A number of star mayors who have acted effectively during the country’s Covid-19 pandemic might well be in the presidential race come 2022.
From Italy, to the United States, to Indonesia and the Philippines, mayors have been leading figures in the response to Covid-19, often acting ahead and even in defiance of their national governments. The local government unit one resides in helps determine Filipinos’ chances of getting tested for the virus and surviving it if infected. As of 25 April, the Philippines, the second most populous country in Southeast Asia, had the third-highest number of reported Covid-19 cases (7,294) and the second highest death toll (494) from it after Indonesia.
Outside of Metro Manila, the country’s pandemic epicentre, Benjamin Magalong, mayor of Baguio City in northern Luzon, has been lauded nationally for his city’s quick and innovative response, and a very low number of confirmed cases. In Metro Manila, Vico Sotto, the millennial first-term mayor of Pasig City has seen his political star rise after he defied community quarantine guidelines, taking unilateral steps to provide transport for essential workers that earned rebukes from the Department of Interior and Local Government and a National Bureau of Intelligence summons.
Over the last three decades, mayors have repeatedly risen to the highest positions in the country.
Marikina City, under Mayor Marcelino Teodoro, opened up its own Covid-19 testing lab in March, only for the Department of Health to order it shut due to compliance issues. It has recently reopened with Department approval after Mayor Teodoro announced he would reopen it without the green light. Valenzuela City, under Mayor Rex Gatchalian, also began providing its own local testing services two weeks ago. On 18 April, the national government’s Covid-19 task force announced that local government units will now lead the pandemic response.
This heightened national profiles of these mayors may last beyond the Covid-19 crisis. Over the last three decades, mayors have repeatedly risen to the highest positions in the country. Joseph Estrada used his political beginnings as mayor of San Juan in Metro Manila to become vice-president in 1992 and president in 1998. Jejomar Binay rose from being mayor of Makati City in Metro Manila to become vice-president in 2010. Rodrigo Duterte, campaigning that he would bring the proclaimed success of his terms as mayor of Davao City to the country as a whole, became president in 2016. There are still many imponderables, but one may well see some of these mayors on the national ballot in 2022.
Malcolm Cook was previously Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Editor at Fulcrum.