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At Large

Isko’s dreams for Manila

Many candidates for local positions promise to “clean up” the place where they’re running for office. One official, the late Zamboanga City Mayor Cesar Climaco, famously posed for a campaign poster wielding a broom on a city street, acting out his promise to “clean up” the city he would serve for 11 years until his assassination in 1984.

But for Manila mayoral candidate Francisco Domagoso, better known to all and sundry as Isko Moreno, there’s no need to “act” as a street sweeper, garbage collector or, to use contemporary terms, a “sanitary engineer.” For he has himself taken on this role, and at such a young age. Growing up in Tondo, with a stevedore father and a stay-at-home mom, Isko made up his mind as early as the elementary grades to help earn his own keep. At the start, he says, “it was just to add to my daily allowance and buy school snacks,” but he soon found his earnings were in fact helping out his family, “especially on days when my father had no work.”

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After classes, he would report to the junk shop owner who assigned him a “kariton” or wooden pushcart with which he would ply his assigned route. He thus acquired the skill — and the lingo — of recyclers, as “basurero” are politely known today. He would sort out reusable bottles, cans, paper and other materials before delivering these to the junk shop. To this day, as on a recent lunch with media women, he could recite the entire list of recyclable items, even explaining to this columnist what “garapa” (small bottles) means.

Isko’s way out of poverty was by means of show business, when he
was spotted by a talent manager at a wake and introduced to German “Kuya Germs” Moreno who was then impresario and host of a daily talent show, “That’s Entertainment,” which featured young upcoming performers. It’s not clear if Isko chose to use Moreno’s surname for show biz purposes, or if Moreno himself dubbed the young mestizo. But “Isko Moreno” he was known from then on.

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From such humble roots, Isko has chosen to build a political career, serving three terms as a city councilor of Manila, another three terms as vice mayor, and most recently as an undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. This career he hopes to cap with a stint (or more) as mayor of Manila.

Some have scorned his qualifications for public office, mainly his spotty educational background since he failed to gain a college degree after he joined “That’s.” But along the way, Isko has managed to earn credits toward a law degree and even an honorary doctorate from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. More impressively, he has gone through various trainings in governance and development here and abroad, in such prestigious universities as the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard and the Saïd Business School of the University of Oxford.

But the international exposure has done little to alter the streetwise “Manila boy.” He apologizes for his faltering English, noting how, upon acceptance at Harvard, he had brought with him a “suitcase of English words.” But in the course of interacting with batchmates from all over the world, including developing countries, he noted how “even if they knew even less English than I did, they were so brilliant and clever and had impressive solutions to their countries’ problems.”

Isko is well aware that the city of his birth and origins has lost its historic and strategic status as the nation’s capital. He decries the loss of revenue due to the migration of many business headquarters to spiffier settings like Makati and BGC. Even more damning is the loss of prestige, with foreign tourists, he says, choosing to skip Manila altogether on their visits. “We have all the historic and cultural landmarks,” he notes, “but we are not presenting them in the right way.”

That is why, in his self-appointed role as the man who would clean up Manila, Isko is going back to basics, revisiting his childhood days as a scavenger even then dreaming dreams for himself and his city that, should fate prove fortuitous, he may be able to make come true.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: 2019 elections, At Large, Francisco Domagoso, Isko Moreno, Manila mayoralty, Rina Jimenez-David
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