Aside from politics, Sotto also participated in acting and hosting. Sotto is a co-host of Eat Bulaga!, the longest-running variety show in Philippine television history. He is the brother of celebrities Vic Sotto, Val Sotto, and Maru Sotto; he is also a grandson and grandnephew of former Senators Vicente Y. Sotto and Filemon Sotto.
Vicente Castelo Sotto III was born on 24 August 1948. His parents were Marcelino Antonio Ojeda Sotto and Dr. Herminia Castelo Sotto. His siblings are Valmar (born 1945), Marvic Valentin (born 1954), and Marcelino Antonio Jr.
Sotto's paternal grandfather and namesake was former senator Vicente Sotto (1877–1950). Vicente’s brother, Filemon (1872–1966) also served as a senator and was one of those who drafted the 1935 Constitution.
Sotto studied at Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, Manila for his elementary, high school, and college education, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English.
Sotto had a career as a songwriter, actor, and as a music artist as a member of the Manila Sound group VST & Company. Among his notable compositions is "Magkaisa", which is recognized as one of the anthems of the 1986 People Power Revolution.
Sotto was vice mayor of Quezon City from 1988 to 1992. He founded the Vice-Mayors' League of the Philippines and served as its first president. During this period, Sotto was also named Vice Chairman of Citizens' Drugwatch.
Sotto was elected to the Senate of the Philippines in the 1992 senatorial election, topping the tally with nearly 12 million votes, more than 3 million more than his second place ranker. This made him the third member of his family to enter the Senate, after his grandfather Vicente Yap Sotto and granduncle Filemon Sotto. He served as Assistant Majority Floor Leader, was a member of the Commission on Appointments, and served as chairman on several senate committees. In the 1998 senatorial election, Sotto earned another term in the Senate with a third place finish, the best result among Senators vying for re-election.
From April 30 to May 1, 2001, together with Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson and Miriam Defensor Santiago, he led the EDSA III protests in support of Joseph Estrada. On May 1, 2001, the protesters stormed Malacañang Palace. In spite of this, he ran for another term in the Senate in 2007 under the TEAM Unity coalition backed by the Arroyo administration, but was unsuccessful, finishing in 19th place.
Sotto was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a member of the Board of Directors and acting chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board on 4 July 2008, succeeding Anselmo Avenido whose term was expiring that day. The appointment was just over one year after his failed 2007 senatorial bid. Philippine election laws forbid defeated candidates from being appointed to government posts within a year of the election.
Sotto won election to another term in the Philippine Senate in the 2010 senatorial election, as a member of the Nationalist People's Coalition.
Upon the commencement of the 15th Congress on 26 July 2010, he was elected by the majority of his fellow Senators as the Majority Leader of the Senate as well as the Chairman of its Committee on Rules, thus he manages the legislative affairs of the Senate, particularly on the floor during the sessions. He was also one of the 20 Senators that voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona and to remove him from office on 29 May of that year.
In 2012, Sotto was accused of plagiarizing several passages in a speech opposing the Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippine Senate.
Several local and international news agencies and several internet users reported that Sotto had taken the passages from a 2011 blog entry by Sarah Pope, an American home economist blogger. Sotto asserted that he was quoting Natasha Campbell-McBride, who was referenced in the blog post.
Pope, upon learning of the controversy, confirmed Sotto's plagiarism on 16 August 2012 in another entry to her blog, strongly criticizing Sotto for the plagiarism, for denying it, and for his stance on contraceptives. She also remarked that she did not intend to sue.
Sotto's chief of staff, in a comment on Pope's blog, admitted to using the blog post and failing to attribute Pope's work. Pope responded to the comment again criticizing Sotto's stance on the Reproductive Health Bill.
On 17 August, Sotto reasserted his defense saying: "I made a blanket disclosure. I mentioned beforehand my attributions, that I had many sources (of information in my speech) so I have admitted that. I have made a disclosure, so what’s their problem with that? They probably thought I’m trying to pass myself off as knowledgeable (on the subject) when in fact I’m not, supposedly, Where is the plagiarism there? They think that’s plagiarism. So come on, sue me." Villacorta said he saw nothing wrong with using Pope’s blog without attribution because it "is public domain" and "blogs are not covered by copyright. It is a new media and there is no jurisprudence yet." In an interview on the Philippine newscast 24 Oras, Sotto remarked:
"Whatever it is, the buck stops with me, I'm the senator. Whatever I delivered in the Senate Hall is what's important. Whatever they say, we'll take it in stride."
Sotto also reiterated that his privilege speech under the protection of the Article 6 Section 11 of the Philippine Constitution — which states that "No member (of Congress) shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof." In an interview on the Philippine newscast The World Tonight, Pope remarked:
"He is acting as though he's above the law, that he is above copyright law, that he can do whatever he wants, he can step on whoever he wants, to get his agenda through the Philippine legislature. That's just wrong, that's very poor behavior. I hope the Filipino people take note of this behavior and subsequent denial on his bad behavior on the part of Senator Sotto. Think about this when they go to the election booths when he's up for reelection."
A South China Morning Post journalist, Raissa Robles, also pointed out that Sotto plagiarized five bloggers and a briefing paper — which includes a blog titled The Truth of Contraceptives, a blog titled Feminists for Choice, a blog titled Talking Sense by Marlon Ramirez, a New York University blog publishing works by birth control activist Margaret Sanger, and a briefing paper published by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Robles also remarked that Sotto would be championing digital piracy, she remarked: "Atty. Villacorta said that the Internet is free. (sic) This would mean that Senator Sotto would be championing digital piracy"
On 9 November 2012, Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of late American senator Robert F. Kennedy and president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, wrote a public letter to Senator Sotto accusing him of flagrantly and deceptively plagiarizing the Robert F. Kennedy's 1966 Day of Affirmation speech in his remarks to the Philippine Senate last 5 September 2012. Sotto has since issued an apology to the Kennedy family, but tenaciously refused to admit that he committed plagiarism in his speech. Sotto reasoned that the allegedly plagiarized passage was obtained from a text message sent by a Christian leader, which he then translated into Filipino as he found it fit for his speech without knowing that the words were Kennedy's. He also argued that he never claimed the ideas and words as his own, therefore he did not plagiarize.
Sotto was one of the two senators who have inserted provision on libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or Anti-Cybercrime Law. However, he denied that he did so in retaliation for the "cyberbullying" he received from Filipino netizens who criticized his alleged plagiarisms. Instead, he claimed that he intended to penalize those who release celebrity sex tapes and to allow the corresponding victims to seek redress.
In July 2013, at the end of the 15th congress, Sotto resigned as the Majority Leader following the resignation of Juan Ponce Enrile, his staunch political mentor, as Senate President. Enrile resigned due to allegations of misusing the Senate funds. Then assistant majority leader Senator Gregorio Honasan became the acting Majority Leader following Sotto's resignation.
On the commencement of the session of the 16th Congress, on 22 July 2013, Sotto became part of the new Senate minority group. He was chosen by his colleagues in the minority to be the Deputy Floor Leader, second-in-command to Enrile who became the Minority Leader. On July 2014, following Enrile's arrest on charges of plunder relating to the pork barrel scam, Sotto became the acting Minority Floor Leader. Enrile resumed his position as the Minority Floor Leader after he was granted bail by the Supreme Court in August 2015.
In 2013, Sotto filed a bill that would mandate all government and non-government employees to receive a 14th month of annual salary. Responding to the Department of Labor and Employment claims that the bill would worsen unemployment if implemented, Sotto said that the existing 13th month pay is not truly a bonus because there are actually 13 months in a year. "There are 52 weeks in a year divide it by four weeks in a month. Thirteen months."
Senator Sotto was re-elected in the 2016 elections. With 17.2 million votes, he finished in third place for the twelve contested senate seats. On 25 July 2016, during the opening of the 17th Congress, Sotto was again elected as Majority Leader. He was also elected as chairman of the Senate committee on rules and the Senate committee on ethics and privileges. Being a member of the NPC, Sotto is part of the "supermajority" coalition led by the PDP–Laban, the political party of President Rodrigo Duterte and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.
Sotto has expressed his support for the revival of the death penalty, but only for "high level drug trafficking".
On 3 May 2017, during the Commission on Appointments' (CA) hearing on Judy Taguiwalo's appointment as Secretary of Social Welfare and Development, Sotto, a member of the CA, made controversial remarks which seemed to belittle Taguiwalo for being a single parent.
An excerpt of his conversation with Taguiwalo during the televised hearing circulated online and drew criticisms from social media users:
SOTTO: On the lighter side, Senator Drilon and I were looking at the personal information about you and you have two children, daughters ba or sons?
TAGUIWALO: Two daughters.
SOTTO: Two daughters. But you're single?
TAGUIWALO: My life has never been a normal one. I never had a whole father-mother-children kind of thing, except when I was growing up in Bacolod. Remember, I graduated from UP in 1970. I did organizing work. From 1972 up to the 1986, it has been life underground or in prison. So, well, my story would be different from the stories of those who have gone through UP, a corporation, et cetera.
SOTTO: Ah, in street language, when you have children and you’re single ang tawag diyan "na-ano lang". (we call that "just got knocked up")
[Soft laughter from the audience]
SOTTO: Thank you, you have my 100 percent support, madam secretary.
TAGUIWALO: Senator Sotto, I teach women's studies, so we respect all kinds of families and that includes solo parents. Thank you.
One of Taguiwalo’s daughters demanded a public apology from Sotto over his offensive remarks, asserting that "no woman deserves that kind of treatment". The Gabriela Women's Party also demanded for a public apology, claiming that Sotto "went out of bounds" insulting solo parents and insinuating malice at Taguiwalo. The Commission on Human Rights condemned the event saying: "It is deplorable that such a comment came from an elected senator and that it elicited laughter from the halls of the Congress. The incident shows how those charged by law to protect women from discrimination often forget and unwittingly become promoters of discrimination themselves". A statement from the Philippine Commission on Women called the incident "a mockery of a woman’s circumstance as a solo parent as [the] status has nothing to do with her professional qualifications." Representatives Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers Partylist) and Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis) deprecated the behavior of their colleagues in Congress for tolerating Sotto's remarks. Filipino netizens also criticized Sotto, who became a trending topic on Twitter that day. Some social media users even reminded him that his daughter, Ciara Sotto, is also a single mother. Singer-actress Lea Salonga, who was single-handedly raised by her mother, decried Sotto's remarks. Celebrity single mothers Pokwang, LJ Reyes, Geneva Cruz, and Claudine Barretto also denounced Sotto's remarks and expressed support for their fellow single mothers.
In an interview after the hearing, Sotto apologized and claimed that Taguiwalo was not offended by his remarks. He reasoned that perhaps people were just "overly sensitive" and did not "understand the joke". He also added:
"I will be the last person in this country to disrespect a woman because my mother was one of the founders of the Women's Rights Movement … I have two daughters who are separated, single, and have children so I don’t think there should be big fuss about it."
On 4 May, Secretary Judy Taguiwalo accepted Sotto's apology, but clarified that "the apology does not fully capture the extent of the gravity of what his 'joke' implied." She also asserted that despite accepting Sotto's apology, she will not tolerate misogyny, anti-women comments, and attacks towards solo parents. Taguiwalo also thanked Sotto for supporting her confirmation as DSWD secretary. She, however, also thanked those who expressed their condemnation of Sotto’s statements, and those who supported her and all solo parents.
Despite Sotto’s apology, and Taguiwalo’s acceptance thereof, eight women's and workers’ groups filed an ethics complaint against the senator on 10 May 2017. Among these groups were Coalition Against Trafficking in Women - Asia Pacific and Partido ng Manggagawa. The said groups claimed that the aforementioned apology was insincere and that Sotto normalized patriarchal views and trivialized the abandonment of responsibility over children. The complaint was filed with the Senate committee on ethics and privileges, of which Sotto is the chairman. Sotto welcomed the complaint and declared his intention to go on leave from his committee as soon as he receives the complaint officially.
On 9 May, the Federation of Solo Parents in Luzvimin (FSPL) approached Senator Sotto in his office and requested his support for the passage of amendments to Republic Act No. 8972, or the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000. These amendments included discounts on medicine, hospitalization fees, clothing, tuition, milk, and vitamins for solo parents and their children. In a statement, Sotto said that he is "ready and willing" to fight for the rights of single parents and assured the group that the amendments will be passed before December 2017.
On 7 August 2017, Sotto filed a resolution for the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to investigate the alleged unexplained wealth of Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista.
Sotto is married to Helen Gamboa, a beauty queen, actress, and singer. They have four children: Romina, Diorella Maria, Gian Carlo and Ciara; eight grandsons: Romino Vicente, Victorio, Vicente IV, Carlos Edrigu, Alessandro Jose, Marciano, Juan Rossano, and Vincenzo Jose; and two granddaughters: Helena and Amaria Jiliana.
Actors Oyo Boy Sotto and Miko Sotto (1982–2003) are his nephews. Actress Danica Sotto is his niece. Radio-television personality Ali Sotto is the former wife his brother, Maru. Singer-actress Sharon Cuneta is also his niece (her mother, Elaine Gamboa, is a sister of Sotto’s wife, Helen Gamboa).
In the 2016 elections, his son Gian Carlo was elected councilor of Quezon City's 3rd District, while his daughter Diorella Maria was elected in the 6th District of the same city. His nephews Vico Sotto and Viktor Eriko "Wahoo" Sotto were elected councilors in Pasig and Parañaque respectively.
He is an avid bowler and was a member of the Philippine national bowling team, representing the country several times at the AMF World Cup. Presently, he is the chairman of the Philippine Bowling Federation (PBF).
He also plays golf and has won several tournaments. He is Catholic.