Moderate positioning continues as 'populist' Moreno makes many promises but few plans

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Moderate positioning continues as 'populist' Moreno makes many promises but few plans
Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno formally launches his campaign for the presidency on September 22, 2021.
Isko Moreno Domagoso Official Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Given his history of political realignments — from jumping ship from former Manila mayors Alfredo Lim and Joseph Estrada to most recently straddling the line between opposition and administration — where do Isko Moreno's loyalties lie?

At the Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews aired over GMA News late Saturday evening, the Aksyon Demokratiko standard-bearer gave a vague answer that did little to clarify the situation: "My loyalty is for the people."

"It only matters to me if it’s advantageous to people, not for politicians. If you are good and you fulfill your promises, then I’ll join you. But when you are not true to yourself and the people, it’s not imperative to me to remain loyal to you, because my loyalty lies with my countrymen."

The Manila City mayor went on to express dissatisfaction with the country's politics, harping on his standard campaign line of offering the public a "serious" candidate willing to change "the system of governance in the country that was ruled mostly by elitist politics for the past 60 years." 

"For the past 40 years, it’s just been two families fighting in our politics. It’s been the same story, corruption, and poverty," he said in Filipino. 

He did not name the families this time around, but Moreno's presidential rivals either come from affluent political families or well-established political parties. Moreno earlier took a jab at Vice President Leni Robredo and the Liberal Party, saying all they do is fight with President Rodrigo Duterte. 

The former garbage collector also underscored his humble beginnings away from government work, saying that the country's politics as it stands do not give regular people a fair opportunity to enter government themselves. 

"The unification [the opposition is] talking about is just to benefit themselves as politicians, but the unification I want is unification for the people."

But is his experience in government enough as a presidential candidate? "I've worked in government positions for 23 years, and half of my life was dedicated to public service." 

Throughout the election season thus far, the Manila chief — who admitted his net worth stands at P70 million — has portrayed himself as a swaggering, unbureaucratic man of the people who focuses on benefits instead of politics. 

He has likened himself to former president Ramon Magsaysay, whom Moreno said was the last chief executive who truly came from poverty.

Asked for a response to those identifying him as a populist candidate, Moreno said: "I respect everyone’s opinion, they are entitled to that... but at the end of the day, results matter."

On Saturday, Moreno promised that he would be looking at merit before appointing officials instead of their political placements. 

"At the end of the day, as long as they are a good candidate, whatever their party is, and they are a good person, we will take them in, as long as the person is good," he said. 

Relationship with administration

Most recently, Moreno admitted he would welcome President Duterte into his Senate slate with open arms, months after the tensions first flared between the two. 

Moreno had previously been supportive of the administration's programs and policies, including its "war on drugs" and dolomite white sand beach in Manila Bay. However, he has also been a vocal critic of the administration's face shield rule in the city of Manila. 

Asked about his relationship with the chief executive, he said: "Duterte did many things that can be copied and continued, but the things he did that weren’t very good, they should be criticized." He did not expound on what he felt these were. 

Moreno's angling as Manila City mayor follows the line adopted by Duterte, himself a former mayor, in 2016: that the supposed gains of good governance on the local level can be achieved on a national scale. 

The similarities between the two tough-talking mayors aren't surprising: veteran political strategist Lito Banayo, who played a key role on the campaign team of Duterte at the time, is now the campaign manager of Moreno after all.

During his landslide campaign to the presidency in 2016, Duterte repeatedly pointed to the successes and gains of his bailiwick in Davao City,

It was much of the same on Saturday evening. Over and over again, he touted his achievements in Manila and took every opportunity to point back to his programs and policies as mayor of the capital city of the Philippines.

"What happened in Manila is scalable. There’s a prototype for what we did with housing, education, health, and jobs. It’s basic governance for the people," Moreno said Saturday. 

As Manila City mayor, Moreno embarked on an aggressive infrastructure campaign to address poverty and generate jobs. His city hall's projects span from low-cost housing to new city hospitals to beautification projects around the city. 

"I don’t need a brand, that’s just something you sell as a candidate. That's something a scriptwriter wrote for you when should be selling what you’ve done and your proof of what you can do."

Ambitious promises

As Duterte did in 2016, Moreno took on a strongman approach for a multitude of issues but could not give concrete plans. 

When asked about peddlers of fake news, or the illegal drug trade, or corrupt government officials, or the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, his answers were the same: "They should be punished and the state will make them answer for it."

His most ambitious promise came on the subject of the rehabilitation of Marawi City, where Moreno boldly claimed he would ensure the government would finish the rehabilitation efforts by December 2022 if he was to be elected president. 

“By December of 2022, it will be finished. It will be at 100%... The same rule we applied [in Manila City] will be applied to Marawi,” Moreno said in Filipino.

He couldn't, however, maintain the same kind of bravado when asked about the Marcos family and the Martial Law era. 

"I want to move on. We will hold people liable. Whoever has done evil, all who have faults should be made to answer for it. But we must move forward for a better future... what matters most to me today is how to get through this pandemic," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

He did not identify who he was referring to or specify what wrongs of their merited addressing. 

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