Manila"Maybe Fate has other designs for the young Isko Moreno Domagoso."



A usual problem of people who write newspaper columns is coming up with something different to write about. Since Saturday past, I had been wondering what topic to write about for Monday, tired of bad news which prevails over our country these days.

But after more than a week of depressing record numbers in the seemingly unending COVID infection story, I woke up yesterday morning pleasantly surprised by a Facebook post about the “dragon lighting” of Chinatown.  The Facebook item showed Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, wearing his by-now standard white T-shirt with the slogan “Vaccine Nation is the Solution” silkscreened upon it,  walking through the Dasmarinas-Quintin Paredes streets, where new, bright-red lampposts adorned with a golden “dragon” lamp festooned the heart of Chinatown.  Also, parking spaces were clearly defined in the oft-crowded commercial district once called the Parian where peninsular Spanish colonials once ghettoed the thriving Chinese merchants of the capital city, while most of the insulares and later the mestizoisie built their residences in toney Ermita and Malate.  

Due to the parlous health situation in the country, particularly in NCR, I restricted my movements when I was last there from the holiday season until mid-February, especially after nightfall. I dared not attend a single Simbang Gabi whether in Malate Church or San Isidro on Taft Avenue, just after the boundary of Manila and Pasay.

On one occasion, I visited Arranque Market one early morning to buy vegetables and tofu, among other condiments (there are two types of freshly-made tofu available here; the square firm tokwa and the softer tawhu.  Through the years, my mom and I always bought tofu in Arranque.   You can never go wrong with Arranque, where you can buy freshly delivered highland vegetables, and of late, even Taiwan-sourced imports, but the prices are a bit higher in this privately-owned market.

But a week after my visit, Arranque was closed down for disinfection due to discovered COVID incidence among some sellers.  I immediately had an RT-PCR test, worried about that short visit to my favorite wet market. 

When President Erap became mayor of Manila in 2013 (good to learn that he is in stable condition and is recovering from a bout with the coronavirus), I visited him in his Greenhills manse and over a sumptuous lunch, I discussed some ideas I always had in mind about the city where I grew up. I asked him, among others, to revive downtown Manila, especially the Avenida to Divisoria area, encompassing most of Chinatown and Manila’s shopping areas, to include the Escolta-Dasmarinas-Ongpin enclaves which was once both the financial and commercial center of Luzon, gone to seed due to neglect and the rise of Makati and Greenhills as alternatives.  Together with Intramuros and the Ermita district bounded on the west by Manila’s world-famous sunsets, these are Manila’s touristic gems.

Fast forward to 2019, when young Isko Moreno, formerly vice-mayor to both Fred Lim and Erap, was elected overwhelmingly by Manileños along with his running-mate, Dr. Honey Lacuna Pangan, daughter of long-time Manila Vice Mayor Danny Lacuna, a dear friend of mine as well.  Isko’s victory came as no surprise, and I wrote in this space about his imminent mayoralty.  It was like a David fighting two political Goliaths, although Moreno had enough experience, having been councilor for nine years and vice mayor for another nine. Moreno was just 44 years old then, fighting two super seniors who had a half-century of public service tucked under their belt.  But aside from youth and the energy that goes with it, the personal narrative of Isko, rising from abject poverty in Manila’s fetid slums, as the son of migrants from Northern Samar and Antique, was quite compelling.  

I grew up in Manila from the time I was five years old, having moved to the nation’s capital from our native San Pablo in Laguna.  When my folks moved to Butuan City in the late 50s, I was yet an elementary school student in Letran College, and my mom decided to allow me to continue my studies in Manila rather than move to Butuan in the then undivided Agusan province in Northern Mindanao, which at the time timber capital with few amenities.

When we moved from San Pablo to the big city, we first stayed in the corner of what was then Azcarraga (now Claro M. Recto) and Magdalena (now Masangkay) streets, where St. Luke’s Hospital and St. Stephen’s College were located.  My mom was a resident doctor at the time.  Through many years, we lived in Sampaloc, Sta. Cruz, Sta. Ana, until we finally bought a property in Malate, which has been home for more than 50 years of my life.

Seeing the transformation of Manila, from the once genteel environment of my youth to the decrepit state it has become, abandoned by many for Makati, Alabang, Greenhills and now BGC, has been quite sad.  

Seeing its old glory revived under a young mayor who grew up in its squatter colonies and who has tasted abject poverty yet triumphed through it all by sheer guts and persistent self-improvement, is not only edifying, but inspiring.

I have written in this space about Manila’s Yorme, in a series about nine oft-mentioned presidentiables, namely Ping Lacson, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Bongbong Marcos, Manny Pacquiao, Bong Go, Inday Sara Duterte, even tycoon Ramon S. Ang, and Isko Moreno.  

Like Manong F. Sionil Jose, whose La Solidaridad in Padre Faura is a Manila institution, and whose literary genius few can equal, I wish Yorme Isko would remain mayor of my beloved city to continue what he has been doing, a management style which laureate Jose in a Philippine Star article compared to the fabled Arsenio Lacson.

But maybe Fate has other designs for the young Isko Moreno Domagoso.

Seeing his hard-working vice mayor Doktora Honey and him cooperating over Manila’s preparations and smooth implementation of the fight against the pandemic’s spread, I am certain that the vice-mayor would continue what our Yorme has started, should he decide to go for higher office, as many are urging him to.

Together, the tandem, along with their staff of motivated workers, have led the entire national capital region in the vaccination drive, with Manila garnering the highest number of vaccinated citizens in record time.  Registering online to receive the vaccine according to the protocols set by the national government is a cinch in Manila.  Actual vaccination in some 20 different locations set up in all six congressional districts has been quite systematic and hassle-free.  Even the distribution of the national government “ayuda” in the NCR plus “bubble” has been quick, with barangays and city social workers reaching out to the citizens, rather than having them line up for assistance like beggars, as in some other places.  On top of this “ayuda” (why not call it the Tagalog “tulong”?), Manila distributes cartons of food from rice to canned goods and coffee each month since February to every family, yes, all 700,000 in the city, because City Hall had prescience to know how difficult it is these days to cope with rising food inflation, and how difficult it is to move out of residences in lockdown status. 

It is so nice to spread good news to readers in these truly depressing times.

Topics: Manila , Isko Moreno , COVID-19 , NCR
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