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Impressive, Inspiring Isko

01:46 AM July 12, 2019

It must really be a new season, and I welcome it. I am not so used anymore to being jolted into attention when it comes to political developments. Politics can be so trite, so stale and predictable. Its energy, too, is dense and heavy, so full of conflict and threats. A new season is a bearer of hope, of light. It is the precursor to that even newer season, yet indescribable, when the younger generations will be building a new world – literally. Artificial Intelligence and robotics will be a major face of daily life then. We are imagining it now and that means its coming is a foregone conclusion.

Every day now, I seem to be an audience to a new mayor who is making waves, Isko Moreno. Not being a resident of Manila, my only knowledge of Isko is what national media would have carried in these past several years. I know he had been born poor, that he had a stint as an actor, and eventually found his way to local politics. And I remember he tried his luck as a candidate for the Senate. In other words, being born poor and then getting a break through the entertainment industry is not uncommon, and neither is going to politics after being in show business. In other words, not knowing more about Isko Moreno prepared me for a pleasant shock.

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I know more about Danny Lim, the MMDA Chairman. Because he was a friend from before, I tried to keep track of his pet projects in Metro Manila. Once, I wrote an article about Danny and the formidable challenges that confronted him. One of the most radical moves that MMDA did that I believed only a leader with political will would even think of was closing bus terminals along EDSA. The other radical move of Chairman Lim was to lead MMDA in clearing streets of illegal structures and vendors – but only those under the supervision and control of MMDA. The blurred lines between the legal authority of the MMDA and the LGUs of Metro Manila were serious limitations that constrain MMDA.

Now, I am amazed at the posture of Isko Moreno. It is fresh, purposeful, appears determined and relentless, and multi-directional. It helps that he is young and his predecessor is old – the meaning of fresh is made more graphic than words. Clearing streets of illegal structures and vendors had been subliminally justified by previous mayors as sympathy to the entrepreneurial poor. Unfortunately, what keeps coming across to the public is corruption. It takes near moronic naiveté to assume that no money changes hands between the vendors and authorities. And it is only the literally blind who cannot see how public streets were converted to street malls. Decades and decades of this ugly, dirty, illicit charade.

Mayor Isko makes it his immediate concern to clear the most difficult of streets. That means he wants to send a message, a clear and loud one, and is staking his mayorship with it. He has cleared a number of them already and promises to do more. That necessarily prejudices the street vendors of their business, and those they bribe (or those who extorted them) of the dirty money they have been used to getting. In other words, Mayor Isko is risking votes in the next election. But, perhaps, because there seems to be a game plan that Mayor Isko is following, the potential loss of votes is considered. It means to me that a second phase, that of finding alternative areas for the vendors or alternative means of livelihood, is to be expected.

I read that garbage is the next target of Mayor Isko. It should be. The issue of garbage is more than just literally dirty, more so if there is a pattern of uncollected trash. Before jeuteng, there is garbage. After jeuteng, there is still garbage. In other words, there is a lot of money in garbage, on top of the table and below the table. For those who have enough experience in local governance, garbage is a quiet topic but so much more important than most high-profile issues. At the same time, a physically dirty and smelly Manila will negate all other hard work and accomplishments of its mayor. It is only right that garbage is a flagship concern from the very beginning.

One more early target – a tourism circuit covering the historical sites of Manila. This one is not about money although tourism will bring income. Though I do not know Mayor Isko, I believe that he is looking at the tourism circuit as his entry point to a deeper, nobler dream – reclaiming the true treasure of Manila. Historical sites are a tapestry of what Manila had been that makes it still the greatest city in the Philippines. Manila was more than a city; it was the center of Filipino life, the collective Filipino, the Filipino that the world knew then. That is the fate of Manila, its pride and burden, that history and circumstances conspired to evolve Manila beyond its territorial boundaries, beyond its residents, beyond its specific stories. Manila became the Philippines. That was not a decision or award, that was destiny.

History, though, can fade and be forgotten. No matter how glorious once, history is time-based. How many great cities of the past are now mere shells of what the to be? History is a demanding mistress. Ignore her and she ignores you. The greatness of Manila has been forgotten, even defiled by the crass materialism that does not honor history. Its own leaders looked at the money and forgot the beauty, forgot the nobility, forgot the sacrifices, and saw only square meters and what they are worth to developers.

Maybe, this is too bold to ask but an impressive, inspiring Isko in his first two weeks as mayor moves me to wonder. Is Isko Moreno the white knight of Manila the City? Can he return Manila to the people of the Philippines?

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