An Assessment of Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso’s Mayoralty using the United Nations (UN) Criteria For Good Governance
Personally, despite being seen as a beacon of equity and inclusivity, these LGBTQ-centric government projects and outputs are surface-level at most. Manila’s rainbow pedestrian lanes and the proposed Summer Pride celebration did not hasten the implementation of the Manila Anti-Discrimination Ordinance or prevent the illegal arrest and detention of #Pride20, a group of protestors arrested for holding a Pride protest on June 26, 2020.
Francisco Moreno Domagoso, or better known as Isko Moreno, was born on October 24, 1974 as an only child of Joaquin Domagoso and Rosario Moreno. Growing up in the slums of Tondo, Manila with his father inconsistently employed as a stevedore in the city’s North Harbor and his mother as a housewife, the realities of life dawned upon him at an early age. Moreno had to find other types of livelihood to sustain his family’s survival, such as collecting recyclable materials in exchange for money in his local junkshop; searching for leftover food in garbage bins, and turning them into pagpag; and most importantly, venturing into show business.
In 1993 while at a neighbor’s funeral wake, talent manager Wowie Roxas scouted Moreno to join the teen drama anthology Young Love, Sweet Love (1897–1893) and the daily variety show That’s Entertainment (1986–1996) both hosted by German “Kuya Germs” Moreno — paving the way to his rise to fame. However, in 1998, Moreno bid goodbye to the industry to enter the world of politics by serving as a councilor for three consecutive terms. He also became Manila’s vice mayor under Alfredo Lim and Erap Estrada’s administrations and ran for a senate seat in the 2016 National Elections but unfortunately lost his bid.
During his political journey, Moreno encountered harsh critiques regarding his educational and socioeconomic background — specifically the fact that he was just a high school graduate. Nevertheless, he utilized these critiques to further his education and to put forth his populist brand. Moreno attended programs on local legislation and finance at the University of the Philippines Diliman, executive education at Harvard University, and strategic leadership at Oxford University. Meanwhile, he finished his bachelor’s degree in public administration at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and studied law at Arellano University. With his current educational attainment and poverty-ridden past (suitable for populist agendas) serving as political leverage, it is no surprise that in May 2019, Moreno won the mayoral race of Manila through a landslide. Even so, is Moreno’s masses-centric campaign brand aligned with his actual government outputs?
It is known that one of Moreno’s many focuses is the beautification of the capital city, and in line with this is the highly debated road-clearing drive in Divisoria, Quiapo, Blumentritt, Recto, Tutuban, and City Hall’s commercial streets. This operation required the removal of all illegal obstructions in the mentioned areas, the majority are street vendors whose survival relied on such livelihood. Although Moreno provided areas where vendors would continue to sell, indicated by the light blue markings on the road asphalt, a lot of vendors were still displaced causing a new wave of intensified unemployment and poverty. The operation may have widened the streets for public and transportation use; reduced bribery among police officers, barangay officials, and vendors who used to pay the higher-ups two-hundred to three-hundred pesos a day to reserve their spot; and generally accomplished the bourgeoise standards of development — however, in my opinion, this is just a justification that Moreno’s definition of change and development excludes the minorities and their rights to livelihood, contradicting his masses-oriented political brand and poverty-stricken past.
Strict enforcement and police interventions have also been apparent in Moreno’s other projects aside from the road-clearing operation mentioned earlier. First, the implementation of “full-blast” curfew hours for minors, as described by the mayor himself. In pursuant to instill discipline and protection among the youth, parents of 15 to 17-year-old violators will be imposed with a 2,000 pesos fine and one-month imprisonment; while parents of 13 to 15-year-old violators with 3,000 pesos fine and three-months imprisonment; and parents of 12-year-old violators and below with a 5,000 pesos fine and 6 months of imprisonment. Second, the erasure of extrajudicial killings. On August 8, 2019, Moreno claimed that there are no EJKs under his mayoralty after he flaunted a group of drug suspects arrested by the police, signifying a “redefined” form of the drug war in Manila — one that does not involve any bloodshed. He also argued about the other end of the drug war, the police officers, by highlighting the importance of their safety and humanizing them as normal citizens outside their job. Lastly, the enactment of an executive order strengthening Ordinance Numbers 3532 and 8520. The said ordinances (exclusive to Manila only) forbade the sale of liquor to minors and the establishment of any commercial business that sells liquor located within 200 meters of schools — causing the closure of seven bars around De La Salle University alone as of August 1, 2019.
The projects discussed above evidently follow the legal frameworks of our laws and employ a firm sense of enforcement by the PNP, DILG, and more. Although this is a surface-level manifestation of a rule of law aligned with good governance, the crimes hunted by the said legal frameworks and firm enforcement of state forces are not yet properly addressed. Instead of compassionately tackling the root of these crimes which is mostly systematic poverty, Moreno continually pursued a very slight iron first ruling.
Moreno’s first executive order adopted an “Open Governance” policy, mandating all approved government issues to be released within twenty-four hours through the capital’s official social media accounts. Budget procurements and biddings, contract and ordinance signings, and official meetings and appointments will also be live-streamed through Facebook and other social media platforms. Other agencies and departments are also expected to regularly provide updates and announcements regarding their activities, projects, and programs. In Moreno’s first 100 days as a mayor, he already went live for over 10,000 minutes; with an average of 40 minutes per broadcast — the shortest being just 10 seconds and the longest being 225 minutes during the fall of Hotel Sogo. Although most of his live broadcasts are within workday hours and inside the city hall, Moreno also goes live at night, during weekends, and outside his office.
It is undeniable that his wide array of live broadcasts has materialized positive results. When the Commission on Audit revealed the capital’s inherited debt amounting to over 4 billion pesos, Moreno mentioned multiple times that the Manila government is open for donations from ordinary citizens. Since then, the government has received many donations and partnerships such as fast-food chains allowing the employment of senior citizens, the Manila Lions Club donating 120 wheelchairs, the Inner Wheel Club of Rizal turning over 300 bottles of dextrose for hospital use, the country’s business tycoons promising to initiate business headquarters in Manila, and more. And just recently, Moreno called for donations once again to sustain the capital’s free COVID-19 mass testing and the Manila Zoo rehabilitation, in which a fan group of BTS (specifically Jeon Jungkook) responded by donating food and equipment for the zoo’s resident elephant.
Aside from performing as a channel of transparency, Moreno’s tactic to make his government activities and outputs accessible to the public through social media platforms also serves as a participative crowdsourcing instrument, one that gathers the public’s feedback and consensus. The public’s voice and participation are vital in the formulation of policies, programs, and projects; the measure of Moreno’s effectiveness and efficiency as a mayor; and the preservation of the population’s interest as the number one priority of the administration. Despite the stigma and restrictions that the national government had embedded with the act of exercising one’s freedom of speech and expression, may Moreno’s transparent, participative, and consensus-oriented governance inspire the public to lobby for their demands and the prioritization of their welfare.
Fast forward to today, even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought our nation to its current state, Moreno already planned how the capital will remain ahead of the virus. In March 2020, when Manila recorded 32 confirmed cases, 3 deaths, and 2 recoveries, 6 of those 32 cases were treated in the Manila Infectious Diseases Control Center (MIDCC) located in Sta. Ana Hospital. Back then, MIDCC was expected to have 20 rooms to contain more COVID-19 patients and Sta. Ana Hospital’s 10-floor building was ready to be converted into an exclusive COVID-19 treatment hub. Moreno also stressed that if the situation persists and causes the displacement of thousands of citizens, the city (in coordination with the Department of Education) has prepared 5000 public school rooms to house them. When it came to social relief, he had disseminated 45,000 food supplies for Manileños as of March 25, 2020; and generated jobs exclusive for e-tricycle drivers to transport health workers to their hospitals and as a loophole to the national government’s banning of city-wide tricycle operations.
Due to the shortage of protective gear for health workers, Moreno established a production line inside the city hall dedicated to producing improvised acetate protective face gear. Alongside this is his issuance of an executive order commanding hotels and motels in Manila to accommodate health workers challenged by the immobilized transportation system. On March 25, 2020, only a week after the implementation, 1,500 rooms have been opened by Sogo, Eurotel, Dormitel, and Victoria Court.
To uphold the free COVID-19 mass testing sites (originally capable of nine-hundred tests a day) that were stated earlier, Moreno purchased 3 COVID-19 testing machines amounting to 6,000,000 pesos each, apart from his calls for donations. The serology machines can test 16,800 residents a week, have an accuracy rate of 99% specificity and 100% sensitivity, and can detect hepatitis, cancer, thyroid diseases, and other infectious diseases — making the procurement a long-term investment for post-pandemic use. Moreno also secured additional 2,000 vials of remdesivir after health officials confirmed its effectivity after COVID-19 patients who received the medication seemingly recovered from the virus.
Moreno had been consistent with his utilization of social media platforms as channels of transparency, participation, consensus, and information during the pandemic. Just like before, he still conducts live broadcasts, updates, and announcements featuring their daily government activities and outputs. In addition to his frequent social media presence and the formation of a COVID-19 Task Force in early February, Moreno also created a 24/7 hotline called the Manila Emergency Operations Center (MEOC). The hotline was not limited to accepting COVID-related calls because it also amassed daily reports regarding the price of goods in markets and monitored a medical survey that can be accessed through Moreno’s Facebook page message option. The said medical survey has received 36,000 replies from Manileños as of March 25, 2020; with over 30 people reported having fever, over 80 had contact with COVID-positive individuals, and over 500 have experienced difficulty in breathing. The constituents who report having symptoms or having interacted with COVID-positive individuals are to be isolated by a Task Force team (dispatched by the Manila government) to minimize the risks brought by the lack of local barangays’ isolation units and expertise.
The pandemic, despite it being a health crisis, took a heavy toll not only on our healthcare system but also on our economy and education. With our education system’s neoliberal nature, a lot of private schools that cannot adapt to distance learning have to be closed down. Public schools, too, are not excused from the challenges of distance learning due to the lack of resources of both educators and students. The current living situations (worsened by the pandemic) of most citizens forced them to discontinue their education or undergo dehumanizing sources of income — such as selling nude pictures, attending hazardous jobs, and more — to afford basic necessities, with education only treated as an afterthought. Fortunately, in the hopes of easing the burden of Manileños with regards to online classes, Moreno distributed around 140,000 tablets for students and 11,000 laptops for teachers, free of charge. Accompanying those gadgets are almost 300,000 SIM cards with a 10-gigabyte monthly allowance and a pocket Wi-Fi for each laptop.
With all his COVID-related government activities and outputs I have tackled, it is safe to say that Moreno’s service and leadership are responsive. However, to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of his responsiveness is another thing. First, according to Moreno, Manila is among the cities with the least amount of COVID-19 cases as of August 10, 2020. Out of the 5,000 confirmed cases during that month, there were only 236 deaths, while the active cases have amounted to1,200 and the recoveries to 3,700. Second, on September 10, 2020, Moreno announced that the COVID-19 cases in Manila have reached a “plateau” due to the spike in recoveries for the month of June. Among the 9,000 recent confirmed cases, almost 8,000 have recovered; while 900 have remained as active cases, and 350 have died. Lastly, Moreno’s free mass testing sites showed that his constituents are inclined to conform to health protocols as long as it is free and accessible. This is a manifestation that the population’s submissiveness is highly dependent on the government’s ability to provide social services that are within the public’s reach, especially the minorities. At the moment, it is already perceptible that Moreno’s responses are effective and efficient.
Going back to October 2019, the Manila government painted the pedestrian lane near the city hall with the colors of the rainbow. According to Moreno, this is to show the LGBTQ+ community that they are recognized and considered by the Manila government, especially when it came to policy-making. The Manila government also announced that they will hold a Summer Pride celebration in April 2020, but was unfortunately postponed due to the pandemic. However, the parade drew criticisms from the netizens because it seemed aimed towards tourism (since it was organized by the Department of Tourism, Culture, and Arts of Manila) and “ignorant” to the actual history of Pride Month which is traditionally conducted during June. DTCAM responded to the flak by promising its utilization to improve its efforts and explaining that the event’s April schedule was geared towards their belief that the essence of Pride Month must be observed anywhere and any time of the year. Personally, despite being seen as a beacon of equity and inclusivity, these LGBTQ-centric government projects and outputs are surface-level at most. Manila’s rainbow pedestrian lanes and the proposed Summer Pride celebration did not hasten the implementation of the Manila Anti-Discrimination Ordinance or prevent the illegal arrest and detention of #Pride20, a group of protestors arrested for holding a Pride protest on June 26, 2020. Genuine equity and inclusivity should not be limited to plainly recognizing the plight of minorities through performative tactics but should be open to addressing these plights starting from their systematic roots.
Regardless of the Manila government’s setbacks with regards to equity and inclusiveness, the DTCAM’s response to the public’s criticisms was refreshing since it signaled a sense of accountability. Moreover, in May 2020, Moreno issued a meeting after receiving multiple reports that barangay officials have been amassing portions of the relief packs originally supplied by the city government. Some netizens received fewer relief contents from the expected 3 kilos of rice, 2 canned sardines, and 1 pair of spaghetti noodles and sauce. Nonetheless, Moreno assured that the city government would not perpetrate such acts, even adding that the reported barangay officials will soon be facing charges. In addition to this roster — although it personally seemed unethical to strip minorities from their sole livelihood to give way for bourgeoisie standards of development — is the road clean-up drive mentioned earlier, which the public perceived as the long-awaited reimposition of discipline and accountability (in the context of governance) in Manila.
As a resident of Manila for a decade now, I have never seen an immense amount of government activities and outputs implemented in such a short period. However, quantity does not always equate to quality so here are my final thoughts. First, what Moreno had fallen short of in the context of rule of law, equity, and inclusivity for minorities, he had redeemed when it came to transparency, participation, consensus, accountability, effectivity, and efficiency. Yet, this redemption should not be an excuse to not improve what he lacks. Second, Moreno’s adoption of technological advancements, particularly the maximization of social media platforms as means of transparency, participation, and consensus is very commendable. This is proof that the employment of good governance in the twenty-first century can be attained by riding the dynamic waves of technology. Lastly, despite the flaws, Moreno’s willingness to put forth a city that is equitable and inclusive to minorities is already a huge step towards the ideal society. His current outputs may be deficient at the moment, but what is important is the existence of initiative.
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Written by Allen John Dela Cruz on September 2020 for Philippine Politics and Governance (POLGOV)