"I started in government a few years after graduating from Ateneo—very idealistic tapos parang nafrustrate ako" -- thus began Mayor Vico's essay. Photograph by Geric Cruz
Culture Spotlight

Mayor Vico just wrote a candid essay on his life in politics, and it’s an inspiring must-read

The good mayor on getting off our high horses, surrounding himself with the right people, and the three things he will never do.
Bam V. Abellon | Dec 09 2019

Five months into running the city of Pasig as its mayor, Vico Sotto remains the admirable, inspiring politician that sought the votes of his fellow Pasigueños in the May 2019 elections. The young Sotto — son of the actor and TV personality Vic by Coney Reyes — defeated his opponent Robert “Bobby” Eusebio in the mayoral campaign for Pasig City, ending three decades of Eusebio rule. He promised change — to overturn a big part of the system replete with traditions that hinder the city from truly moving forward.  

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Since winning the election, Mayor Sotto has been working non-stop: fighting against kotong, doing spot inspections against environmental violations for businesses, facilitating free transportation during strikes, signing an ordinance that will improve the scholarship program of Pasig (the city expects 16,000 scholars next year). In November, he announced a 42 percent increase in the 2020 healthcare budget for Pasig City, on top of his initial efforts to make healthcare accessible to many Pasigueños: allotting P470.5 M additional fund for medicine and medical supplies for the remaining days of the current year, for one. Affordable health care, after all, was one of his main campaign promises. This week, he teamed up with Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to relaunch the ferry service in Pasig River.

Mayor Vico photographed for ANCX during the campaign period for the May elections.

He called his first 100 days in office “the most challenging 100 days of my life.” 

How did he get here in the first place? 

Yesterday, in the Facebook site called Humans Of Ateneo, painted us a picture and more. The 30-year old Vico wrote quite candidly about his struggles when he entered politics—first as a councilor in 2016. His story was posted on the Facebook page, Humans of Ateneo, a project of the Ateneo de Manila University’s student council arm, Sanggunian: Commission on Mental Health. According to their page, @HumansofAteneoCMH, they aim to “share the different stories of resilience amount the Ateneo Loyola Schools community in order to inspire the student body.” Mayor Sotto graduated from the university with a degree in Political Science. He also finished his Master’s Degree in Public Management from the same institution.

 

“Pag pumasok ka sa giyera na di ka handa, mawawala ka talaga.” 

Shifting constantly from English to Tagalog, Mayor Vico humbly gave a refreshingly honest portrait of what it’s like to be working within the government system—particularly for someone who wants to do good and who has earlier on decided to not be corrupt. 

He began his story by writing about his life before becoming a councilor. After his college graduation, he started working for the government, bringing with him his own formed ideals. A few years later, he found himself getting frustrated with “institutionalized practices.” So he decided to resign.

One of Vico's promises during the campaign was to make health care affordable and accessible. 

At a crossroads, Sotto thought of pursing a master’s degree, but his former professor advised him against it. “Huwag ka muna mag-Masters,” the professor told him. “For enriching lang yan. Kung gusto mo, magtrabaho ka muna sa akin.”

He took her advice, and took a job at an independent organization under the Ateneo School of Government. He was assigned to handle programs that tackled government watch, political democracy, and reform. He stayed for less than a year, “pero sa totoo lang, doon talaga ako nahasa.” Then he decided to run for councilor.

In his next statements, the mayor may have inadvertently shown why majority of the voting Pasigueños decided to take a gamble and vote for someone who is fairly new in politics. He can rationally combine his ideals and the real, complicated world that he serves. 

He mused [written as is], “Naisip ko, paano kung tumakbo na ako right after college? Kasi people were already convincing me to run noon. Paano kung for some reason, um-oo ako? I wouldn’t be the same person. Malamang magiging corrupt na rin ako kung ganun. I strongly believe that anyone can be corrupt; we can’t think too highly of ourselves. Pag pumasok ka sa kaguluhang 'yan, pag pumasok ka sa giyera na di ka handa, mawawala ka talaga.” 

“I strongly believe that anyone can be corrupt; we can’t think too highly of ourselves."

He reiterated that having to work with the civil society sector, one of his biggest challenges is to stop thinking that one is better or more knowledgeable that the people he or she serves. He added, “Not accepting, but understanding certain realities. There are certain things in government that, before I entered or before I ran, are my non-negotiables.”

These non-negotiables he said, may be “minimal,” because he does not want to claim perfection: no vote buying, no kickbacks, and no hurting people. “Everything else, pwede ko pag isipan.”

"What helps me stay grounded in these beliefs is really the people: what kind I surround myself with, and if I have enough who will support me when I make decisions," says Vico, here photographed for ANCX during the campaign early this year.

In government, he explained, it’s impossible to know exactly what one will do because “things change every day.” Politicians meet so many people, and they are offered opportunities that may not be there tomorrow. What is important, he says, is that he holds on to his list of non-negotiables. “A lot of people enter the government with good intentions, but they get lost along the way kasi they didn’t decide beforehand ano hindi nila gagawin.”

He also gives credit to the people around him, who share his values and support him when he makes decisions. These people point out his mistakes when it is necessary to do so, “because everyone has their blind spots.”

 

“Kahit nga sign lang sa pintuan, mahirap baguhin.”

Many of the problems in our government and in our country, he said, are very deeply institutionalized. “So, the biggest challenge for me as someone who wants to push for change—however far we can go with it—has nothing much to do with my age. It’s really the culture of government, and the norms that are already in place. It’s hard to introduce change in a very bureaucratic, procedural, and rigid government.”

The key is finding the right balance: move too slowly and nothing will happen; move too fast, and the people may not be ready for it.

“No vote buying, di ako tatanggap ng kickback, di ako mananakit ng tao. Everything else, pwede ko pag isipan.”

He ended his story by saying that in a city with around 850,000 people, with a 12-billion-peso budget for 2020, shaping a new system will not be easy to do. “Kahit nga sign lang sa pintuan, mahirap baguhin.”

That’s why it’s essential to keep one’s sanity. He ended his story with a statement on resilience and taking care of his mental health: “I think a big part of staying sane as someone who’s idealistic is accepting that I can’t change everything at the same time.”

 

Here is Mayor Vico’s Humans of Ateneo essay in full: 

I started in government a few years after graduating from Ateneo—very idealistic tapos parang nafrustrate ako with certain things, mga institutionalized practices. I don’t blame anyone, ‘cause it’s been like that for so long, pero di ko alam anong gagawin ko. Nag-resign ako, and then naghanap ako ng trabaho kasi di ko alam anong gagawin sa buhay ko. Eventually, sinabi ko, “Sige, Masters kaya ako.” Naginquire ako sa UP and Ateneo. I had a former prof, sa undergrad ko, PolSci. Alam ko nagtuturo siya sa ASOG (Ateneo School of Government) so I messaged her and asked, “Ma’am, okay ba yung MPM (Masters in Public Management) ng ASOG?” Sabi niya sa akin, “Huwag ka muna mag-Masters, for enriching lang yan. Kung gusto mo, magtrabaho ka muna sa akin.”

Government watch and political democracy and reform yung programs ko, under din ng ASOG pero napaka-independent. I was there for less than a year, pero sa totoo lang, doon talaga ako nahasa. Especially with the way I think: how to push for governance reforms, inaral ko lahat ng ginawa nila in the past, at ano yung engagement nila sa local governments.  

What he will do might change, but what he won't do is what he's sure of. "Di mo naman alam kung magagawa mo yun eh, pero yung hindi ko gagawin, kahit anong mangyari, di ko siya gagawin," says Sotto. 

After that, I resigned and decided to run for councilor. I was well prepared, and that job in ASOG really helped me. No credit to myself, kasi sinwerte lang ako na napunta ako sa government watch a few months before I ran. Naisip ko, paano kung tumakbo na ako right after college? Kasi people were already convincing me to run noon. Paano kung for some reason, um-oo ako? I wouldn’t be the same person. Malamang magiging corrupt na rin ako kung ganun. I strongly believe that anyone can be corrupt; we can’t think too highly of ourselves. Pag pumasok ka sa kaguluhang 'yan, pag pumasok ka sa giyera na di ka handa, mawawala ka talaga. Kailangan talaga ng tamang preparasyon.

Most of my experiences are in government and working alongside government sa civil society, so one of the biggest challenges is really getting off our high horses. Not accepting, but understanding certain realities. There are certain things in government that, before I entered or before I ran, are my non-negotiables. And I think that’s what's most important for everyone who wants to get into government, kung malinis talaga yung intention. Ako, very minimal lang naman, I don’t claim to be the best person: No vote buying, di ako tatanggap ng kickback, di ako mananakit ng tao. Everything else, pwede ko pag isipan.

Malinaw sa akin na kapag merong nag-alok sakin, kahit 10,000 pesos lang yan o 10 billion pesos, wala na. I entered this na yun yung decision ko: no kickbacks. So, sige kung meron kayong gustong pag-usapan, sige pag-usapan natin. Kung tingin niyo may gray areas, sige, convince niyo ako, pero di ako tatanggap ng kickback, kahit isang piso. Yun yung pinakamahirap sa lahat, kasi a lot of people enter the government with good intentions, but they get lost along the way kasi they didn’t decide beforehand ano hindi nila gagawin. Things change everyday: New opportunities come and go, you’ll meet someone you didn’t expect the next day, so it’s hard to say na “eto yung gagawin ko.” It’s impossible. Di mo naman alam kung magagawa mo yun eh, pero yung hindi ko gagawin, kahit anong mangyari, di ko siya gagawin.

What helps me stay grounded in these beliefs is really the people: what kind I surround myself with, and if I have enough who will support me when I make decisions. As long as I have people around me with integrity, with the same ideology as I do, similar governance perspectives, then I know I’ll be okay. Because, obviously, nobody’s perfect so I will make mistakes along the way: not just technical, but moral as well. The thing that I should consider is if I will have people to confront me and tell me I’m making those mistakes, because everyone has their blind spots. When you’re in the middle of the storm, it’s very easy to lose sight of the future, it’s easy to lose sight of your principles and your beliefs. I need people who are with me and will be able to confront me and tell me that I’m at that point already.

Many of the problems that we have in our government and as a country are very deeply institutionalized. Ang daming lumang kalakaran na kapag 20 years nang ginagawa, minsan di mo na nakikita kung bakit siya mali, kasi 20 years na siyang ginagawa. So, the biggest challenge for me as someone who wants to push for change—however far we can go with it—has nothing much to do with my age. It’s really the culture of government, and the norms that are already in place. It’s hard to introduce change in a very bureaucratic, procedural, and rigid government.

So, in the end, it is really just a matter of finding the right balance. Obviously, you don’t want to move too slow, because nothing’s gonna happen. If you try to move too fast, the people, the institution, the organization might not be ready for it. Paano kung mas malakas sila? Edi sayang lang lahat din ng effort if nothing is going to happen. I think my favorite analogy for pushing for change is Jim Collins’ analogy of a giant wheel. A giant wheel, when you start to push it, nothing will happen. If there are two of you, baka nothing will happen pa rin. But, if there are 10 of you pushing, maybe it will move a little bit. If you get more and more people to help you and you start to strategize—baka dapat may lever dito, may maghatak dito, dito yung strategic angle to push this wheel—then eventually the wheel will start to move an inch or two, will start to move a foot. Eventually, it will start to increase its speed. When it starts to gain momentum, actually, the opposite is now the problem: mahirap na siya pigilan. If you try to get in front of the wheel, you will probably get hurt from trying to stop it.

Here, in the local government of Pasig, we are talking about a city that has 850,000 people. We are talking about a bureaucracy that has almost 10,000 employees. We are talking about a budget that is around 12 billion pesos for next year. So, it’s really not easy to change anything. Kahit nga sign lang sa pintuan, mahirap baguhin. But, we have to be strategic and a big part of being able to introduce these changes and introducing clean governance, pushing for open governance, accountability in governance is really being well prepared. Individually, hindi pwedeng, “Pasok tayo sa laban!” pero di mo alam kung paano gamitin yung armas mo. Half the battle is being well-prepared: studying the situation, knowing where there will be points of opposition, knowing what you can’t change for now, I think, is an important thing to come to terms with. I think it’s a journey that I think not only people in government will face, but anyone who wants to introduce some type of change. I think a big part of staying sane as someone who’s idealistic is accepting that I can’t change everything at the same time. 

— Vico Sotto

 

Humans of Ateneo is an online campaign of the Commission on Mental Health under the Sanggunian ng mga Mag-Aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila. The project aims to spread awareness on, and fight the stigma against mental health by sharing stories of people from the Ateneo community.

 

For more information on their efforts, follow them on 

https://www.facebook.com/HumansOfAteneoCMH/

https://www.facebook.com/SangguCMH/

 

Photographs by Geric Cruz