The opposition may have roundly lost in the last national elections, but for progressive forces there was a glimmer of hope in the local government arena where a crop of junior politicians won over established dynasties in some crucial positions. One of these is Vico Sotto, with his boyish good looks and down-to-earth style, who was elected mayor of Pasig City.

The optimism that progressive forces have placed on the young mayor’s shoulders do not seem to be misplaced. Sotto has steadily taken up issues that even most liberal-minded politicians only hesitantly treat, specifically the various labor issues that can be expected from a city with a substantial industrial composition.

Not six months into office and Sotto has already involved himself directly with two labor disputes: the first with Zagu Foods and the latest with Regent Foods. In both instances Sotto personally visited the sites of these disputes, talking to company administrators and — more significantly — to the workers on the picketline. In both instances too he has interpreted the laws and regulations in favor of striking workers. His public statements very clearly mean to side with them, while admonishing — in a measured but firm manner — the owners of these respective businesses. In the case of Regent Foods, he has also openly said that he helped raised funds for the bail money of one of those arrested in the picket dispersal. With each incident Sotto is showing that his sympathy toward the powerless is incrementally increasing.

Parallel with this, there have been rearrangements at the national level, with Vice President Leni Robredo recently being designated “drug czar” by President Duterte as co-head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs or ICAD. This new appointment was triggered by an exchange of words late last month between the camps of the Vice President and President, when the latter took Robredo to task for “criticizing” the administration’s drug war and calling for it to end.

The problem is, she didn’t — or not really. Reuters news service reports her position as that the government needs to “abandon” its “deadly campaign”. But not long afterwards, on her radio program she clarifies that she is only asking that it be “tweaked”. Some people may take this administration as being composed of buffoons but they did do the cunning thing by giving her the reins of the “tweaking” that she has called for. Hence, there is understandable apprehension among many Filipinos, (including many of Robredo’s partymates) that this is either a trap to render her impotent, or a diversion to help the regime’s continued survival.

In any case, I wonder why Robredo — until now — keeps qualifying her stand on the drug war. Her many supporters are waiting for her decisiveness; if I know this crowd, there is no other current issue that is as intensely symbolic of their outrage and disgust of Duterte as his War on Drugs.

This is why Sotto’s performance is a salient counterpoint to the Vice President’s. Defenders of Robredo may say that she is in a more delicate spot than Sotto. She is walking on eggshells in the belly of the beast, to use double metaphors. But Sotto’s position is also not without risk — he could likewise lose investors and revenues in his city for his pro-worker stance. Besides, there should be a distinction between being cautious and circumspect, and being vacillating, or at least tweaking one’s views depending upon political climates or implications.

Some may also argue that Robredo is only doing her best to work within the system, the same as Sotto. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two “systems” they are respectively working from within. Sotto is working within the context of labor laws that have been in place long before this administration. On the other hand Robredo’s work is cut out for her as being firmly within the context of the ICAD, the overseer of what is already in the eyes of many a discredited anti-drug campaign. Moreover, as stemming from a Presidential Executive Order, its powers could be severely limited, and most possibly could even be beholden to Duterte who created it, as even her spokesperson recognized. But because Robredo has already thrown in her lot with these people, we can no longer do anything but wait and see.

However, I do wish to point out that even as the Vice President she already had, and continues to stand on, a much more robust platform if she indeed is resolute in her position about the drug war.

They may also point out that being Vice President is different from being a city mayor, and that being a mayor you have more elbow room as long as you stay only within the confines of your jurisdiction, which is much easier to handle than the whole nation. But this is just splitting hairs. As the saying goes, to whom much is given, much will be expected. Besides, any elected official has the strength of their whole office behind them to work with, and more importantly, the strength of the people who chose them.

Vico Sotto has so far shown what it is like if a “traditional” politician is pro-poor and pro-marginalized — and is unequivocal about it. The people of Pasig City are all the better for it. Here’s hoping Leni Robredo will adopt the same, so that the whole nation will be the better for it.(

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