How Mayor Vico Sotto became a pandemic star

Vico Sotto’s early response to the pandemic earned him praise. But can he and Pasig City sustain all this?

Metro Manila has been in lockdown for two and a half months and Filipinos have seen the difference in local government units’ response to the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they have served their constituents.

Since the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has become a beacon of how a local government official should act in a crisis — despite being barely a year into his term. Social media is abuzz with praise for the mayor as he coordinates with various government sectors to meet the needs of his constituents.

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has been proactive in his response in the fight against COVID-19, making him a model local official. Photo by MICHAEL VARCAS


The 30-year-old mayor has been very proactive in the response against COVID-19 as shown in his social media pages on Facebook and Twitter, where he also takes the time to answer and address his constituents’ questions and concerns. His actions have become the subject of praise, controversy — and memes — and have even been “copied” by local officials of other cities.

Before the national government imposed the ECQ, 45 public schools in the city were routinely disinfected, as well as other public places such as the city hall and the Mega Market every day. At least 500 disinfecting kits were distributed to 30 barangays, while sanitation tents were installed at the entrances of the city hall and two government hospitals.

The city also provided the disinfection team with personal protective equipment (PPE) and backpack sprayers. In addition, they deployed drones to disinfect streets, major and minor roads to help curb the spread of the disease. The drones can carry up to 10 liters of disinfecting solution.

Sotto distributes 500 PPEs to 30 barangays of Pasig City. Photo from VICO SOTTO FACEBOOK PAGE

With residents stuck at home and allowed to go out only for trips to groceries and markets, Mayor Vico Sotto came up with the idea of the mobile palengke, a roving cargo truck that sells rice, vegetables and meat every morning. The idea was to reduce the number of people in Pasig’s Mega Market and talipapa, and to sustain the income of market vendors. In addition, the city government gave P400-worth coupon to students that could be used at the Mega Market, mobile palengke and other wet markets.

Senior high school and high school students are given P400-worth of food coupons to use when buying essentials from the Pasig Mega Market or the mobile palengke. Photo by WALTER BOLLOZOS

One of the regulations of the ECQ was to ban public transportation. Initially, Sotto requested the national government to allow the city to use tricycles for emergency purposes, as well as transportation for frontliners. However, the government booted this, citing riding tricycles was not in line with the practice of social (physical) distancing. The mayor instead provided earth-friendly shuttles for free rides to hospital frontliners and city workers.

The ban on public transportation affected the livelihood of jeepney, UV Express van and tricycle drivers and Mayor Vico rolled out a P55-million financial assistance programs for them with each driver receiving P3,000 from the local government. According to the mayor, there are 5,800 jeepney drivers, 12,000 tricycle drivers and 70 UV drivers in Pasig.

During the first few days of the ECQ, as people were panic buying, the city government imposed an anti-hoarding ordinance on basic necessities. It also gave hundreds of thousands of food packs to poverty-stricken communities in Pasig containing canned goods and rice. The city also set up mobile kitchens and partnered with local restaurants to provide food for the city’s frontliners and responders.

Sotto with the people behind Saint Patrick’s Kapitolyo who helped feed frontliners as a Pasig Satellite Community Kitchen. Photo from VICO SOTTO FACEBOOK PAGE

And to accommodate the growing number of COVID-positive patients, the city government converted the Dahlia Hotel into a quarantine facility. While the Pasig City Children’s Hospital was converted into a COVID-19 referral facility. “Public and private hospital systems are nearing saturation point. We need to take extreme and proactive measures. We have converted the city-run Pasig City Children’s Hospital into Pasig City’s COVID-19 Referral Center…to increase the capacity of our healthcare system to treat COVID-19 patients, reduce cross-contamination between COVID and non-COVID, need to keep other services of the Pasig City General Hospital operational, (and) more efficient use of resources,” he wrote on Facebook.

Sotto inspects the Centralized Quarantine Facility. The facility will house 184 asymptomatic to mild patients. Photo from VICO SOTTO FACEBOOK PAGE


On March 23, the Bayanihan to Act as One was enacted. As part of the national government’s response, social amelioration program (SAP) funds were given to poor families or from the informal sector. However, not all families in Pasig City would receive SAP cash aid, Sotto said in a radio interview with DZMM last April.

Sotto also shared that 150,000 families were not included in the DSWD’s list of 93,000 families, prompting him and his team to look for funds and study Pasig’s cash position, and saw that the local government could shoulder aid for these people by withdrawing from the city’s trust fund and shelving some projects temporarily in order to give P8,000 to the families. “Malaking tulong ang SAP ng nasyonal/DSWD, pero marami sa mga pamilyang nangangailangan din ang hindi nakasama sa listahan. Kaya magkakaroon po tayo ng “Pasig City Supplemental SAP,” he wrote on social media. He added that the city government would not be selective as to who would receive aid or not — even if recipients were not voters.

On May 4, the mayor posted on social media that the city would start handing out the Pasig Supplemental SAP to five smaller barangays as a pilot run and went live on Facebook to explain the process and guidelines.

Sotto offers relief goods, meals and financial assistance to victims of a fire in San Nicholas, Pasig City. At least 38 families were affected by the fire. Photo from VICO SOTTO FACEBOOK PAGE

On April 13, Mayor Vico posted that the city government and The Medical City (TMC) had formed an agreement to conduct COVID-19 testing, increasing the city’s capacity to 270 tests per week. The private hospital was granted stage 5 accreditation by the Department of Health. Previously, the city was only able to conduct 30 to 60 tests per week under the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). On May 7, the mayor had a meeting with medical professionals from TMC on mass testing and Philhealth requirements. In the same post, he announced that Pasig City had no more backlog with PCR-based testing for their suspected carriers and recovering patients. “Thanks to our partnership with TMC, we have no more backlog with PCR-based testing for our probable, suspected and recovering patients. Mas mabuti nang tumaas ang bilang ng positibo pero alam natin, kaysa nandiyan ang virus pero hindi natin alam,” he wrote.

And just recently, Pasig City signed an agreement with the medical diagnostic center Hi-Precision to increase COVID-19 testing capacity. “In line with our goal to test more Pasigueños, we’ve signed an agreement with Hi-Precision for PCR testing…we have decided to sign with them already, even while waiting for their DOH accreditation, so that we can start on the very same day they are accredited,” Sotto said.

Starting May 16, the national government downgraded the lockdown measures in the capital from ECQ to modified enhanced community quality (MECQ), prompting many businesses to reopen after two months. However, with public transportation still suspended, many employees didn’t know how to report to their respective places of work. So on May 19, Pasig City released an app that would help commuters find the location of the “Libreng Sakay” bus. The app is available on both the Apple app store and Google Play. Aside from the bus, the Department of Interior Local Government (DILG) also approved Pasig’s request to utilize tricycles which can be hired on a special trip-basis under the MECQ.

On Monday, President Duterte said that he was not in favor of opening school on Aug. 24 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Sotto shared that the city government was already working with the Department of Education (DepEd) for any of the two possibilities: resumption of classes or virtual classes. Should the government agency decide to hold online classes, Pasig City plans to buy personal learning gadgets for its students and to improve the internet connection at the barangay level to ensure that these classes would go smoothly. “Ano man ang mangyari, hindi natin puwedeng hayaan na mahuli ang mga magaaral natin sa mga pampublikong paaralan,” Sotto said.

Sotto oversees the disinfection of one of the city’s public schools. Photo by MICHAEL VARCAS

Pasig City is one of the major central business districts in the National Capital Region (NCR). It is home to many of the country’s most important centers of commerce, business, government and entertainment. It is difficult to determine if the city will be able to sustain the relief efforts made by the local government. For his part, Mayor Sotto has been transparent on how he and his team at the City Hall came up and will be able to come up with the necessary funds to support their efforts.