Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto was recently featured on the Humans of Ateneo page. He shared with them his struggles in government and what keeps him going.
Starting from the very beginning, he talks about working for a former professor under the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG). It was his experience in the Government Watch and Political Democracy and Reform programs that equipped him to deal with the reality of Philippine governance.
“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,” Sotto shares.
More than just lending knowledge and skills, his position instilled the necessary principles to keep his governance straight. Sotto attests that had he run for any office before working under ASOG, he would not be the same person or leader. “Paano kung for some reason, um-oo ako? I wouldn’t be the same person,” he admits. “Malamang magiging corrupt na rin ako kung ganun. I strongly believe that anyone can be corrupt; we can’t think too highly of ourselves.”
I started in government a few years after graduating from Ateneo—very idealistic tapos parang nafrustrate ako with…
Sotto then delves deeper into the topic of corruption, saying: “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,” Sotto clarifies of his boundaries. He explains that while he may be willing to consider grey areas, kickbacks are where he draws a definite line.
“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.”
Then he shares what keeps him staying true to his principles despite the difficulties. “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,” Sotto says.
“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.”
Sotto then admits fearlessly: “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.”
Sotto moves on to talking about his larger hurdles in introducing change to government: institutionalized practices and problems. “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,” he expresses. “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.”
Jim Collins’ analogy of a giant wheel is explained in relation to his fight for change. With just one or a few people, moving a giant wheel would be difficult. The more people you get to help, the more the wheel will move. Once it starts moving, once it gains momentum, it will be hard-pressed to stop. And importantly: “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,” Sotto admits but he does not relent.
“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.”
He finishes the sentiment with: “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.”
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