Eddie and Patty
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2019 - 12:00am

Incoming Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso, a.k.a. Isko Moreno, has a warning to “Eddie and Patty”: stop the collection of grease money.

The mayor-elect (just call him Isko, he says), is understandably ebullient after trouncing a former president and the patriarch of one of the country’s most durable dynasties. Isko identified “Eddie” to “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News last Monday, but only off-camera. He said “Eddie” (as in eh di sino pa?) gets a cut of P350 in grease money collected daily from each sidewalk vendor all over the city, apart from a share in the overpriced parking fees without valid receipts (P100 minimum per vehicle in Divisoria).

And “Patty”? Those are Eddie’s minions – “pati” na lahat ng kasama niya, Isko said to roars of laughter in the TV studio.

Talking to Isko, you can see why the street-smart, pang-masa Erap para sa mahirap, filmdom’s Asiong Salonga, finally met his real-life match. Isko Moreno is not just for the masses and the poor; the guy grew up scavenging in Manila’s dump – a dirt-poor street urchin, galing sa sobrang hirap, who made good.

Isko, at 44 the city’s youngest ever mayor, also played the age card well against his two octogenarian opponents, promising new ways of doing business. He plans to use technology to cut red tape and graft, and to turn pockets of the city into enclaves that can compare with Bonifacio Global City.

His campaign promise was to clean up the city, literally and figuratively. But this is Manila, a city wallowing in urban decay, and it seems like a promise at par with ridding the country of the drug menace in six months. Isko says he’s aware that he’s not the first mayor to make such a promise.

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“Talagang hihilurin ko ang Maynila, papaliguan ko,” he told us, promising to scrub the city till it’s squeaky-clean.

Can he deliver?

“I cannot promise you (I will deliver) tomorrow,” he told us. “Ask me the day after tomorrow kung nangyari nga iyon.”

Cleaning up the city includes dealing with two politically sensitive issues: squatting and street vending. Isko knows that some of the landlords in the city’s slums are barangay officials. If he intends to stay in office for the maximum three terms, or nine years, can he do what must be done?

He can and he will, Isko vows. Informal settlers, particularly those whose shanties sit under bridges or line waterways, will have to go, but will be given priority in low-cost in-city vertical housing that he plans to build, using part of the P14 billion in city funds. Without viable relocation sites, he says squatters will simply keep returning.

Cops and barangay officials who allow squatting will face charges for failure to enforce laws against obstruction. “I will put them in jail… for negligence,” Isko vowed.

As for street vendors, Isko says he will not stop anyone from earning a living. But this need will have to be balanced with the need to use roads for vehicular traffic.

The law, he stresses, clearly states that roads are beyond the commerce of man. So he intends to clear streets such as C.M. Recto in Divisoria and those in crowded Quiapo of vendors.

He will revive the Marcos-era Metro Aide to keep the streets clean and create jobs. They can wear uniforms of any color, he says, except prison regulation orange – again to guffaws in the studio, because it’s the color of Joseph Estrada.

The city will also launch a garbage recycling-cum-poverty alleviation program called Pagkain para sa Basura or food for trash. In exchange for recyclable trash such as tin cans and plastic waste, people will get a food coupon that they can redeem at city-run grocery stores.

Isko says he doesn’t want a cash-for-trash or pera sa basura program because problems always crop up when money is involved.

He also intends to launch an urban renewal program particularly in areas with heritage site potential such as Binondo and the Pasig riverside communities. Isko is pursuing the development of a green zone in the former oil depot in Pandacan.

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Manila is plagued by possibly the worst case of urban blight in this country (Pasay City comes close). I was born and bred in Manila, but I left to resettle in another part of Metro Manila where the cleaner air and relatively green surroundings make it easier to breathe. I still work in Manila, however, and often wonder if I’ll ever see the city undergo a genuine urban renewal.

“This is the capital of our country, the window to our country,” Isko told us.

The view outside the window is not pretty. Any Manila native would want reforms to succeed.

“We are dead serious, but we cannot do it alone,” Isko said. “We need everyone’s cooperation at all levels.”

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Because of his youth and the circumstances surrounding his victory, there is speculation this early that Isko might have his sights set on higher office. But he says he wants to just teach political science once he’s no longer in government.

Still, the guy who rose from the gutters to become mayor of Manila surely knows anything is possible. He has made a failed bid for the Senate, but that was before he drew national attention by beating Erap for the mayor’s post.

Off-camera, Isko allowed himself to marvel at the winds of fate that brought a snot-nosed scavenger (he got scolded for not wiping his nose properly) to the top seat in his city.

So while it’s too early to think of another position outside City Hall, Isko is not publicly declaring that he’s shutting the door to higher office.

Much will depend on his success as Manila’s chief executive, including curbing Eddie and Patty activities.

Mayors have come and gone in the city, but Manila seems to have steadily deteriorated. Perhaps a former scavenger is the right person for a cleanup.

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