"He promises open governance and competence."
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso Moreno launched his long-anticipated bid for the presidency on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. The place was a city housing project in the slum district of Tondo, where he grew up and used to forage for leftovers thrown by Jollibee into its garbage bins.
The man who was nourished by residue chicken feet—what he calls “pagpag,” a term to mean cleaning waste food of its debris by pounding it on something solid, now thinks gunning for the highest post of the land involves a little more than chicken feed.
Yorme’s inaugural speech as a presidential candidate sounded like his inaugural address as a newly elected president. It is not cockiness. It is not conceit. It is confidence. “I will just cross the river (Pasig), (from City Hall to Malacañang),” he smiled.
Moreno also named as his running mate, the popular Dr. Willie Ong. It is a masterstroke, I say. “It is a stroke of genius,” said former Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Viña, “it is like having (the late popular doctor to the barrios, former senator) Juan Flavier.”
If Doc Willie could parlay his strong online presence—16 million followers on Facebook, 6 million on YouTube, and 16,000 on Twitter—Moreno’s vice presidential bet could give the likes of Rodrigo Duterte, Tito Sotto, or Grace Poe a run for their money.
With a doctor as VP, Moreno is telling Filipinos the pandemic is a major issue of the election. “We have used our people as guinea pigs in the longest and strictest experiment of unli-quarantines. We have been under quarantine for 557 days. But instead of flattening the curve, we have flattened our economy.”
The hizzoner of the Philippine capital is second, though by a huge distance, to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. Daughter-te polled 28 percent nationwide in the Pulse Asia survey of June 7-16, 2021. Moreno garnered just 14 percent, exactly half of Sara’s.
Sara’s strength, however, is heavily skewed by her Mindanao and Visayas votes. If elections were held in June 2021, Sara would dominate the results in Mindanao with 62 percent of the vote—ten times the 6 percent of Isko on the country’s second largest island. In Visayas, central Philippines, Sara gets 30 percent, twice that of Isko’s 15 and five times the 6 percent of former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
In Metro Manila, the National Capital Region, Isko, however, would beat Sara handily, 23 percent vs. 16 percent, though the mayor would have to contend with “Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.’s 22 percent (a tie). The son of the former president also edges out Isko in the Balance of Luzon, 18 vs. 15, with Sara polling a respectable 13, statistically tied with Moreno.
After the mismanagement of the pandemic, Pharmally’s scandalously priced P11-billion worth of contracts for face masks, face shields and other medical supplies, Rodrigo Duterte is now tarred as a political brand. Also harmed is anybody named Duterte, like Sara.
By tradition, Philippine presidents are fallen by massive corruption, not by alleged violations of human rights.
Isko Moreno presents Filipinos with a compelling rags-to-riches story, a spectacular triumph over extreme adversity, of poverty turned into personal prosperity and political success. Though his Moreno is an adopted name (after the late German Moreno, a builder of stars), the candidate tried to project authenticity.
Isko spent the first half of his 30-minute speech on Wednesday detailing his personal journey from penury to the apogee of city politics. He has spent 23 years as Manila public servant, as councilor, vice mayor, and mayor.
“Discrimination I experienced early in life,” he recalled. “If you are a scavenger, many things are off limits to you—education, health, housing, jobs. Doors which are always open to other children who take them for granted, are barriers I must overcome.”
“You rummage not just for food, you also beg for respect.” “You are looked upon with contempt,” Isko narrated sadly in Tagalog, “and probably now, you are still underestimated.”
Turning to English, the mayor said “if you are born on the wrong side of the city, at the bottom of society, you cannot escape the profiling for life. What I know is that it is no crime to wear threadbare clothes because of poverty.”
Taking a dig at President Duterte, Tondo’s most famous poor boy sneered, “what is wrong is to praise an emperor’s clothes when, in fact, he is wearing none.”
Turning to Tagalog, the mayor said, “that since boyhood I have inculcated in my mind to help my fellowmen. Let not the poor suffer.” “You give them red carpet treatment, not red tape,” he exhorted in English as the crowd gave a polite applause.
Taking a dig at Duterte’s manners, Isko related, “I grew up subservient (busabos), but I don’t have a bad mouth (bastos). Though my body is full of dirt, never did I need to wash my mouth with soap...Amid poverty and extreme hunger, where the rumble of my empty stomach was louder than my prayers, never once did I lose my temper with the Lord. I never cursed Him. I never turned my back on Him. His followers I never once diminished.”
“Since the first time I laid my hand on the Bible as I recited my oath of office, this has always been my fighting faith: “To the people, theirs is the faith. To the elected, theirs is the work. To God, His is mercy.”
Detailing his platform, Moreno said “I do not run on promises. I run on prototypes. While I believe in the power of example, I also recognize the need for constant innovation. I may not give you a perfect government, but together we can make it better.”
A President Moreno promises open governance, competence, to recruit the best and brightest, a consultative and healing presidency, a government of national reconstruction and reconciliation.