Isko Moreno Domagoso announced his application for President to the public yesterday. In general terms, his claim to the Presidency is based on the three years he was the Mayor of the Capital City of Manila. He touted his achievements, particularly housing, as launch was held in Baseco, where he recently inaugurated the housing project for the informal settlers in that community which have long been eyesores in the city. It’s understandable that Isko’s campaign is tightly-run because Lito Banayo is his campaign manager. It focuses on optics and communications, or “comms”, in political operative slang. If there are performance artists, we also have performance politicians. Isko is the prototype of such. His image and packaging have been engineered since Day One of his stint as Mayor.
Isko’s seeking the Presidency is not a matter of fate, but by design. This is evident in how he became a fixture on social media since his election and how the Manila Public Information Office, headed by the young Julius Leonen, has tapped into the buttons of the youth and millennials, all of which have paid off handsomely for Isko. His choice of running mate is anchored on the thesis that we are in the midst of a public health emergency and nothing is better than having a doctor by your side, as is the case in Manila, with Dr. Honey Lacuna, his Vice-Mayor. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as Isko claims it to be. Isko needs to have a more focused platform than what he spoke about yesterday. For one, the Vice-Presidency is not a post suited for a medical doctor with zero political experience. Willie Ong qualififes as Health Secretary but, as Vice-President, he brings nothing to the table other than his professional expertise. It can be said that our economic and financial health are the most affected by the pandemic. Candidates running for the two top posts should put emphasis on what we need to do moving forward, to recover from both.
Isko’s youth is appealing. He came to the podium yesterday with his iPad in tow and read his speech from there. But the essence in his message was lacking. What he has done in Manila is spend money on social amelioration. He has also received a large amount of donations in cash and in kind from donors, with or without vested interests. What is most striking is the lack of bureaucratic reform in City Hall. It is still the old system in place and digitization of select offices is only for show. In short, other than the optics, his claimed achievements as Mayor are all form without substance. Isko made much of his lack of provenance in a dig at political dynasties. The truth is this can be gained by experience and exposure. Duterte was Mayor of Davao City for 23 years yet he developed contacts in the national government throughout his tenure and the network he had from the schools he attended. Isko doesn’t have the same because he has largely had an insular exposure limited to the City of Manila.
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Before he became Mayor, Isko was content in his comfort zone but had his popularity as a movie actor working in his favor when the primary qualification for public office was popularity. The leadership we need for the New Normal is the kind that pushes through a paradigm shift. Isko has nothing much to show in the way of any sort of paradigm shift in Manila, not even in digitization. His campaign manager claims that it’s easy for Isko to grasp concepts and ideas and his mind is like a sponge but Isko has not much to show by way of prototypes as well as he claimed yesterday.
Political leadership is not only about experience and qualifications. It’s also about gravitas. You may be able to connect with voters but you will fail once in office without gravitas. Isko doesn’t have the commanding presence required of a President. The best example would be around the question of how he would govern assuming he wins if Banayo is not able to fill the ranks of Aksyon Demokratiko with veteran politicians. It is highly doubtful that Isko can replicate Duterte’s amazing run in 2016 when he was able to climb up to the top of surveys before the first debate was held. What Banayo is doing now is capturing the public’s imagination with Isko being packaged as an improved version of Duterte, specifically with his background as a scavenger. Again, this may work pre-pandemic but as we are dealing with the disruption caused by one, we need to analyze very carefully because we don’t have the luxury of electing a President who’s not up to the job and the challenges not he, but we also face.
Isko used the emperor with no clothes analogy yesterday when he took a shot at the President. This is why he is a danger unto himself. He doesn’t realize that he is also an emperor with no clothes at this point. He comes wrapped in nice packaging, imaging and script. But the inside is all hollow. It is empty. There is no dull sound that is indicative of substance.
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