What none of his recent predecessors have done, Manila City Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno has arguably accomplished since he took office last June 30. He cracked down on drinking establishments within school zones that served liquor to minors—and even made a surprise inspection in Sherwood Place near DLSU—by enforcing pre-existing ordinances that have, for the longest time, been ignored.
Yet in his quest to Manila safe, he found himself head-to-head with certain groups. He took action and chose a side, despite the Manila City Mayor’s role of being a representative of all of Manila’s constituents—including the marginalized. He cleared out areas such as Recto, Juan Luna, and Quiapo—all infamous for being swamped with illegal street vendors. These street vendors have since been relocated to minor roads, which include the sidewalks of Santo Cristo and Zamora. Despite being given an alternative place to continue their business, some vendors staged protests, asking Moreno to reconsider. The initiative, albeit making the streets cleaner and safer, has made it difficult for the displaced vendors to support their families.
His most recent actions have divided people’s opinions. After protests were held during Bonifacio Day last November 30, four members of the activist group Panday Sining were apprehended by police officers for vandalizing public property. One of those caught was later confirmed to be a minor and a student of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, and was let out ahead of the others for being underaged. Moreno responded to the incident firmly online, reiterating his previous warning that those caught vandalizing will be subjected to the “full force of the law”. After more than a week of being incarcerated, the other three members were set free on bail, but not after Panday Sining was declared persona non grata by the city council.
The incident sparked outcry from other activist groups, who claim that the mayor’s actions were restricting their freedom of speech. Even worse, the groups also claim that the unarmed protesters—including the minor—were manhandled by police officers when they were arrested, despite being in civilian clothing and not possessing a warrant of arrest. While some emphasized that vandalizing public property was wrong, there could have been more amicable ways to resolve the situation without having to resort to violence or to outright ban the protest group from the city.
Moreno’s actions toward the situation begs one to question if the crime committed warranted the severity of the response. Recently, there has also been an increase in reports of alleged kidnapping cases—even along Taft Ave.—yet no action has been done, nor has any response to the situation been made to appease the people.
However, questioning the priorities of this administration’s leaders is not unfamiliar to Filipinos. The Manila Mayor’s approach to problems is very reminiscent to that of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose strongman approach emphasizes decisive actions over discourse. Moreno himself admitted that he was “honored” by the comparison, leaving little to wonder why the Manila City Mayor’s actions are reminiscent to that of the former Davao City Mayor.
Moreno has made it clear that he has little tolerance for drug users, who he said had “no space in Manila”. He has also been tough on criminals, publicly shaming them during his weekly press conferences.
People, including leaders, are able to present themselves differently online. They can present themselves in a more pleasing and likeable manner, in hopes of establishing a better rapport with their followers. However, we should not be blinded by their public personas. We can and should see through them, to analyze if their actions are truly good and fair for those concerned.
Given the events that have transpired since coming into office, it begs the question of what Moreno’s priorities are. Though relentless in trying to make Manila a better place, he may very well have jeopardized a number of lives and livelihoods of some of the very people he swore to protect.
We put leaders like Moreno into power, which makes us accountable for what is to be done to Manila. We, as citizens, need to critically evaluate our leaders on all the decisions they make, whether they are good or bad.
It has only been six months, and while Moreno has enacted multiple projects to develop the city, we still have a long way to go before we truly see a “Bagong Maynila”.