The mayor of Manila has launched his bid for the presidency of the Philippines, promising to fight poverty and taking aim at his former ally, President Rodrigo Duterte, for his alleged failures in the COVID-19 pandemic and corruption.
The election is due to take place in May 2022 and Duterte is barred from running for a second term.
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“Instead of flattening the curve we have flattened the economy, yet many people continue to flatline in our hospitals,” Isko Moreno said on Wednesday, speaking from a new housing development in the Manila slums of Tondo, where he grew up and worked as a rubbish collector before he became an actor.
Moreno was born Francisco Domagoso, but he is more popularly known by his screen name.
He is the third high-profile politician and former ally of Duterte to declare a presidential bid. In recent days international boxing champion, Senator Manny Pacquiao, and Senator Panfilo Lacson also confirmed they would run.
Moreno has been performing strongly in recent opinion polls. In a Pulse Asia survey released in July, he was the second choice to become the country’s next leader, behind Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
While Duterte himself cannot run for the presidency again, he has accepted his party’s nomination to run for vice president – an unprecedented political move in the Philippines.
Duterte-Carpio had earlier said she was not running for president, citing her own father’s unconventional bid for vice president. But she continues to travel around the country, meeting regional and provincial political powerbrokers, which has only fuelled speculation of a last-minute announcement.
Candidates for national office, including the president, vice president and the 12 seats in the Philippine Senate, have until October 8 to formally file their certificate of nomination.
‘We can make it better’
Moreno was only elected mayor of Manila in 2019, beating another popular politician, the incumbent Joseph Estrada, who was also a former Philippine president.
He had previously served as a city councillor and vice mayor. In 2016, he ran for senator in a coalition ticket with Duterte and his allies.
When he failed in his bid for a Senate seat, Duterte made him chairman of the board of the North Luzon Railways Corporation and later a senior social welfare official.
As mayor of Manila, Moreno has earned praise for cleaning up the Philippine capital and building new housing for many poor settlers. But he has also been criticised for his silence on Duterte’s deadly war on drugs in which thousands have been killed, including many drug suspects in the slums of Manila.
Moreno has become more critical of Duterte and his government in the last year amid the worsening pandemic, prompting Duterte to mock Moreno’s life as an actor. He also withheld the mayor’s power to distribute aid to those under the pandemic lockdown.
“I may not give you a perfect government, but together we can make it better,” Moreno said, as he announced his bid for the top job on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, he appealed for the support of the Filipino public, invoking his background as a former rubbish collector while alluding to the president’s crude public pronouncements.
“It is not a crime to wear threadbare clothes because of poverty. What is wrong is to praise an emperor’s clothes when in fact he is wearing none,” he said in a mix of Tagalog and English.
“Yes, I grew up being poor. But I have never been bad-mannered. Although I’ve lived in the trash, not once did I become foul-mouthed,” he said, while taking a swipe at the alleged corruption in the Duterte administration’s purchase of medical equipment during the pandemic.
Moreno picked Dr Willie Ong, a physician and failed senatorial candidate, as his running mate.
Before his announcement on Wednesday, Moreno acknowledged that he was also in talks with Senator Pacquiao and Vice President Leni Robredo to forge a possible coalition.