Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'?

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 10 2019 04:03 PM

Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 1
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno meets representatives of the Army and Navy reserve commands in his office on July 10, 2019 to plan the response during natural disasters. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - "Walang tulugan."

That was the catchphrase of the late television host German "Master Showman" Moreno, who helped hatch the showbiz career of Francisco 'Isko Moreno' Domagoso, a former scavenger and pedicab driver in Tondo who now holds the capital city's seat power.


Since his upset victory in the May 2019 midterm polls over incumbent Mayor Joseph Estrada, Moreno has turned the same catchphrase of his entertainment industry mentor into one of the hallmarks of his leadership.

Moreno's office hours are usually reserved for meetings and courtesy visits. Evenings are spent on business dinners aimed at luring tycoons to reinvest in the capital city. And sometimes, he also works after midnight, roving Manila's dank alleys for surprise inspections and visits.

"Huwag ninyo alalahanin na wala akong tulog. Mas mahirap 'yung walang gising," Moreno would occasionally say in jest.

(Don't worry about my lack of sleep. It would be worse if I don't wake up.)

"Aral kaya ako kay Kuya Germs (German Moreno), walang tulugan," he said.

(I learned well from German Moreno, no sleep.)

But instead of using the TV medium the way the original "Master Showman" did, the 44-year-old Manila mayor pivoted through a new stage: social media.


Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 2

Since his inauguration in June, Moreno's official Facebook page has logged some 332 live videos or about 3 to 4 live casts per day.

The daily video updates would show different facets of the new Manila mayor: Moreno delivering a speech, Moreno signing documents, Moreno cracking jokes, Moreno apprehending traffic violators, and even Moreno undergoing dental surgery.

"I think it is a brilliant move," political strategist Alan German told ABS-CBN News. "What is always on you 24/7 is your cellphone. If you wanna talk about economies of scale, bang for the buck, Facebook live, libre (it's free)."

In less than 100 days, Moreno has become the local Filipino official with the largest social media following, pegged at nearly 2 million, a mass base large enough to catapult his political capital beyond his city.

Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 3
Mayor Isko takes a selfie with students, teachers, and school officials during the Health Information Dissemination Program at the Araullo High School held on October 01, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Moreno is not the first celebrity mayor, but his social media clout has amplified his popularity and created a more personal impact, OFW advocate Susan Ople said in a separate interview.

"Nakikita nila na umiikot, nakatingin sa camera, parang kinakausap din sila, naglalakad sa kalye... so 'yung affinity, 'yung emotional connection is matindi, lalo na 'yung younger ones," she said. "Mas parang may direct impact siya."

(They see him roving, looking at the camera, talking to them, walking along the streets... so the affinity, the emotional connection is stronger, especially with the younger ones. He has created a more direct impact.)



Moreno's frequent pleas to come and help restore Manila have also been amplified on social media, with diplomats, the business community and even overseas Filipino workers responding to his call.

In Moreno's first 100 days in office, at least 16 ambassadors visited his office to pledge aid and support for Manila's rehabilitation efforts.

The United States, Singapore, and the United Kingdom volunteered to help improve Manila's urban planning system and transform the Philippine capital into a smart city.

The European Union, New Zealand, and Belgium also sent envoys to help Manila upgrade its disaster-response programs, water treatment and waste disposal systems, while Israel and Australia wanted to help improve the capital's education sector.

Japan pledged to help spur tourism in the historic walled city of Intramuros. South Korea wanted to establish a Korean town in Manila. Russia invited Moreno to travel to Moscow to see its best practices. Panama, Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia and Georgia hoped for closer ties.

Last month, OFWs from the Middle East, Europe, and Northern America remitted some $10,600 or about P550,000 to help fund Manila city projects, Moreno earlier told ABS-CBN News.

"First time na ang tao mismo, nagbabayad na ng buwis, bumubunot pa ng extra para sa lungsod ng Maynila dahil nagugustuhan daw nila ’yung pagsusumikap ng kawani ng pamahalaan," he said.

(For the first time, people are paying taxes and even giving extra money for the city because they like the diligence of government workers.)

Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 4
Mayor Isko addresses barangay officials during the Manila City Development Council Convention held at the PICC in Pasay City, coinciding with his first 100 days in office on October 8, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Fast-food giants have also heeded Moreno's call to hire senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in their Manila stores to help empower them.

Smaller companies and business chambers have donated their products to the city government--from cans of paint to boxes of detergent--as a sign of cooperation for the rehabilitation of the capital.

It is not Moreno's constant pleas that are luring the business sector back to Manila, but his bargaining skills, said Philippine Chamber of Commerce President George Barcelon.

In his first 3 months in office, Moreno--who mastered the process of crafting ordinances during his 18-year tenure as city councilor and vice mayor--managed to sign policies that would gradually reduce real property tax in the capital by 40 percent.

A tax amnesty program was also implemented, and red tape was reduced. He also offered a 15-year, tax-free promise for investors who are willing to construct buildings and skyscrapers in the deteriorating Escolta area.

"Those issues are very important for businessmen," Barcelon said.

"Mayor Isko Moreno is proactive... Businessmen like that."

“When they see an opportunity and 'yung sinabi ni Mayor, ease of doing business, may assurance ‘yung batas (what Mayor said, there's assurance on the implementation of the law), that is it," he said.


Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 5
Children watch as Manila Mayor 'Isko Moreno' Domagoso inspects the Vitas slaughterhouse in Tondo, Manila on July 17, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Though the young mayor may have impressed the international community, the business sector and even President Rodrigo Duterte, his showmanship has yet to win over some barangay leaders who have been entrenched in decades-long partisan politics in the capital city.

Moreno, who defeated Estrada and another ex-mayor, Alfredo Lim, in the May 2019 polls, spent the most part of his 100th day speech convincing barangay chiefs to "move on" from the past and cooperate with the new administration.

"Ano bang gusto ninyong pruweba na wala nang gagawin ang pamahalaang lungsod kung 'di magsaayos lang na walang masamang intensyon?" Moreno said in a speech delivered before Manila's elected officials on Tuesday.

(What other proof do you want that the city government will do nothing but fix the city without bad intentions?)

"Paano tayo magkakaroon ng katiyakan na tayo ay magtatagumpay? Eh di tulungan ninyo ako. Hindi ko kaya mag-isa ito e," he said.

(How do we make sure we win? Then help me. I can't do this alone.)

Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 6
Mayor Isko visits the Dangwa flower market on August 6, 2019 to check on the maintenance of the drainage system that has been the cause of flooding in the area. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The divide between some of Manila's barangay officials and the city government was made apparent when the capital city failed to fully adhere to the national government's mandate to clear all major thoroughfares of obstruction within 60 days.

Some of the city's 896 barangay chairpersons did not heed Moreno's call to dismantle structures that impeded traffic flow in their jurisdictions, as some of these blockades--like multi-purpose buildings--were constructed with the approval of the previous administration.

A barangay chairperson earlier also fled the country after Moreno tagged her as a narco-politician.

"Kayo lahat alisin niyo na sa isip niyo 'yung kulay ng pulitika. Walang orange, walang blue, walang dilaw, walang puti. Iisa lang tayo. Tayong lahat ay batang Maynila," the mayor said.

(All of you should rid your mind of political color. There is no orange, no blue, no yellow, no white. We're all one. All of us are children of Manila.)


Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 7
Mayor Isko gets playful as he meets with representatives of the youth in his office on July 16, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Moreno's political capital mainly stems from ordinary Manila residents, German said.

"The good thing about having this phenomenon of engaging the people is that you have a mass base behind you that will challenge you, and at the same time, who are there to support you," he said.

"If he calls for support, the people will be more than willing to rise to the challenge to get behind his advocacies," he said.

So far, Moreno's supporters also have the good sense of keeping the mayor in check, the analyst said, noting that Manila's chief executive was scorned on social media twice in his first 3 months in office.

The mayor drew flak after his free WiFi project was named "ISKOnek," despite his earlier pronouncements against christening projects with political branding. He was also criticized online for posting an allegedly staged photo of him signing documents with an intravenous drip attached to his hand.

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One of the few projects Mayor Isko implemented that got negative reactions was this WiFi kiosk first named "ISKOnek," where pedestrians can access the internet, avail free phone calls, and a USB outlet for mobile phone charging. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

There is a "thin line that separates the cult of belonging and being 'epal' (credit grabber)," German said."So far, he has been doing his job, but he should control the spin." 

"Sometimes, a candidate can spin out of control," he added. "Once you believe in your own PR, once you overdo it, or once you focus too much on your own PR, the recognition side and you neglect the performance side, then it will all come crashing down."

The question of consistency and enduring sincerity will be Moreno's biggest challenge, Ople said.

"'Yung consistency over time, 'yun ang hinahanap," she said.

(Consistency over time, that's what we're looking for.)

"Pag nakita nila na, 'Uy first year lang ganun,' ang hirap na ibalik."

(If they see that he could only do it for the first year, it's hard to get back from that.)


Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 9
Mayor Isko attends the weekly flag-raising ceremony at the newly renovated park that first got his attention because it was being used as a public toilet. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The new city administration has not yet even started on its plans, Moreno said.

“We are still in the process of cleaning up the house,” he said.

Manila has yet to see the physical structures and open green spaces the new government drafted to revive Manila’s title as the “Paris of the East,” he said.

As Manila draws its curtains to a new era of governance, the capital’s mayor--who was also dubbed as the city’s “top salesman”--shunned suggestions that he was posturing to perform on a bigger stage called the presidency.

"It is not in my radar," Moreno earlier told reporters on the sidelines of a business forum in Taguig.

"To entertain these thoughts also gives uncertainty in our direction," he said.

The work is tough and the hours are long, and seemingly sleepless Moreno said he needs to conserve his energy and focus on the capital city.

“I think I would rather focus, use all my available energy and some simple concept of mind sa lungsod ng Maynila (City of Manila).”

Is Mayor Isko Manila's new 'Master Showman'? 10
The "rockstar mayor", as US Ambassador Sung Kim describes him, is welcomed warmly by Manila citizens. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News