Ask any Filipino about local politics and Vico Sotto’s name will likely come up within minutes. The 30-year-old first caught the public’s attention when he became the mayor of Pasig City in 2019 and defeated the incumbent mayor, whose family had ruled the country's eighth largest city for 27 years. He has since been praised for his grassroots approach, especially in addressing the coronavirus.
In many ways, he is a preview of what a millennial-led government could be like in the future. Sotto uses social media to update his constituents with new policies and keep himself informed about their needs.
“The good thing about social media, especially on Facebook, is that I get a lot of feedback on what’s actually happening on the ground,” he told VICE.
He also finds himself on the lighter side of the internet, regularly appearing in fan-made memes and viral tweets. Many see him as a breath of fresh air and hope that he ushers in a new breed of public officials who puts governance over politics. For now, Sotto said he’s busy trying to transform his city government into something more inclusive and approachable.
VICE recently caught up with Sotto to talk about what it’s like being a first-time mayor, how he copes with public attention as a self-confessed introvert, and the real reason he’s on TikTok. Below are his thoughts on those and other things you might not know about him.
He is an introvert
Despite being one of the most popular government officials at the moment, Sotto said that he is actually quite the introvert. He doesn’t like talking to strangers, a trait he acknowledged was ironic for his job, and had to learn to get out of his comfort zone after becoming mayor.
“To a large extent I've accepted it,” he said, explaining that he has learned to cope by taking breaks from social media and public appearances.
Before the quarantine, he had events scheduled from Monday to Sunday but would take a one day break from them every two to three weeks, “so I can recharge.”
He asked a senator for advice after winning the elections
To prepare for his role as mayor of Pasig City, Sotto turned to Senator Win Gatchalian for advice. Like him, Gathchalian was only 30 years old when he became mayor of Valenzuela City in 2004.
“We only talked once but it was a really good conversation,” Sotto said. “I followed a lot of the things that he told me.”
This included keeping city hall employees from the former administration. In the Philippines, it’s common for government officials to fire people who worked for their opponent and scrap their projects, but Sotto wanted to change this culture.
“Most of the people in government, they’re career officials, they’re not politicians,” he said.
“If we want to be good leaders and not just politicians, we should insulate the people from politics.”
He only has two requirements when hiring people
When it comes to people he works with, Sotto only looks for two things: integrity and competence. “It’s not that easy to find people who are both,” he said.
As mayor, he hired people who were older and had more local government experience than him, but also some who had little to no experience.
“As long as they have those two qualities, everything else can be learned. Skills can be learned, the bureaucratic processes can be learned, but integrity and competence, those are very hard to teach.”
He doesn’t love the idea of plastering names on government projects
Filipino politicians are infamous for plastering their names on everything from schools to bridges, to take full credit for government projects. While Sotto agrees that this is not the way to go, he said that he had to learn to highlight his accomplishments after becoming mayor – as long as it’s in a well-balanced way.
“I quickly learned when I was mayor that to some extent, I need to do it because if not, I would lose credibility,” he said. “People will think that I’m not doing anything and if they believe that, I would have a hard time with my next projects.”
Corruption is not the worst thing he’s seen in government
Corruption is rampant in the Philippine government but for Sotto, the worst thing about it is how even good people can be influenced to do bad things.
“For me, the saddest thing I’ve seen is when people who have good hearts and intentions enter the government, but because they’re not well-prepared… the system eats them up,” he said.
“You need people in your life to tell you things like that… surround yourselves with good people who have the same principles, the same values as you do.”
He loves basketball
Like many Filipinos, Sotto loves basketball. He likes to play during his free time and still considers “The Bulls from ‘98” as his favourite team. “I've been trying to watch The Last Dance,” he said.
The only reason he's on TikTok is not what you think
Sotto is all over social media, appearing on Facebook Lives for his constituents and memes by supporters but there’s one platform he hasn’t jumped into yet — TikTok. While a number of Filipino politicians are now dancing their way to people’s feeds, you won’t see Sotto doing the same anytime soon. He said that he only created an account to take down ones pretending to be him.
“I made an account, then I reached out to TikTok to ask if they can delete them,” he said.
“It’s scary. In this day and age, when there’s so much fake news, social media accounts that gain a big following are often weaponised.’”
His two favourite movies have nothing in common
When it comes to entertainment, the mayor said that he prefers comedies and light movies that don’t require much thinking. His favourite? Zoolander.
Sometimes, though, he also enjoys more serious films like the Filipino historical drama Heneral Luna.
“It’s inspiring and it’s about Filipino history but is presented in such a good way, with nice cinematography and everything,” he said.
Believe it or not, he has never watched this Filipino cult favourite
The local film Four Sisters and a Wedding has a cult following and regularly goes viral on social media thanks to people’s witty memes featuring its iconic scenes. But even though Sotto’s mother Coney Reyes stars in it, he revealed that he has never actually seen the movie. This, even though people regularly reference it in posts about him.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.