By TONYO CRUZ
Surely, there’s a lot to like about Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto and folks online have made it loudly known. He has become the new avatar for what a public servant should be – talks with clarity, acts with compassion, present on the ground, and pushing the established boundaries long confusion, ineptitude, and cheap strong-arm tactics.
For many, Mayor Sotto, who many have since called Vivico (as in “my baby”), represents a new generation of leaders challenging the tired old styles of the boomers that have dominated politics in the last 30 or so years.
The President who is a former mayor himself only came out as supremely insecure when, in his post-midnight address on Friday morning, the took a dig at the likes of Mayor Sotto for going above and beyond the boomers’ discredited mindset, styles and tactics.
Lots of well-earned praise have gone to Mayor Sotto since he assumed office in June, 2019, for accomplishments that refreshingly change the narratives on local governance in general and, more importantly, improve the lot of the people of his city – the electrification of the last powerless barangay in Pasig, the opening of a public’s right to know office, the increase in the city’s health budget, his defense of workers who went on strike against two big companies, his effort to regularize the contractuals at city hall, and his accessibility to constituents. The list is long.
But this is not a love letter or PR material for Mayor Sotto. He can competently defend himself from the trolls and from the crabs in the national government who obviously cannot tolerate his refusal to fall into mediocrity.
Even Mayor Sotto himself would say this: Credit ultimately goes to the people of Pasig City whose voters chose him and freed themselves from the embrace of a dynasty that had ruled them for nearly 30 years.
Most of the voters of Pasig voted for 10 pro-administration candidates for the Senate, but that cannot define them. Maybe they were just as unimpressed by the other candidates. But in the tumultuous race for mayor, they courageously gave Sotto the landslide victory he had worked hard for to earn. While it is true that Sotto roundly defeated a dynast, is is ultimately the Pasig City voters’ courage that enabled that electoral achievement.
The defeated dynast’s partymates won all the seats in the city council, potentially giving them a powerful platform to stall or to ruin Mayor Sotto’s plans. Collectively, they are obviously more well-entrenched than him, and their ties with the old order could prevent them from cooperating with a changemaking new mayor. Again and again, the people of Pasig City have made it clear that they back their wildly popular mayor. There’s no indication that they have regretted supporting him or have started to regret their support for him.
True, it is a testament to Mayor Sotto’s political acumen that he saw a path to victory in 2019. But the people of Pasig City didn’t elect a superhero or a new political icon. They elected a local chief executive who has bold plans which they could rally around, support, and benefit from because, in their view, they’re for the common good.
The people of Pasig City obviously responded to and reciprocated then-candidate Sotto’s fresh take on Pasig City politics – That the people are not the problem, and it is the people who could solve the real problems starting with effecting change in City Hall. They gave him a landslide victory.
The stellar performance of Mayor Sotto and other mayors who put their people first cannot inspire mere fan clubs. That’s the modus of traditional politics. We’ve all seen the continuing folly of that. We can’t consider ourselves as mere fans of either the president or the mayor. They’re our public servants who must serve us and must be accountable to us.
We thus must look to the constituents of Mayor Sotto for inspiration on how to elect more of them in more local offices and hopefully in the national government. And that would consequently mean creating constituencies for change, and creating a new generation of leaders ready and able to lead in that change.
It is hard to shake off the dominant narratives in politics: Us against them, the bobotante, elevating political saints, spawning political superheroes. They are too familiar, and too convenient to believe. But all those narratives misportray the victims of the messy and rotten political system as the problem, and only seek to perpetuate the traditional politics that thrives on such a system. Mayor Sotto shows us the promise and fulfilment of new politics that puts people first, excellent, creative, transparent, pro-worker, no-nonsense, non-epal, and with a clarity that exposes those who profit from confusion.
It is truly a huge challenge for those who dream of changes in local and national governance. But nothing is easy in political change, as we learn from contemporary history. It should be clear by now that problems don’t solve themselves, and that political superheroes are a sham and could only heroically help themselves, their sponsors and their henchmen. And that blaming their victims only perpetuates petty divisions that gloss over the many concerns that unite us more than divide us.
The negative reactions to Mayor Sotto aren’t entirely personal. They’re political. He has unleashed the democratic imagination of the Filipino people. His brand of new politics threatens the old politics now posing as the new savior but is exposed as inept, corrupt, tyrannical, uninspiring, and hopeless. They are attacking not just Mayor Sotto. They are attacking the rising political awareness and political courage of the people of Pasig City and the Philippines.
We must, in Twitter-speak, “protecc” the fabled torch that has been passed on to Mayor Sotto as some who thrive in leaving us in the dark want to extinguish it. That’s the torch of new politics and it should light our way forward.