You know it would come to the point that a puff piece praising Manila Mayor Isko Moreno would eventually be written. It was just a matter of time. In his PhilSTAR piece “The city of Manila acting like Singapore”, columnist Andrew Masigan describes Isko as a “transformative leader” gushing about how Moreno had “achieved more than expected in just two years. He is the transformative leader the city needed”. All this fluff would not be complete, of course, without the customary denigration of the “enemy”. Masigan goes on to write how all this is “[in] stark difference to how the pandemic was mismanaged by the national government”.
For sure, there is no downplaying the quantifiable achievements Isko has to show for in the capital city. It had regressed under two terms of former mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada who promised to bring back its former glory as the Pearl of the Orient. It did help that Isko allied himself with then candidate Rodrigo Duterte. He ran for Senator and finished a respectable 15th place. Duterte is not one to let a slight slide and so come 2019, there wasn’t one member of Estrada’s extended family elected to office. Having interacted with the Mayor personally, one can’t discount his genuine concern for the poor because that is his provenance.
However, what does it say about him that he is willing to abandon the Manileños who voted for him on the basis of his promise that he will succeed where Erap failed by running for President? The premise is he can continue to serve Manileños if he wins as President because Malacañan is in the San Miguel district. But what if he loses? What Isko is exhibiting with his decision is he will not let an opportunity as big as this pass. Isko is fond of gambling which is probably an offshoot of his background; his early life was a gamble everyday. He probably thought that six years would be too long to wait for an opportunity to become the President. It certainly helped that anti-Duterte oligarchs have been looking for a viable candidate to run since the 2019 midterm election.
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Monies have been pouring into Isko’s projects to bring back Manila to its former glory. Manny Pangilinan, the Ayala brothers, and Ramon S. Ang (RSA) have been funding these because they saw potential in Isko’s background as a narrative to sell to the public. Ricky Razon opted to keep the National Unity Party in an alliance with the administration but he also benefits if Isko wins because he is now partners with the Ayalas in Manila Water. We have to be pragmatic enough and admit that politics is a business and businessmen are investors in politicians. The danger here is Isko’s malleability should he win.
Duterte was egged on to run by former President Fidel Ramos (FVR). Tabako wasn’t enamored with the prospect of a Binay, Roxas or Poe Presidency. He disdained former Preident Noynoy Aquino (PNoy) which is why he wasn’t even seen at the services for the son of the woman who made him President. Duterte acknowledged his debt of gratitude to FVR but has been independent from Day One. FVR could get into Malacañan but he couldn’t influence Duterte. Isko, on the other hand, was chosen because he will follow. A politician has to contend with the realities of his existence. It is the way the system has been set-up but the politician still has the choice of how he will play the game to balance out the interests of the people vis à vis that of oligarchs who wield power. The other danger with Isko is he is also in bed with the Reds. His conversion mostly likely happened when he was at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) with Judy Taguiwalo and Noel Leyco.
Manila as the capital serving as the microscosm of how a Domagoso Presidency would actually transform the Philippines into another Singapore is the packaging. This is why one of the most grizzled veterans of political wars is Isko’s campaign manager. Lito Banayo has been on a winning streak since 1986 with the exception of the Arroyo administration. Banayo has the advantage now of running his own show unlike in the past when he had to contend with rival factions within the candidate’s campaign. It will be interesting to see how Banayo will work with Cesar Chavez and Noel Leyco. Isko will have to undergo a makeover to prepare him for his biggest role to date. He will need to be ready to answer questions about Presidential matters. The challenge is to sell him to Visayas and Mindanao voters. He will be fighting a battle on two fronts as the Ping Lacson – Tito Sotto tandem is no political lightweight either.
The even bigger challenge is if the Duterte-Marcos pairing materializes for the administration. Isko will find it hard to go up against Inday Sara “Daughterte”. Unlike him, Inday doesn’t speak without thoroughly calculating what impact her statement will have. She is very calculating, self-effacing, and has the charisma to win over voters. She also trumps Isko in terms of experience and educational background. Isko’s greatest challenge is how not to be perceived as the Trojan Horse for the old traditional opposition. As early as now, he is being labelled as such. This takes the pressure off the Lacson-Sotto camp which bolsters their claim of being the centrist option. How all of these will play out will be an excellent case study for how campaigns are run in the Philippine political landscape. But, for now, we have the best entertainment we can get under these very trying times. We get the added benefit of being able to shape our future as well. Anyone for Pangulong Isko?
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