Sotto’s bid for mayor despite his inexperience.

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100 DAYS OF PROMISE

Sario was among the many Pasigueños who attended Sotto’s State of the City Address in Oct. 8 to mark his 100th day in office.

There, the young mayor talked about his “big 5 agenda”—health, education, housing and urban development, participatory governance and anti-corruption projects.

Of the 5, Sotto said among the most difficult was housing.

“It’s cumbersome, hard to accomplish,” Sotto said in Filipino as he gave his speech. “But in 100 days we finished the inventory of land. We identified land that we can transfer to the city government for the housing project.”

Sotto said his office has identified 10 areas that are being processed to be included in the community mortgage program, which will allow community organizations to buy land for their members.

Sario considers this good news for her family and her neighbors.

Sotto also abolished the 3 percent compounded interest on late housing payments for in-city relocation sites. 

“A lot of people end in debt or find it difficult to pay,” he said, before explaining that the penalty will now be a flat rate of 3 percent, which could be reduced further.

He pointed out that the compounded penalty did not even have a legal basis, a recurring theme of the past administration, according to Sotto and his team.

UNDOCUMENTED POLICIES, BUILDINGS

Pasig city administrator Atty. Jeron Manzanero said this had been their biggest challenge.

He said the Eusebio administration “allowed many things without documents to support it,” including the creation of some offices.

“We don’t know how to treat those offices because there is no document. They really just relied on the traditional way of doing things,” he said.

During his speech, Sotto talked about questionable transactions cited by the Commission on Audit (COA).

He said about P1.8 billion of the city government’s inventory was not properly accounted for, based on the recent interim audit report.

“I am not saying this to blame my predecessor or to destroy someone’s reputation, but the people might ask me where the money went,” he said.

Sotto also revealed that the city spent P9.4 billion on new buildings but there were no documents declaring those as government property.

This is why Sotto is strict in implementing the law, Manzanero said.

FOCUSING ON BIG 5

However, Sotto repeatedly told media that his focus was on governance, not fault-finding.

“If anyone is involved and there’s evidence, they have to be held accountable for it,” he said after his speech. “Hindi ibig sabihin naghahanap ako ng mali (But this does not mean I am looking for mistakes).”

Sotto, who avoids directly mentioning the previous mayor’s name, said the transition period has been “very smooth.”

He said he was focused on his "Big 5" agenda. In addition to housing, Sotto has promised a bigger budget for health.

On his 100th day, he announced that the budget for medicine at health centers will be tripled while the city’s hospitals will no longer have income targets so they can focus on serving people, especially indigent patients.

In addition to providing for vehicles to serve its health centers, Sotto also jump-started his dream of universal health care for Pasigueños by sponsoring the PhilHealth membership of tricycle drivers for 2020. 

Sotto is also especially proud with the city’s scholarship program, which he renamed in an effort to rid of the vestiges of the previous administration’s supposed brand of traditional and patronage politics.

From 13,000 scholars this year, Sotto plans to expand the program to cater to 16,000 students by 2020. He also promised parents that their children would no longer be required to attend government events.

In participative governance, Manzanero said Sotto spent a lot of time with the residents, listening and helping solve their problems.

“On People’s Day, everybody from all aspects of life, from marital support to land problems and even association problems is being listened to by [the] mayor,” he said, adding that Sotto would stay from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. just to meet with everyone.

LOYALTY TO THE CITY

Asked if his group has had any problems with those still allied with the former mayor, Manzanero said “they (who had different beliefs) already left.”

“All those who stayed in city hall promised to be loyal to their post (not to the mayor),” he said.

But on Sotto’s 100th day, the young mayor had to close down a meat processing plant that violated the law for not having its own sewage treatment plant.

By the time Sotto was giving his speech, he warned the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) to shape up.

Sotto said his office would investigate whether the inspection officials were not enforcing the law because they were threatened or because they were bribed.

Last week, the mayor announced the suspension of 2 high-ranking CENRO officials.

“Multiple inspectors have reported that they are routinely told to look the other way after they find environmental violations,” Sotto said of the “suspicious trend” connected with the CENRO office.

Noel Medina, of the non-government group Tambuli ng Pasig, said the biggest hurdle for Sotto’s administration was the presence of government employees who continue to work at city hall but at the same time face reports of corruption.

“Of course, there is due process,” he said, but that is also why they are pushing for reforms.

Medina said while Sotto has succeeded in launching his programs, “sa loob ng 100 araw at ikumpara mo sa 27 taon ng dinastiya parang ang hirap maghanap ng malalim na qualitative change.”

(In 100 days, compared to 27 years of the dynasty, it’s difficult to see qualitative change.)

Nevertheless, he said Sotto’s administration was in the right trajectory but would need the help of people’s organizations.

For Sario who can now sleep soundly without the threat of demolition, Sotto has earned their support “100 percent.”

However, she has another wish for the young mayor: “Linisin niya 'yong dating pamamalakad sa local government para masiyahan 'yong mga taong bumoto sa kaniya.”

(He needs to fix how the local government is run so those who voted for him will be happy.)

Sario and groups such as Tambuli ng Pasig consider Sotto “hulog ng langit” (a blessing from the heavens), but he still has 27 years worth of traditional politics to undo, including the tangled mess of undocumented assets and orders left by the previous administration.

Medina said that while Sotto is a good leader, people’s organizations will need to offer critical support to ensure that the interest of the public won’t be compromised.