Before and after pictures shared widely on social media did the trick in gaining public attention on what was happening in Manila since Mayor-elect Isko Moreno took over.
Dramatic pictures of clean, clear streets in Divisoria and other major Manila streets, diseased streets literally choked dead in recent years by vendor swarms, subsequently dictated the agenda of public debate.
Each day of more pictures of orderly streets as well as Moreno’s plans for reviving the country’s capital and premier heritage city Manila forced other political forces to chase its narrative lead, an interesting political narrative which had everything to do with the 2022 presidential elections.
Responding this early to 2022 isn’t at all strange — three years is never too early for anyone with presidential ambitions. In fact, as I write this, many are publicly urging Moreno to consider running for president.
Many reasons have been proposed why Isko should consider running, but one political watcher has since made the case that at present the presidential field is still wide open for any ambitious man or woman.
Tellingly, while many 2022 names have already been put out as possible contenders, it seems Isko’s experience in government gives him an edge. As one political watcher puts it “only Ping Lacson would best Isko’s 21-year experience in government.’’
As for Mr. Moreno, he isn’t exactly coy about his presidential ambitions. Just last week he candidly responded to a question if he dreams of becoming president with “I really wanted to. But I do not know how to get there.”
His frankness was not lost to interested parties and it is inevitable that questions are raised this early on Mr. Moreno’s 2022 viability. Most of the questions zeroed in on whether or not he can sustain what he is doing in Manila.
Mr. Moreno quickly took note of the questions and had a ready repartee: “Can we sustain? Can we continue? That’s the new impossible job.” He, nonetheless, exuded confidence. “Nothing’s impossible,” he told reporters.
Thus, should Mr. Moreno throw his hat in the ring, the future talking points about him will be on whether or not he had turned out to be a good, uncorrupted mayor? Or whether or not he had made Manila better than what it is now?
All these are future talking points, however. At present, the case of Isko Moreno is also about an interesting political question — why has the public suddenly taken a keen interest in him?
Undoubtedly, Mr. Moreno and others like him like Pasig City’s Vico Sotto, face a public agog and suddenly appreciative of young and fresh political figures promising real effective changes in their respective cities.
And this undeniably brings us to the very interesting historical juncture our country’s politics has found itself in. We are now at a stage in our political life where many citizens have made the personalization of politics and the cults of leaders even more pronounced in their everyday approach to politics.
Mr. Duterte’s wild popularity in the past three years is proof of this historical juncture. Our country has all but entrusted itself to a leader of a highly personal stamp, a leader who dissociated himself from ideologies, parties and institutions. We are in the time of a post-ideological populist leader, a conservative rightist, for better or worse.
Mr. Moreno and Mr. Vico, therefore, are also products of the times, products of a time when the man in the street, including Mr. Duterte’s rabid followers, still hungers for a leader who think and acts as he the ordinary man thinks and acts — which is to get things done.
The present public mood of hunger for getting things done quickly and without fanfare is the same mood which prompts many to start looking out for who eventually will replace Mr. Duterte.
As far as Mr. Moreno is concerned, he has been pulling the right chords at being considered a future leader. The dramatic clearing of streets gained notice not only from the poorer classes but also from the upper class that had also gone gaga over his plans to restore Manila’s heritage sites.
Some have contested the view the clearing of streets choked by vendors is a good thing as it is somehow anti-poor. Mr. Moreno, assures us he only wants discipline back on Manila’s streets and he is looking for places where vendors can ply their trade without bothering traffic or pedestrians.
His defenders say his assurances can be counted on as it comes from someone who really did come from the downtrodden class and whose natural habitat is the street and who knows the myriad ways vendor syndicates corrupt City Hall. What eventually happens to vendors still needs consideration, notwithstanding.
If the fate of vendors is a cause for worry, what he planned to do with Manila’s historic areas caused celebration from a cultured class lamenting how Manila had gone to seed.
Mr. Moreno’ says his polices on tourism and the environment is all about reviving districts and streets which will remind people of his city’s rich heritage and history.
There is no lack of concern from heritage conservation circles for Manila’s rich collection of period architecture of the Spanish era, of the American period and of the early years of the republic. But Manila keeps losing precious heritage building after precious heritage building.
Mr. Moreno has yet to detail what he intends in going about conserving and restoring heritage structures. But conservation groups are urging him to do it together with private groups or individuals and by allowing tax deductions for restoration costs.
Still and all, it cannot be denied Mr. Moreno’s plate is full and certainly there is no lack of detractors as what he does or does not do has a lot to do with 2022.