Understanding Isko’s magic
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Barely two months in office and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso has succeeded to unclog the byways of Divisoria and Quiapo; clean-up public monuments of vandalism and grime; rehabilitate the Arroceros Forest Park; clamp-down on gambling dens in Recto; accost drug pushers in Baseco; launch an anti-corruption drive within city hall and the Manila police force; establish a one-day system to secure business permits; and enforce a general amnesty for delinquent taxpayers.

I could go on …. suffice to say that the new Mayor has done more for the city of Manila in the last 60 days than Erap did over six years.

The public’s reaction has been phenomenal. Netizens, normally unforgiving and quick to criticize, have declared their approval, if not adulation, for the young Mayor. Among the diplomatic corps, at least 18 ambassadors paid courtesy visits to the Mayor to lend their support. Even cabinet secretaries made their way to city hall to offer their assistance. Without doubt, Isko has captured the hearts and minds of the people.

What makes Isko different from other Mayors who have hit the ground running? I ascribe his immense popularity to two reasons.

The first has to do with the city of Manila itself. We all have a stake in Manila, it being the nation’s capital and our face to the world.  We witnessed how the city has spiraled to new depths of poverty, decay, and blight under Erap’s hand. Plying the roads of Manila is a heartbreaking experience what with squalor at every turn. As Filipinos, we yearn for redemption for our capital. It is the cradle of the nation’s soul, after all. Isko provides hope that redemption is possible.

The second reason is Isko himself. I met Isko a few months ago as he was preparing for his mayoral bid. What was meant to be a short meeting turned out to be a four-hour conversation. I got to know the man, both his public persona and certain aspects of his private life. He was disarmingly honest and allowed me to peer into his thinking process.

I can understand why the public is drawn to the man. At the heart of his appeal is that he shares our frustrations and aspirations.  As councilor and vice mayor for 18 years, he knows exactly what is wrong with the city. He recognizes its filth, he knows it is despairingly inefficient and corrupt, he is aware that unemployment and poverty are festering problems. All these disturb him. Many times during our conversation, he lamented how businesses have left Manila for Makati and Taguig and how the city’s tax base has shrunk. Unlike Erap who denied (and ignored) the city’s problems, Isko acknowledges them. He cares about the city and it shows.

Like you and I, he pines for a capital city that every Filipino can be proud of – efficient, safe, green and competitive.

As wave upon wave of house cleaning measures took place in his first few weeks in office, we began to realize that he has both the capability and political will to fix Manila’s broken ways.

Sincerity of intention, political will and capability is a powerful combination. Taken together, it speaks of a champion. Isko became the people’s champion and he gave us hope for Manila’s redemption. Hope is where Isko’s magic lies.

For all he’s done and the pace in which he did it, Isko deserves the public approval he enjoys today. That said, it will do him well to lay low on his public relations offense. The time has come to let the work speak for itself. We are at the point of saturation and people now want to see tangible results. A bombardment of publicity will only lead the public to doubt his sincerity and whether all these are just a precursor for a 2022 play. Again, I caution Isko on the aggressive use of publicity.

Ultimately, the Mayor will be judged by the promises he made. During our four-hour conversation    , he made five promises over and above delivering basic services to the people of Manila. Let me itemize them so as to be clear on what we can expect.

First, he promised to revive the historic districts of Manila through repurposing old structures and developing new ones. The plan is to convert Escolta into a retail and entertainment hub similar to Clark Quay in Singapore (his description, not mine). In Binondo, building owners will be given a 10-year property tax holiday as an incentive to renovate or rebuild. The idea is to increase each building’s gross leasable area so as to add tenancy capacity. With more business locating in Binondo, the city can expect its tax base to balloon by the time the amnesty ends.

Second, to make the tourist belt a clean, walkable, green corridor that is safe and tourist friendly. To this, the Mayor promised to build a pedestrian skywalk to connect Intramuros to Luneta and onwards to Liwasan Bonifacio and Escolta. He vowed to preserve heritage sites and create new landmarks. Further, the old city hall building will be repurposed into a museum, cultural and retail center. A modern administrative building will be built on an adjacent property.

Third, he promised to solve the informal settler problem of the city. Relocation sites will be built on properties owned by the city, particularly in Baseco, Vito Cruz, Valderama del Pan, Adriatico and even in the city of Marikina. Each family will be given decent dwellings with a minimum size of 45 square meters.

Fourth, a new central business district will be built in the former Pandacan oil depot site in partnership with the private sector. Dubbed the Pandacan Greenfield City, it is foreseen to house knowledge-based businesses and those involved in research and technology. This will make Manila relevant again, businesswise. It will also restore its competitiveness.

Fifth, to quell corruption in city hall, the Mayor plans to automate most systems so as to minimize human contact between LGU workers and the public. Internal systems will comply with ISO standards.

Civil society naturally gravitate to strong leaders with a strong sense of purpose. This is why Isko has the support he enjoys today. If Isko does good by his promises, as I am confident he will, there will be no stopping him for whatever plans he may have by the end of his term. His magic will live on.

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