July 20, 2019
IT is too early to tell if Isko Moreno will soar higher in the political landscape, beyond being mayor of the City of Manila, which in itself is already a significant position. He emerged victorious in an election where he knocked out two political veterans — one former mayor, and the other the incumbent who is even a former president.
Already, many people are looking at him as a future president, if not later, even sooner. But whatever his final political destination is, he has already captured the imagination of many. He provides a refreshing alternative not only to the traditional political opposition personified by Vice President Leni Robredo and her LP cohorts, but also to President Rodrigo Duterte and his brand of politics.
Isko Moreno’s narrative is compelling. In fact, he truly is one who rose from the slums of Manila. His poor background is not just a product of media hype, but is an accurate and factual representation of who he is. It is not an image spun by movies or by social-media constructions. But what makes his narrative even more compelling is that he is also an actor, and a real one and not just a lookalike of another. To a country fixated on celebrities, this makes him a bona fide. He doesn’t have to perform on stage to ape comedians, or to change his looks to mimic a celebrity. He is in fact already an actor.
And you can’t even diminish him for being only an actor. He rose through the ranks of politics — city councilor, to being vice mayor and now as mayor. He is not someone who inherited a political surname, and out of nowhere became an elected official riding on the back of a dead spouse or a retired parent.
He is not even one who can arrogantly flaunt a record of not suffering an electoral defeat. He went through all the necessary rituals, from the agony of being betrayed by one who made a promise, to the pain of defeat, and now the bliss of sweet victory, enough for him to gain an insight into the complexity of real politics. In 2016, he was denied the chance to run for mayor on the basis of an unfulfilled promise, ran for the Senate instead, and lost. Last May, he made an impressive run, and won. Fernando Poe Jr. only had this kind of comeback revenge in movies. Isko Moreno’s remarkable return from political defeat is real. He slayed not fictitious anti-heroes, but real former mayors.
What makes Isko Moreno’s victory even more remarkable is the fact that he was not backed by any of the major political parties. He ran as an independent under the banner of his own local political party Asenso. The ruling PDP Laban endorsed former mayor Alfredo Lim. Sara Duterte’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago pushed for the incumbent Erap Estrada. The political opposition ignored him, owing perhaps to the fact that he is on the record making pro-Marcos statements. Indeed, Isko considers the late president Ferdinand Marcos as one of his role models. In a 2016 interview with Karen Davila, he urged people to move on even as he defended Bongbong Marcos from criticisms. In the same interview, he chastised then Davao City Mayor, now President Duterte, for his vulgar speech which Isko considered to be inappropriate, particularly for children.
Indeed, Isko is novel in so many ways. He owes his position to no one except the people who voted for him. He appeals to people stuck in the middle of a discredited political opposition, and a President who remains popular but carries a lot of offensive baggage. It is remarkable how he attracts people who are generally supportive of the President but are uncomfortable with his manners, and are not happy with some of his policies. Isko Moreno supports the President’s war on drugs, provided that it upholds and does not violate human rights.
Another group which finds Isko appealing is composed of those who are critical of the President, but at the same time are tired of the traditional political opposition, and are looking for fresher faces to rally around. These are people who may dislike President Duterte but would rather have him than Leni Robredo and her coterie of allies.
There is no doubt that Isko Moreno is taking on a populist position. He cleaned up the streets of Divisoria and Carriedo, and exorcised Andres Bonifacio’s monument of its fecal filth, with the same picture-perfect moments but without the cursing. He makes the police toe his line without the slapping and the manhandling. While many progressives were not pleased with his public display of suspects, it is something that resonated with his popular base. It is amazing how the usual howls and cries of protests we usually saw in the past emanating from those displaced by cleanup campaigns are now muted and replaced by gentle pleas and reminders for assistance.
This is one populist mayor who do not have to rudely announce his presence. And his politics seems to be in the right place. He vowed to keep Arroceros green and not to allow the building of structures that will ruin historical sites, promised support to the Manila LGBT community, disciplined erring cops, spoke strongly against abusive Chinese nationals, plans to return the Marcos-era Nutribun to counter child malnutrition and boldly refused billions of pesos in bribes just to keep his hands off of illegal street vendors.
Isko Moreno is on a roll. He deserves our support, but not our blind idolatry. We have had enough of that. Meanwhile, we have to pray that he takes extra precaution. He has created many enemies this early. Beyond those affected by his bold actions, there are also those who see him as a threat to their political ambitions.
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