Isko Moreno, behind closed doors

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

COVID has derailed the country in many ways. We’ve lost three years in economic development, four years in curbing unemployment and four years towards attaining our education, health care and housing goals. Worse, the widening budget deficit and rising debt levels have made the economy fundamentally weaker.

I think we can all agree that our next president must be capable not only of stabilizing the economy and putting our social development programs back on track but, more importantly, capable of staging a pole vault in development. There is no more time to waste given how far we’ve been left behind.

Do Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Isko Moreno, Leni Robredo or Ping Lacson have the intellectual capacity, intention and discipline to make this pole vault happen? We can only speculate. Credible insights, however, can be obtained from the people closest to them – their close-in “generals.”

That said, I am starting a series that hopes to better define the leadership and working style of each candidate based on interviews with their closest co-workers. I am starting with Yorme since his team was the first to grant me an interview. I will do the same for the others as soon as I am given an audience.

I recently had a powwow with the closest people in Yorme’s orbit. Present were Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna, Councilor Letlet Zarcal, city assessor Marlon Lacson and chief of staff Jorjette Aquino.

No one can deny that Manila is a different city today than it was under Erap. Today’s Manila leads the country in investments and ease in doing business. It also leads in education, housing and health care. At the height of COVID, the entire country depended on Manila for its COVID medicines and hospital care. Manila is slowly becoming the proud capital city it used to be, thanks to Yorme’s leadership.

Unknown to many, Yorme is a visionary and planner behind Manila’s rebirth. The team recalls one night in 2017 when he convened the core group at the Adriatico Arms. There, he described his vision for Manila. He was still vice mayor then but spoke of establishing Manila as the country’s knowledge and education capital, a center for culture and hub for corporate headquarters. He also envisioned Manila to be a world-class trading and logistics center given the presence of the seaports. All these he hoped to achieve in ten years.

Yorme’s personal hero and professional benchmark has always been Lee Kwan Yew. His admiration for the Singaporean statesman reflects in many ways, not the least of which is his high ambitions for Manila and the country, the pace in which he works and his stern (determined) management style. Like LKY, Yorme’s top priority is to provide the basic necessities of life. This includes housing, health care, quality education and a source of livelihood.

Yorme realized much of Manila’s ten-year development plan in only three years, even amidst COVID. Four mass housing projects were launched in Tondo, Baseco and Binondo, with three more in the pipeline. Medical capacities have been expanded in Manila’s six hospitals with a new, world-class Ospital ng Maynila underway. Three new campuses have broken ground, including the technology-based Manila Science High School. Public spaces have been rejuvenated as part of a massive urban renewal program. The rejuvenation of a dying city was so remarkable (and rapid) that Bloomberg named Manila among its 50 breakout cities of the world.

Yorme’s management team describes him as a situational manager. There are instances when he is a professor, a mentor, a dictator and a friend. Beneath the roles he plays is a sense of urgency to get things done. The Mayor is in a hurry, the group chimes. He works 14 hours a day, typically, and oftentimes forgets to eat.

If there is anything that irks the Mayor, it is people slacking off, habitual offenders and the corrupt, says Councilor Zarcal. Yorme can be firm and forceful in his reprimand. But he is generous in affirming those who do good. He is not one to grab unwarranted credit for himself.

Yorme is a product of leadership programs from the University of the Philippines, Harvard and Oxford, with certificates to prove it. Still, nothing could have prepared him for COVID. Marlon Lacson recalls how the Mayor spent many hours doing his own research on the science behind the contagion. This enabled him to make intelligent decisions and to stay ahead of the curve. Despite his relaxed demeanor, people should know that Yorme is a diligent student – one who studies issues inside and out.

Admittedly, Yorme was frustrated by the many missteps of this administration, especially in the way it handled the pandemic. He vows to hold accountable all those who took advantage of the pandemic for self profit, according to the rule of law.

Unlike other mayors who treat their vices as spare tires, Yorme has made Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna a vital part of the team. He is inclusive that way, Lacuna says. Yorme is one to listen to suggestions from his closest advisers and humble enough to accept better ideas. Manila’s development program was conceived by Yorme with Vice Mayor Honey by his side. The Vice Mayor commits to continue the programs and the rapid upward trajectory of Manila if and when she becomes mayor.

What makes Yorme a unique leader, I asked the four. The fact that he is not a member of a political dynasty assures us that political reforms is top on his agenda, the group says. He is also among the few who can boast of his own body of achievements, not riding on the achievements or fame of “daddy.” He is the only one who speaks about real issues, such as the need stabilize the budget deficit, attract foreign investors and generate jobs. He is the only one who has articulated his reform plan. Most importantly, he benchmarks against Singapore, the world’s best in multiple development matrices, not on Davao, Ilocos or the Philippines of the 70’s. For these reasons, Yorme will make the better president, says his team.

Next week, watch out for valuable insights on presidential candidate Leni Robredo, as described by her core group. Meanwhile, I am still hoping to connect with the right people from the Marcos camp.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and Twitter @aj_masigan

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