MANILA (UPDATE) - Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto on Thursday said he is distancing himself from national politics ahead of the 2022 national elections, where his family and political party are expected to back different candidates.
Aksyon Demokratiko - where Mayor Sotto sits as executive vice president - is fielding Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso for president and cardiologist Willie Ong for vice president.
Mayor Sotto's uncle - Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) chairman and Senate President Vicente Sotto III - is running for vice president and is backing the presidential candidacy of his long-time friend, Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
"Basta nagpaalam ako sa lahat — nagpaalam ako sa party ko, nagpaalam ako sa tito ko —- na hindi muna ako makikigulo sa national politics," Mayor Sotto told ABS-CBN News.
(I gave everybody a heads up --- my party, my uncle --- that I will not meddle with national politics.)
"Dito pa lang sa Pasig ang dami ko ng problema, dadagdagan ko pa 'yung sarili kong problema, diba?" he said.
(I have so many problems in Pasig alone, why would I want to add more problems for myself?)
"Bakit ako makikisawsaw sa national politics e dito pa lang ang dami kong kailangan ayusin?"
(Why would I meddle with national politics when I have a lot of things to fix here?)
Mayor Sotto, one of the most popular Filipino politicians on social media, declined to say if he would categorically endorse a candidate for president and vice president before the May 9 elections.
"Basta what you can expect from me is that I will continue to focus on my job here in the city," he said.
"So araw-araw trabaho. Monday to Sunday nagtratrabaho tayo," he said.
(So we just work every day. We work from Monday to Sunday.)
In the 2019 midterm elections, Sotto initially said that he would not endorse a senatorial candidate until a few days before the polls, when he urged voters to vote for his Aksyon Demokratiko party-mate and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who was then running under the opposition-backed Otso Diretso slate.
"Di na sana ako makikigulo sa (I decided not to meddle in the) national elections. But I need to make an exception for my partymate and exemplary public servant, Pilo Hilbay," he said in a tweet posted 9 days before the 2019 midterm elections.
"Nakatitiyak tayo sa kanyang katapatan, katapangan, at kahusayan sa serbisyo," said Sotto, who was then running for mayor for the first time.
(We are sure of his honesty, bravery and efficiency when it comes to service.)
In October, Hilbay resigned from Aksyon Demokratiko. The former Solicitor General said he would rather back Vice President Leni Robredo's presidential bid instead of toeing the party line and support party standard bearer Domagoso's candidacy.
In 2018, then-Pasig councilor Sotto trained in Robredo-bailiwick Naga months before he filed his certificate of candidacy and challenged incumbent Mayor Bobby Eusebio in the mayoralty race.
Mayor Sotto has also been open about idolizing Robredo's late husband - former Naga Mayor and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo - and credited the Naga City People's Council for its citizen empowerment and participation in governance programs, which he has been trying to replicate in Pasig City.
While Mayor Sotto skipped Aksyon Demokratiko's national convention in September where Domagoso and Ong were nominated, the Pasig local chief executive belied rumors that he plans to resign from the party.
"Nagfile na kami," he said, referring to his certificate of candidacy where he was registered as part of Aksyon Demokratiko.
(We filed already.)
"Basta focus lang tayo dito sa Pasig... Sabi ko nga, trabaho bago pulitika," he said.
(We will just focus in Pasig... Like I always say, work comes before politics.)
'NOT A PARTY MATTER'
Mayor Sotto's choice of who to back for president in the 2022 national elections "is not a party matter," said lawyer Lorna Kapunan, one of Aksyon Demokratiko's founding members.
"This is not a party matter. That is up for Vico to decide," she told ABS-CBN News in a separate interview.
"I think Vico is a man of principle. He knows what to decide based on his beliefs and what his principles are," she said.
Among Aksyon Demokratiko's core principles is inclusivity, Kapunan said.
"As Raul Roco would say, 'Let all flowers bloom. Let all ideas prosper. Let us grow from differences of opinion,'" she said, referring to the party's founder, late senator and Education Secretary.
"If at the end of the day Vico discerns that he would support family, that's his decision," she said.
"I may or may not agree with what he believes in, but I certainly will defend his right to believe in it. That is what free speech and freedom is all about."
Aksyon Demokratiko officials are unlikely to bar Mayor Sotto from keeping a hands-off policy in the national scene even if the party is fielding their own standard bearer for the first time in nearly 2 decades, said political science professor Arjan Aguirre.
"They cannot afford to antagonize Vico Sotto because of his image and stature as one of the most promising LGU (local government unit) officials nowadays," he told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
"That's how [much] they would value Vico's decision about his choice who to support," he said.
In 2019, Aksyon Demokratiko gained about 1,000 new members after Mayor Sotto ended the decades-long rule of the Eusebio political dynasty in Pasig, party chairman Ernest Ramel Jr. earlier said.
[BOLD] 'HE HAS TO PLAY THIS RIGHT'
The way Sotto would handle this political discomfort would measure the 32-year-old mayor's political maturity, Aguirre said, noting that aside from blood and political party ties, the Pasig City Mayor "has been, for a long-time, aligned with and trained by known reformers and good governance champions who are mostly supporting" Robredo.
"His decision on who to support for the Presidency and VP would really reveal his disposition toward party discipline in our country," the analyst said.
"He has to play this right. He has to choose between his party, his principles, and his kinship ties," he said.
So far, the Pasig City Mayor seems to "knows how to handle the situation," Aguirre said.
"The fact that he played coy about this tells us that he knows how to handle the situation," he said.
"Endorsing this early is not going to be easy on him."
The upcoming national elections will also test Sotto's "mark of leadership," political analyst Ramon Casiple said in an earlier interview.
"It will be a mark of leadership if he can make his case and stick to it," he said.
Senate President Sotto said he has yet to ask his nephew for his endorsement.
"Vico and I have not discussed about politics yet. The last time we talked, we talked about local government issues," he said.
"I know for a fact na iniiwasan ni Vico na mag-touch sa national issues muna dahil iba ang partido niya sa alliance namin."
(I know for a fact that Vico has been avoiding to touch on national issues for now because his party is different from the alliance we are forming now.)
Sen. Sotto is expected to meet with NPC leaders next week to discuss their alliance with the National Unity Party (NUP) and Partido para sa Demokratikong Reporma, which is carrying the candidacy of his runningmate Lacson.
The Senate President did not say if he would have a separate meeting with the Sotto clan about the upcoming elections as several family members are either incumbent officials or celebrities.
Mayor Sotto's younger sister, Paulina, earlier said she would vote for Robredo.