FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Everyone expected Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko  Moreno” Domagoso to declare his bid for the presidency. But not everyone expected his choice of runningmate.

When he formally announced his candidacy last Wednesday, Isko named Doc Willie Ong as his runningmate. At least one analyst described the choice as a “stroke of genius.”

Isko impressed many of us by repeatedly thinking out of the box. Last Wednesday, he broke the mold. He challenged nearly all received wisdom and conventional admonitions about how to do electoral politics in this country.

What molds did he break exactly?

First, he defied the conventional “north-south” balance in composing a presidential tandem. The past few electoral cycles tell us this received wisdom has lost its validity. But most politicians try their best to observe this “balance” anyway.

Second, he chose a non-politician to be his runningmate. Although Doc Willie did run for a Senate seat in the midterm elections, he did so basically as an independent candidate. His friend, Lakas stalwart Martin Romualdez, offered to adopt him as a Lakas-CMD nominee and he accepted. He placed 18th in the final tally, 2nd among overseas Filipino voters. He bested all the Otso Diretso candidates.

Third, Isko broke that unwritten and unspoken rule about picking anyone with a Chinese surname. It is simply not done. There is no statistical data supporting that taboo. Many of our politicians have Chinese-Filipino heritage: the Cojuangco-Aquino mother and son, Rodrigo Duterte, Win Gatchalian and many others. But they do not use monosyllabic surnames on the ballot.

Doc Willie, however, deserves breaking all the unwritten rules.

First, he has tremendously high name-recall. The quietly spoken cardiologist-internist is a social media powerhouse with over 16 million followers on Facebook, about the same number on Twitter and millions more on YouTube. That magnitude of followers trumps the endorsement of any of the political parties.

Second, he is a medical professional respected among his peers. Every survey tells us that the pandemic is top of mind among our voters. In the midst of all the distress this public health emergency caused, we all wish we had a doctor in the house. Doc Willie is it.

Third, Doc Willie does not crave for power. He did not seek to be drafted. He finally accepted Isko’s offer only because he was convinced politics is a means to further his mission of saving lives. In these hyper-political times, he is a breath of fresh air. He comes to this game with no baggage from the past.

Our people are sick and tired of all the posturing, all the mudslinging and all the partisan twisting of the facts. We are looking for sober leaders with the competence and sincerity to help us get through this pandemic that threatens to disrupt our lives for years to come.

We all need sound medical advice. This is what Doc Willie has been dispensing for years – explaining his impressive social media following.

Isko’s choice of runningmate gives us an inkling about his campaign strategy. The Manila mayor has established a well-deserved reputation for hard-nosed problem solving. In the couple of years he served at the post, he transformed the face of this city – to the joy of his constituents.

Anyone running for next May’s elections should have a clear idea of the difficult campaign terrain due to public health restrictions. There could be none of the usual barnstorming of the provinces, huge rallies in the cities and pressing the flesh of voters. Much of the campaign activity will have to shift online.

While the other candidates gearing up for the campaign period might be considering their tactics under the new normal, only Isko has moved forward in incorporating a social media powerhouse in his team.

Doc Willie might not have been his first choice for runningmate. Isko spent many weeks wooing Grace Poe to run with him. When he decided on Doc Willie, he very likely struck gold.

Doc Willie, for his part, tried every means to avoid getting involved in politics. But destiny found his door anyway.

Isko is not building his campaign on the old “opposition versus administration” paradigm. That is a tired framework for winning electoral support. In its place, Isko is offering voters a “healing” political leadership that will be better able to deal with the public health crisis. What better way to reinforce that message of healing than by actually having a doctor onboard.

Isko has a compelling rags-to-riches story to tell. It is better than the unimaginative way Manny Pacquiao is using the same story for his candidacy. In the case of Isko, there is “proof of concept.” The Manila mayor, unlike the boxer, has demonstrated capacity for policy formulation and project execution.

The boxer entangled himself in a strategy of attacking the incumbent. That offers no solutions. It only antagonizes the still numerous supporters of the sitting president. In entraps him in a game of tit-for-tat that produces no new ideas.

In addition, Isko is surprisingly articulate. He may occasionally trip on the rules of grammar when speaking in English, but his Tagalog is crisp, colorful and impeccable. This will be a strong asset in an electoral battle waged mainly online.

Isko’s formal announcement of his candidacy (and that of his runningmate) created more ripples than the previous such events involving the candidacies of Lacson and Pacquiao. Established political names quickly lined up behind this surprising tandem.

They may have unlikely names. But the Domagoso-Ong tandem has wind in its sails.

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