Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler


TRADITIONAL POLITICIANS aptly called “Trapos” are dirty- making multi-millions out of their positions and enriching their cronies. Long in promises-talkative during the election- but short on delivery.

Their general behavior in office is what a public servant should not be- but is surrounded by well-paid Public Relations agents that make him “look good” to the public. Every chance he gets (when no one is looking), he dips his dirty fingers into the public jar and will always oppose the death penalty for plunder. For obvious reasons.

And then use as an argument- the Name of God Almighty (as the Only Creator of Life) to spare the plunderer- thieves of this country their day in the electric chair.

Unfortunately, the Philippines has accepted this prototype of the average Filipino “trapo” official. But, newlyminted Manila mayor Isko Moreno who upset reelectionist (former president) Erap Estrada with a landslide margin of over 150,000 votes, appears not to be such breed.

Hitting the ground running, this 44-year-old former Tondo slum dweller, cleaned up Manila (figuratively and literally) -acts which drew collective praises from the embassies of Britain, Panama and US Ambassador Song Kim who described Isko Moreno as a “rockstar”.

Manila, once a “Paris” of Asia, and capital of the Philippines, has deteriorated into a pigsty, losing the luster that once drew tourists along the Pasig River, shop at Escolta and be impressed by Binondo, the Chinatown of the nation.

Manila Bay is no longer “swimmable”, the Bonifacio Shrine filled with shit, the Luneta Park dirty and the Manila Zoo, once our darling target as youngsters visiting Manila in the 1960s is a mess- neither visitor nor animals would like to stay there. If only, Dumbo, the Elephant could talk.

Divisoria, the poor man’s retail haven, is a study in chaos and in many streets, illegal vendors take over pedestrian lanes. Intramuros, once a proud tourism icon, is controlled by drug peddlers, kidnappers, hold-uppers, extortionists- that only a visitor high on shabu would have the nerve to visit it – though it is filled with museums and heritage sites.

Uncollected garbage is everywhere that a slight downpour converts many streets in Manila -from Espana to Sampaloc to everywhere (actually) into rivers of filth and misery. Traffic aides and policemen are “kotong experts” and getting permits and the like takes 11 steps with tables open for “grease money”.

The Bureau of Customs seated in Manila piers is a citadel of graft that the Palace blackballed many of them recently. They allowed a private-sector structure to replace the historic building of the old Jai Alai fronton, without the slightest respect for history. Traffic in Manila is indescribable. Its 6 hospitals and 104 schools are in a state of disarray and disorder.

The phrase “I am from Manila” – can no longer be said with a tinge of dignity and honor. The “Big Three” former Manila mayors, namely, the fiery Arsenic Lacson, “Yeba” Antonio Villegas and Ramon Bagatsing made their positive contributions to the former greatness that was Manila.

After them, it was Manila-all downhill – into the pits.

But all of the above problems have been addressed slowly but with rugged determination by this three-time top councilor and former Manila vice mayor- armed with sheer political will, hands-on governance and by firing people on the spot- just on the first month of office. Now, that is hitting the ground, running.

The illegal vendors (mostly in Divisoria) are the most talked about. There are allegedly 1,000 illegal vendors allowed by the “Evil Organizers” paying them “fees” of P500 a day. Do your mathematics and see that is P500,000 a day or P 15 M a month or P 180M a year. That is only one place.

No wonder, the “Evil Organizers” is able to tempt “Yorme Isko” P5-Million a day not to break the illegal vendors. The “right to the stall” is P 30,000 – and if one is unable to pay the “tong”- that stall simply goes to a fresh victim willing to pay a new P30,000 to use the stall. A lucrative, illegal enterprise.

Is Isko Moreno good as advertised? Erap promised him in 2013 that he would just be a one-time mayor; when Erap reneged twice on his promise- Isko challenged his former partner in May 2019 and buried him alive in an avalanche of votes.

The man Isko hardly sleeps- but claims he is a “Masan”- “makatulog kahit saan masandal”. The youngish mayor can get a cat nap sitting beside a wall in an office.

And like a “Batang Tondo”, Isko is not afraid of the so-called Big Boys. A Chinese national urinated along the roads and was accosted by the tanod; the Chinese boxed the local tanod. Isko is having the racist pig deported to the Mainland.

Who can stop this rising mayoralty star? Only an assassination or perhaps a snake with an oily tongue who will tempt Moreno to eat the forbidden apple. Isko is undeterred by the stakes.

He pushed cart at the age 10 to sell discarded newspapers and bottles and was a scavenger of the Jollibee trash along Iyala, Manila – leftovers he brought to his mother to re-cook for the three in the family. His father was a stevedore.

He was born poor and now knows why his city remains poor. He will not want to be part of the problem but will actively look for solutions.

Independently, he studied public administration on the side at the state schools like the Pamantasan ng Maynila and UP – where tuition fees are subsidized or free. But his experience in the “University of Hard Knocks” serves him better.

Though he had a short flirtation with showbiz -after being discovered by Kuya Germs for “That’s Entertainment” and some movies- outside of that, Isko is all political business.

Whereas other politicians flaunt their mistresses as signs of their success, the former actor needs none of that- displaying his wife for 19 years and five children. A happy family life. He publicly affirms his belief in God.

When Isko met another youngster mayor in Vico Sotto of Pasig City, there was electricity in the air. Both young ones defeated dynastic and perceived corrupt politicians like the Estradas and the Eusebios of Pasig City.

The idea of Isko-Vico for president- vice president may seem like a Utopian dream and one too much too soon. But the idea titillates.

The two Metro Manila local executives may signal the end of “trapo politics” and the beginning of nononsense populist governance made of the young idealist-leaders. Has their time come of age?

Majority of our voters belong to the young, lest we forget our voter demography. For comments: email to or