• The Pasig Review

Mayor Sotto delivers SOCA on Pasig Day; prioritizes Universal Health Care programs

Bhenjar Toor, Editor-in-Chief with reports from Anton Lean Medina

PASIG City Mayor Victor Ma. Regis N. Sotto delivered his 2nd State of the City Address (SOCA) coinciding with the Pasig Foundation Day.

Celebrating its 447th founding anniversary, residents of Pasig City and the whole nation present at the Pasig City Tanghalang Pasigueno and listening through various platforms, were able to look into the present situation of the city amidst a general community quarantine (GCQ) in place and the continuing struggle to fight the pandemic. 

Pasig City Lone District Representative Roman Romulo, in his brief opening statements ahead of Mayor Sotto, cited the overwhelming sentiment of non-Pasig Residents all over the country who have expressed interest to move to the city because of the brand of leadership that the young and neophyte mayor has displayed in the face of a global health threat that has ravaged even the most stable economies.

"Nakita naman po natin, kahit saan tanungin...ngayon lang siguro po nag-number one ang Pasig. Mag-search po kayo. Gusto nilang lumipat dito... dahil sa nakita nilang liderato," Romulo said. "Pero, alam rin nating lahat na sasabihin din naman ni Mayor Vico sa atin na hindi niya magagawa yan ng siya lang."

"Sa tulong ng bawat mamamayan ng Pasig kaya niya ito nagawa," he emphasized while also seeking the continuous support of Pasig residents to the programs that the local city government has planned ahead. 

Recalling his campaign promises, Sotto recognized how the Pasig voters gambled on electing a young mayor who was not even 30 years old at the time of the election. He, however, clarified that this is not only his fight nor that of Romulo or of any organization.

"Ito po ay laban para itaguyod ang mga prinsipyo para basagin ang lumang kalakaran, talikuran ang mga nakasanayan natin, laban para sa mabuting gobyerno ... at pakikilahok ng mga taumbayan para sa accountability...," he remarked. 

The Pasig chief executive highlighted that the local government is focused on key principles that have served as an anchor to the city's drive in fulfilling programs that were presented during the campaign. 

UHC is priority

According to Sotto, his agenda was focused on the implementation of universal healthcare, which he cited as the right of every person. He also said that the health programs will remain the priority as the budget is allocated to have the set objectives met and have everyone be given health benefits.

Rationalizing the City Health Care Office, Sotto revealed that he has turned it into a department with nine divisions with six new sections 1,448 new regular positions within the plantilla to ensure that Universal Health Care is realized. 

Further, the local chief executive also assured that through this initiative, medical services and distribution become more frequent and organized. Moreover, having visited different health care facilities within the city, Sotto reported that consultation rooms and half of the 42 new health centers were already renovated with more to be completed soon. 

However, despite all these efforts on the health front, Sotto acknowledged that there are those who were still not covered in spite of additional funding provided for Philhealth. Nevertheless, he vowed that the local government will work to provide more coverage by providing membership to those who are still not able to take advantage of the health program, specifically those who are members of the various tricycle operators and drivers associations (TODA). He also informed that Philhealth offices within the city were also improved to make sure that filing of membership and completion of all other required processes are conveniently done.

In addition, Sotto also made sure that from being profit-oriented, hospitals within the city, especially the Pasig City General Hospital (PCGH), were re-oriented to become service-providing given the rising need for medical attention of many Pasig residents. 

Sotto also mentioned that the no-balance billing through Philhealth coverage is being pushed by the local government in all hospitals situated within the city.

The no-balance billing will allow patients to be given medical attention or assistance technically for free given the Philhealth coverage with the difference to be shouldered by the local government, which is now being adopted as a policy.

Notwithstanding the push for universal health care, Sotto also said that children's health is also on top of the list as he makes sure that proper nutrition is given through the distribution of food packs and other feeding programs.

Housing for people empowerment and progress

Housing has been a very contentious issue for many communities as problems on accessibility or proximity to resident's workplaces and other economic activities have always been among the more noticeable flash points not to mention the lack of potable water.

Recognizing these essential needs, Sotto reiterated his campaign promise that there will be no relocation and demolition if the new homes to be provided to informal settlers are not decent. He said that while he never promised that each resident of Pasig will be given a house, he assured everyone that are to be affected will only be relocated once there is a home that can be provided to them.

"Pinapangako ko na walang relokasyon o demolisyon kung walang maaayos, makatao, makatarungan, matatag na istruktura, maayos na mga linya ng tubig at kuryente, at malapit sa mga services para sa pangkalusugan at pangkabuhayan para sa mga nakatira sa danger zones," Sotto said while also outlining the housing programs that have already been initiated, which includes the Sta. Lucia housing project that has been delayed for a decade, which has already been surveyed with assistance from the national government.

He said that after consultation with those who will be relocated, the local government will provide financial assistance to affected families while also deferring the payments for these housing projects up to the following year together with continued support to these communities. 

Quality education despite the pandemic

Despite the lack of surety that the school year will begin as planned this August given the challenges being faced by students all over the country, Sotto assures everyone that Pasig City is ready for anything.

Sotto reaffirmed his commitment to providing quality education to students studying in different schools within Pasig who will be observing distance learning given the lock down due to the pandemic. 

Moreover, the Mayor also cited the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasig (PLP) for exceeding the passing rate on the national level for Education, Accounting, Nursing, and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). He also said that the Pasig City scholars have reached a total of 16,000 students while PLP is set to accept 1,000 more new enrollees. He emphasized that these were all achieved because of the concerted effort of everyone since quality education will play a crucial role in the future of the city. 

He also cited that for the first time, these programs were named after the city itself and no longer to any politician as was the practice in the past. 

Consequently, the local government is also set to help families whose children are set to adapt to the distance learning modality by acquiring 138,000 tablets and laptops to be used for online learning with a one to one ratio being set as the target.

"Please mag-enroll kayo," he appealed. "Mahirap ang sitwasyon ngayon pero mag-enroll kayo at tutulungan namin kayo."

Fast, timely service

Echoing his campaign promises, Sotto reminded everyone the the highest honor is to serve his fellowmen with no political color. 

He said that helping people to improve their standard of living is one of the programs that are being pushed by the local government through the continuous giving out of Christmas bonuses to differently-abled persons or persons with disability (PWD). Further, he also improved the gift-giving system for seniors, which amounts to at least Php 3,000 each.

On top of this, social welfare assistance and a one-stop shop for all types of government services were already put into place realizing that to raise the standard of living, it will be critical for the local government to push for sustained efforts that will be felt by every sector within the city.

The traditional Christmas gifts per Pasig family have also been initiated and have served another purpose in terms of collecting updated information that became useful at the time of the pandemic. One thing notable about these initiatives as highlighted by the Mayor was it was done within another project. By streamlining systems and procedures, the local government was able to save substantial amounts as a result of this tightening of the budget as well as procurement processes. 

The city saved nearly P415 million in just one year by cleaning up its procurement process, an amount that Sotto said had enabled the local government to pass some of the most sweeping relief packages in the country amid the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Honesty in governance, rationalized spending

Figures presented at Sotto’s State of the City Address on Thursday showed that in 2019, reforms that made Pasig’s bidding process stricter and more transparent initially led to savings of P154.7 million, followed by P260 million in the first six months of 2020.

Pasig City saved nearly P415 million in just one year by cleaning up its procurement process, an amount that Mayor Vico Sotto said had enabled the local government to pass some of the most sweeping relief packages in the country amid the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Figures presented by Sotto showed that in 2019, the reforms that were made to improve public bidding processes have become more transparent due the stricter implementation of the guidelines. This has resulted in an initial savings of Php 154.7 million followed by Php 260 million in the first six months of this year. 

“We were judicious in keeping track of documents, prices and procurement, which is the reason why, in the time of a pandemic, we were able to pass two supplemental budgets,” Sotto said. 

He added, however, that the massive savings were also made possible because bidders did not pad government contracts with grease money. Rooting out corruption in city hall was the central pillar of his campaign, which succeeded in ousting entrenched incumbent Robert Eusebio in 2019 ending a 30-year political hold of one of the local dynasties known in the country. 

“There was no money that went into my pockets,” Sotto said. “There were several who came up to me with offers, but I rebuffed them because that was my promise. There was even one who offered P2 million to speed up the approval of a permit, but we ignored it.”

Sotto explained that transparency in governance is necessary not just to save funds for other projects but also to boost the economy by attracting more investors that will start more businesses and generate more jobs. He pointed out that all these became possible because of the support given by everyone.

"Lahat ng gustong gawin ay di magagawa kundi sa tulong ng mga kawani ng pamahalaan," he remarked also outlining that HR incentives, 15th month lay, hazard pay, rice allowances, gratuity pay, and additional automated (atm) card releases all helped curb corruption within and contributed to the continuous capacity development for all employees.

One of the cornerstone of his reforms, Sotto observed that giving back their dignity to the employees requires concrete steps that will show and not just tell what he assured them he will do. Of the 953 staff job orders completed as actual casual hires, 346 have been given permanent status.

Sotto cited the case of “Kuya Roberto” who was a casual employee for 43 years before he prioritized his regularization papers and signed it to make him a permanent employee. The Mayor described that the efforts to regularize employees, especially those who have been working for the city government for so many years is not only fair but is just and the right thing to do regardless of to whom they place their loyalty.

Genuinely heal as one

Sotto understands that the pandemic has posed so many challenges not just to the city or to the country, but also to the whole world given the thousands of deaths and the crumbling economies. 

He, however, remains optimistic that all these obstacles can be hurdled regardless of how overwhelming it may see. Sotto considers people empowerment and participation as key in ensuring right governance and in fighting corruption in all levels of the government, which is why he is pushing for accreditation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), which is a first in Pasig City, to serve as the local government’s partner in uplifting the lives of the residents, particularly the marginalized sectors within the locality. 

Sotto also eyes the City Development Council and the School Boards to have real selection processes that will get the rightful representatives of the people. He mentioned that if not for the pandemic, the CSO conference of 500 representatives would have reached more people’s representation as the local government has been in talks with the with teachers, students, and parents regarding education programs with the Department of Education (DepEd), which were cut short by the imposition of the Luzon-wide lock down. 

The purpose of the meetings were to infuse people of the idea of “bayanihan sa pamahalaan” which jumpstarted the citizen government collaboration of the different sectors which, according to the Mayor, is a means for the local government to give everyone a stake in the development of the city by allowing their voices to be heard. 

Besides, the Pasig Mega Market Council, composed of vendors, store owners, and other participants must be involved since they are the ones in the frontlines and are expected to provide more inputs that can help resolve problems and address other issues affecting the market places. 

In addition to this, Sotto has also started the Muslim Consultative Council, which is now backed by an executive order for the first time. He sees it as a welcome opportunity to have fellow moslems to actively participate in the city’s governance. He is hopeful that through these initiatives, barangay units will also push for more cooperation among the 30 barangays within the city with the local government providing aids, lower amelioration rates, and other additional support. Initially, the local government has allotted a Php 200 million budget to subsidize the different needs of every barangay. 

While the Universal Health Coverage has been the priority of the local government, Sotto acknowledged that the health workers, who are among the most crucial front-liners at this time of a health crisis, had many challenges themselves but never regretted being there to attend to those who have been infected by the corona virus.

“Naging malaking bahagi yung city ordinance against discrimination sa mga health workers,” Sotto remarked stating that the health workers are real heroes because despite the discrimination they received from fearful residents who felt so desperate and threatened, they continued to serve the public despite the threats to their own safety and health.

Seeking no monopoly to all the credit being showered at him not just by his constituents but even those who were from other cities and provinces, Sotto made it clear that if not for the concerted efforts of health worker, the donors, the volunteers, the residents, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the local government, the fight against COVID-19 would have been completely lost. 

He also thanked the private sector for contributing Php 30 million worth of donations that were distributed to all those affected. The Mayor also cited the holistic approach being done to respond even to mental health issues and with the continuous flow of medical supplies and equipment intended for medical facilities as well as quarantine facilities and COVID-19 referral facilities. Having these all closely coordinated with the Department of Health (DOH) and through partnerships with other concerned government agencies, it became clear that the first line of defense for Pasiguenos where the health centers were opened 24/7 for all residents. 

With the Rizal High School serving as the centralized quarantine facility of the city, Sotto pointed out that it was instrumental in controlling the number of cases so that the increase of the number of cases at the PCGH would become more manageable. 

Incidentally, Pasig is the only LGU that has a COVID-19 – dedicated hospital, and with much support from the Medical City, releasing of results was timely. This also enabled the local government to get real time data with no backlogs.

With the local government in full gear and dead set in finally putting the pandemic under control, mass testing has been pushed to target more and more residents. Healthcare workers were also provided free sleeping quarters through agreements with the many motels in the city. There was also psychosocial support provided to the front-liners given their own debacles as they are among the most exposed to the virus. 

In partnership with the PNP, checkpoints were sustained to make sure that only those who are supposed to be traveling are out of their residences to reduce the spread of the virus while regular disinfection efforts were continued to make sure that the environment would not further spread the infection. 

Despite these successful joint efforts, Sotto assured everyone that food packs, financial help to the different TODAs and vendors, the giving out of coupons will continue to make sure that all Pasiguenos are able to survive this pandemic. 

“Kakaiba ang covid, lahat talaga apektado negatively. Mayaman, mahirap, lahat saan man nakatira kailangan ng tulong. Unlike pag may baha. Hindi perpekto, pero proud ako sa mga team natin dahil natugunan ang kalakihan sa pangangailangan.” Sotto shared his sentiments about all the efforts that have been done so far. He was thankful that the national Social Amelioration Program (SAP) was a huge help to 93,000 families who were able to receive it though the numbers who require such assistance is bigger than the figures they have managed to support. Nevertheless, this translates to 95.7% of those who received the financial assistance from the local and national government. 

To ensure that the front-liners are strong enough to perform their duties, the local government also prepared 9,000 meals a day with the additional support free transport, free bicycles, and the mobile palengke, which were made possible by the efficient and effective partnership with the private sector. 

Looking ahead

Despite the lack of a vaccine to put the corona virus under complete control, Sotto is laying the groundwork for economic recovery of local businesses as they remain optimistic that the virus will eventually be eradicated. 

Sotto eyes an economic recovery phase as essential for people to get back on their own feet. Rolling out his TAPAT program, the local government will facilitate the release of loans worth at least Php 5,000 for those who will be looking for jobs, which was passed by the local city council. Further, a Php 10,000 loan with no interest will also be provided to those who intend to put up small businesses. 

“Isang taon na ang administrasyon, bago magwakas, hamon para sa lahat, lalo sa mga empleyado sa dami ng programa at proyekto, pag may pagkakataon tayo, tanungin natin ‘what legacy am I leaving’?” Sotto remarked. “It does not matter kung magre-retire ka na, what legacy am I leaving? Yung mga nagawa natin.”

Sotto insists that this is a good reflection each one must have because he knows that the next generation will judge them, and everyone should have something to say. He further shared that gaining respect as a mayor is not freely given but one that must be gained. He also intimated that he did not plan to run for mayor a year ago, because more than the position, he was searching for genuine change, transparency, putting the government back and closer to the people, and accountability.

With his honest style of leadership, Sotto has seen a meteoric rise in his popularity since taking office, and the mix of his high profile and independence has at times gotten him caught in the national government’s crosshairs. Sotto, however, framed his first year in office as part of a budding movement that shares in the advocacy of genuine change and not one that is simply born out of a campaign slogan. 

“Paalala lang po, sa mga may kapit sa lumang pamamaraan, mga pumasok sa gobyerno para kumita ng pera, paalala sa mga nasa lumang nakasanayan na mali, kapag tumututol kayo sa mga mabubuting pagbabago, ang kinakalaban po ninyo, baka three years, six years lang ako, pero pag di kayo nakikiisa sa pagbabago, ang kinakalabn ninyo ay usang buong henerasyon na sawang sawa na sa lumang kalakaran na ayaw na sa gobyernomg puro lagayan, puro corrupt practice.,” he said. 

“Huhusgahan po tayo ng susunod na henerasyon, patuloy nating ipakita na nagbago na ang pamumuno, tinatalikuran natin ang mga dating gawain, dito sa Pasig niyakap natin ang mabuting pag-gogobyerno.” He concluded.

“Dito sa Pasig umaagos ang pag-asa.” 

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