Though the administration’s sweep was nearly complete in the recent midterms, a few pockets of resistance emerged in the length and breadth of the land. Some family dynasties bit the dust in places as far apart as Manila and the Dinagat Islands, San Juan and Zamboanga, to mention a few. The human rights defender Kaka Bag-ao upended a scion of the Ecleo political dynasty in the Dinagat Islands, winning as governor.
Another example gives the country a glimpse of what may be possible if a new generation of leaders can emerge. The 29-year-old Vico Sotto subdued a member of the powerful Eusebio dynasty, which had ruled Pasig without break for the past 27 years, to become mayor-elect. He belonged to the small Aksyon Demokratiko party, though he ran practically alone, without a full slate. He had the additional drawback of a 4-percent recognition at the outset of the race, somewhat similar to the odds faced by Vice President Leni Robredo in her improbable quest for the vice presidency in 2016.
But Sotto came prepared. He had studied political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, and finished his master’s in public administration with honors at the Ateneo School of Government, where he was project associate at the Government Watch and Political Democracy and Reform programs.
He came with lessons learned from the experience of Jesse Robredo’s Naga City. Rather than accept President Duterte’s depiction of Naga as a “hotbed of ‘shabu,’” he studied the city’s ways of working, which led Sotto to conclude that Naga was indeed a hotbed: “a hotbed of citizen empowerment, and people’s participation in governance.”
He came with the knowledge of his school’s data-driven studies on the negative impact of political dynasties. Thus, at the word get-go, he took a public stand against political dynasties; his preferred system is to prohibit candidates up to the fourth degree of consanguinity to run for public office, a posture that would, in fact, affect him since his uncle is the Senate President. Whether he will continue to pursue this position will be a test of his character.
He came with a signature accomplishment. As a first-term councilor in Pasig, he authored the first-ever localized version of the Freedom of Information Act by enabling the passage of the Pasig Transparency Mechanism Ordinance, which empowers ordinary citizens to seek the disclosure of local government transactions, thus promoting public accountability and targeting corruption.
He came perhaps with a “rookie’s wide-eyed wonder,” so to speak, to explore ways forward, willing to work one step at a time. Sotto seems to be both principled and pragmatic. He has announced he would continue the current local government’s support for scholars and senior citizens, while he would prioritize health care, education, the provision of basic services such as garbage collection, and improve transport in consultation with experts in urban planning. He came with a sense of purpose and a belief in the approach that it is best to listen first and to work with people on the ground.
He will be tested, of course. He will need to focus, and if need be, to live a life without frills while in office, to not allow himself to be seduced by the trappings of wealth and power.
Whether he is able to deliver most or some of what he dares to dream in the immediate or medium-term remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, as he admits, staying true to his principles will require that he surrounds himself with competent colleagues who share the same values, as well as trusted mentors. He will surely need to raise an old question some have asked in the past: “Some see things as they are and ask why; others see things as they should be, and ask why not?”
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Ed Garcia, a framer of the 1987 Constitution, taught political science at the UP and the Ateneo, and is consultant on the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU.
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