FAST BACKWARD: The political Sotto clan of Davao

Fast Backward by Antonio V. FigueroaLocally, the Sottos may be deemed small-time political players. Unlike their forebears who had graced the upper chamber of Congress, the highest position held by the clan was as lawmaker. In 1938, Cesar M. Sotto won as Davao congressman, serving the post until 1941.

Sotto, who authored the bill creating Tagum as a town in the National Assembly, was the son of Don Vicente Yap Sotto outside of wedlock. But it was created by virtue of Executive Order No. 452 issued on June 23, 1941 by President Manuel L. Quezon that created it into a town. In 1948, Tagum was renamed Magugpo.

Sen. Vicente Y. Sotto, half-brother of Cesar, was the principal author of Republic Act No. 53, the Press Freedom Law, popularly known as the Sotto Law. Interestingly, i Sen. Vicente C. ‘Tito’ Sotto III, the nephew of Cesar, was the one who filed the legislative initiative that made Tagum a city on January 30, 1998 and officially ratified as such on March 7, 1998 through a plebiscite.

Don Vicente, the family patriarch, did not marry Cesar’s mother but acknowledged him as his son. He married another lady but divorced her and took another wife, Maria Ojeda, who bore five children, one of whom was Marcelino, who married Dr. Herminia Castelo.

Marcelino and Herminia are the parents of singer-actors, Valmar, Vicente III (Tito), Marcelino (Maru) and Marvic (Vic), and Suga, an obstetrician and later Cebu City councilor.

Prior his representation of Davao in the National Assembly, Cesar was one of the prime movers of Philippine Civic Union, a group organized by his father. In 1934, he ran as mayor of Cebu but lost to Fructuoso Ramos. His father, on the other hand, opposed Don Sergio Osmeña Sr. but lost in his senatorial bid in the June 5, 1934 elections.

Outside politics, Cesar founded the Cebu Chapter of Federacion Obrera de Filipinas. In a rally held on Labor Day in 1934 at the Plaza Washington, he invited his father as keynote speaker.

Three years later, this time migrating to Davao, he returned to politics and won as member of the provincial board of Davao in the December 14, 1937 polls. He was later handled by his uncle, Don Filemon Yap Sotto, the elder brother of Don Vicente. Don Felimon went on to become congressman, 1934 Constitutional Convention delegate and senator.

Three other Sottos made a name in local politics. Manuel C. ‘Noli’ Sotto became vice-governor of Davao Provice (1960-63) and Davao City vice-mayor (1968-71), while Gemma M. Sotto served as board member of Compostela Valley Province before she forcibly migrated to the US for fear of her life after the murder of her Norwegian fiancé.

Mario Angelo Sotto, a successful miner, served as vice-mayor of Nabunturan, Compostela Valley Province. He ran for mayor in 2016 but lost to Chelita Amatong, daughter of former Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley congressman Prospero Amatong.

In a case that reached the Supreme Court (G.R. No. L-16876) and decided on November 30, 1961, Manuel Sotto’s win was vice-governor was contested by Abelardo Aportadera. In the November 1, 1959, elections, the latter obtained 66,209 votes while the former got 78,346 votes. The board of canvassers, on December 16, 1959, proclaimed Sotto rightful winner.

But Aportadera, in the quo warranto proceeding instituted, claimed Sotto was not a qualified voter of Davao Province of Davao given that he was also a registered voter of Precinct No. 16-A, in 4th legislative district of Manila, during the election years 1953, 1955, 1957, and 1959. It was only on October 3, 1959 that he registered as new voter in Precinct No. 9, in Davao City, but without securing transfer or cancellation of his voter’s registration.

The petitioner said Sotto belatedly filed the cancellation of his voter’s registration with the city treasurer’s office in Manila on October 30, 1959, over a month beyond the legal prescription, which is classified as a felony under Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code, making the latter ineligible to run for vice-governor of Davao Province.

“This case,” Court records show, “hinges on the question whether or not respondent is a ‘qualified voter’ of Davao province [and] upon two (2) grounds, namely: (1) that respondent is not a duly registered voter of Davao, because, before being registered as such, he had failed to apply for the cancellation of his registration as a voter in the City of Manila; and (2) that, having committed… felony in registering himself as a voter in Davao, he [was] disqualified to vote, and, consequently, to run for Vice-Governor.”

The high court argued the issues raised were no longer regulatory because Section 431 of the Old Election Code provided the qualifications for “every male person” qualified to vote: (i) those who, on August 28, 1916, were legal voters and had exercised the right suffrage; (ii) those who own real property valued PhP500, or have paid annually PhP30 or more in customary taxes; and (iii) be able to read and write either Spanish, English or a native language.

Under Section 98 of the then Revised Election Code, every Filipino citizen, “twenty-one years or over, able to read and write, who has been a resident of the Philippines for one year and of the Municipality in which he has registered during the six months immediately preceding, who is not otherwise disqualified, may vote in the said precinct at any election.”

With finality, the SC verdict decided the order appealed from was affirmed, with the petitioner shouldering the cost of litigation.