Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno gestures his signature No. 1 sign after declaring his bid to run for president in a speech at a public school in the slum area near the place where he grew up in Tondo last September 22, 2021. (Photo courtesy by AP)
I would rather fail doing something than fail doing nothing.
— Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso
IF there is one thing I know about Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, or Isko Moreno, is that he is a very practical man.
That’s according to my view because in analyzing his rise from being a poor boy in Tondo to now presently Manila’s local chief executive, he has practically climbed his way to success by using his wits and learning from the past and the present.
I first met our ‘rock star’ mayor in 1998 when he was just a councilman. I was then a member of the Manila City Hall Reporters’ Association (MACHRA) under the leadership of my colleague, Itchie Cabayan of People’s Journal, and covering city hall for Times Journal, the former flagship newspaper of the Philippine Journalists Incorporated (PJI), or Journal Group of Publications.
But it was after more than half a decade when I really got acquainted with Isko—the actor and the politician. I was close to then-vice mayor Danny Lacuna and when at one time I had some differences with the councilor, it was Danny who tried to patch things up between us. But that failed because young as he was, I felt Isko would not stoop down to someone like me who was a mere senior writer of PJI.
Again years past and I caught up with the councilman in 2007 when he was vice mayor of Manila under the leadership of the venerable mayor (and my mentor) Alfredo Siojo Lim. Lim took me under his wing as a consultant for media affairs in his administration and I considered then as my primary duty was to help the mayor in writing press releases and articles that advertised his good deeds and policies as Manila’s local chief executive.
Then one time that Mayor Lim was away on a trip to the United States, Isko was given the task to perform as acting mayor, and with that, I took it as my responsibility to write about the acting mayor’s deeds while Lim was away. Unfortunately, we again had a row—or more precisely, I had some misgivings from his staff who told me that the articles I wrote should first be approved before I could farm them out to the various media outlets covering city hall.
For me, that was an insult because I always considered a journalist being independent of the government’s control or from any politician at that.
And again years past and Isko and I once more met and he was now mayor of Manila. I again brushed elbows with him at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay hosted by our colleague Marichu Villanueva and held at my late friend Larry Cruz’s restaurant Café Adriatico. I actually waited for Isko to arrive and when he did arrive, welcomed him by saying sorry about the differences we’ve had in the past as an overture and show of respect. He smiled and merely said to forget them. But he did tell me to help him now that he was mayor. This again happened at the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel, where Isko again asked for support and even told me to visit him in his office in city hall.
Honestly, I tried one time to see the mayor but apparently, nobody can just visit him in his office as ‘cordon sanitaire’ has been put in place to disallow anyone from seeing him. And in a second attempt—to complain about a barangay kagawad (named Cecil Magayones), who was working as a liaison in my son-in-law’s company but stole some money and a package—I once again failed to talk to Isko, apart from touching elbows with him after he gave his usual morning message on a Monday flag ceremony at the Bonifacio shrine near city hall.
Fortunately, I was able to narrate my son-in-law’s problem with vice mayor Maria Sheilah ‘Honey’ Honrado Lacuna-Pangan, who assured me that any barangay kagawad in Manila wouldn’t have the gall to do such an infraction. But the truth is that the crime was done already and surprisingly, the barangay chairman sided with his errant barangay councilman (you read it right, ma’am Arlene Divinagracia).
Looking back, I analyzed Isko’s rise to power. From a mere scavenger in Tondo to actor and now to mayor, who has big ambitions in politics. Did he not run for senator in 2016 on the instigation of then Manila mayor Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada? My opinion then was that he was convinced by Erap to run for a national position because he was a threat and could beat the convicted plunderer and former San Juan mayor if they faced off after Erap enjoyed just one term of being mayor.
But going back to Isko, what do we see in his kind of leadership today. He had been under three different mayors—namely, Joselito Atienza Jr., Alfredo Lim, and Joseph Estrada. These three all had their strengths and weaknesses and from what I can see, Isko has taken the best from them and thrown out the worst.
To prove my point, he has beautified Manila like Atienza did but was at the same time mindful of what Manileños did not want in their city. Next, he has eliminated—agreeably and with empathy—the eyesores of the city, clearing even Divisoria from vendors and street obstructions (despite offers of millions of pesos to not dismantle the set up of corrupted business and trade in the area). Finally, Isko took to heart Erap’s charisma of being close to the people by stepping down from the pedestal of power and being reachable to his constituency.
So this proves what kind of a leader and statesman Isko Moreno is. And for all its worth, this I would describe as “practicing practicality” at every turn.