The story of Mayor Isko’s humble beginnings is an oft-repeated one. It is a story he never tires of telling, not only to prove that he has not forgotten his roots but more importantly, to inspire children who are facing circumstances he had been through, to work hard toward their goal.
Born to a stevedore and a housewife who had no steady income, he had to face the harsh realities of an underprivileged life. “Kung mayroon mang mas mabigat sa salitang ‘salat,’ ako ang tinutukoy n’un (If there is a word which means worse than ‘destitute,’ it pertains to me),” he says.
The young Isko—Scott as he was known then—had to rummage through garbage heaps to scavenge not only for things he could sell, but at times even for food. In his teenage years, he became a pedicab driver, conveying passengers through the streets of Tondo. These, he had to do even as he attended public schools in Tondo.
Scott’s parents had a simple dream for him: to finish high school. After all, they didn’t have the means to send him to college. He, however, had a bigger dream for himself: to be captain of a ship. He then enrolled at a maritime school using money he had saved up the previous months.
Fate, however, intervened. In 1993, he was given the chance to join the entertainment industry, via the then enormously popular youth-oriented television show “That’s Entertainment.” This, Mayor Isko says, “started everything. It changed my life.”
POLITICS AND EDUCATION
Five years after he joined show business, Isko “felt so blessed” and wanted to give back to his community. Manileños gave him the chance to serve them, making him a three-term councilor and three term vice mayor as well. Throughout his stint as member and presiding officer of the city council, he focused on crafting ordinances and implementing programs that directly benefitted the needy.
During the first part of his stint as an alderman, he was ridiculed for being “just a high school graduate” who knew nothing about legislation. “Well, I’ll be honest. Those words hurt. But the thing is… imbes na kaawaan ko ang sarili ko, sinunod ko ang payo ni (instead of wallowing in self-pity, I followed the advice of) Vice Mayor Danny Lacuna.”
The neophyte lawmaker went back to school, eventually earning a degree in management at the Makati-based International Academy of Management and Economics. Later on, he also took short courses in specialized institutions at the University of the Philippines, Harvard University, and University of Oxford. These served as the anchor that stabilized his 18-year stint as councilor and vice mayor.
An unsuccessful Senate bid in 2016 did not dampen Isko’s resolve to participate in nation-building.
He became a resource person (on the problems of the urban poor) for the National Democratic Front in the peace process, became head of the North Luzon Railways Corporation (NLRC), and served as undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The realization that something had to be done to help Manileños, however, was too strong for Isko to ignore. He saw Manila as a ship adrift, in need of a new captain.
THE JOURNEY BACK TO CITY HALL
It did not matter to Isko that he was going up against two political giants in the mayoralty race. “One way or another, I am a student of history,” he says. Referring to the Bible as “one of the oldest history books,” he cites the story of David. “God gave David a Goliath for a reason,” he says. To him, David slaying Goliath could happen again, this time in Manila. “Pangalawa, wala namang mawawala sa akin. (Second, I had nothing to lose.) I came from nothing. Third, it’s high time that others be given a chance to lead Manila. Those were my thoughts at the time [I decided to run for mayor],” he reveals.
Indeed, Isko’s main rivals were no pushovers. Former Mayor Alfredo Lim had served as the city’s local chief executive from 1992 to 1998 and from 2007 to 2013. Former President Joseph Estrada succeeded Lim in 2013, and was reelected in 2016. Both of them also had the backing of major political parties.
Isko had Asenso Manileño—the local party organized by his mentor Lacuna back in 1992—to lean on. Among other things, he argued that Manila would be better off with a young mayor with a clear and doable plan for the city. To him, Lim and Estrada had done their share and had cemented their places in Manila’s history. It’s time for him to pave the way to the future.
The first day of the campaign period validated Isko’s decision to run. It was then, he says matter-of-factly, that he realized he had a chance to make it to City Hall. “We had a motorcade. Biruin mo, alas-dose ng tanghaling tapat, lumalabas ang mga tao [para ipakita ang suporta sa amin].
Dun namin napansing ‘Uy, iba.’ (Imagine, people were coming out of their houses at high noon [to show their support for us]. That’s when we felt, ‘Hey, this is something else.’)”
As the campaign went on, Isko focused on the major issues he will face head-on once elected.
He presented an urban renewal plan supported by three pillars: building necessary infrastructure, attracting businesses back to the city, and providing decent housing. He presented his ideas about protecting Manila’s heritage and natural environment. He talked about social amelioration, devoting funds to address the needs of the elderly, students, and persons with disability.
The people’s reaction emboldened Mayor Isko and his slate. “Akala ko’y sa umpisa lang, (I thought it was just at the beginning), but no,” he says of the positive reaction they received.
ISKO’S ABILITY TO CONNECT WITH THE PEOPLE AND HIS BEING BATANG MAYNILA SERVED HIM WELL DURING THE CAMPAIGN.
“Every time we went on a motorcade, talagang very warm ang reception ng tao (the people’s reception was really very warm). Second, during our house-to-house sorties, we really had goosebumps. So I really [felt that our campaign was going the right direction.]”
Isko’s ability to connect with the people and his being Batang Maynila—one who shares the common Manileños’ experiences served him well during the campaign. When he spoke of how big a problem garbage disposal is, the people listened. He was, after all, once a scavenger. When he spoke of the need for supplemental feeding in public schools, they were all ears. He had, after all, gone to school on an empty stomach countless times as a child.
Manileños saw Isko as someone who knows whereof he speaks. When he spoke of the need to create more economic opportunities for the less fortunate, they cheered him on. He, ultimately, is a living testament to how successful one could become when he is given better opportunities. When he spoke of the need for the people to do their part to revitalize Manila, they pledged their support to him. He, after all, had served the city for almost two decades.
In the end, the people of Manila chose the young former vice mayor to be the captain of their ship. This, Mayor Isko says, is God’s way of fulfilling his dream of being a ship captain, albeit indirectly. “Biruin mo ngayon, kapitan ako ng kapitolyo ng bansa! (Imagine, now I’m the captain of the nation’s capital!)”
DEALING WITH THE TASK AT HAND
With him at the helm, Mayor Isko finally has the chance to steer Manila to a better position. He expects a generally smooth sailing administration, as he has had a good working relationship with his winning running mate Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna and members of the city council. However, he is quick to dismiss the idea of him imposing his will on the members of the council.
“Well, I always respect the views of everyone. We will still continue to respect their views, opinions, and suggestions,” he declares. “Maganda lamang sa sitwasyon is meron na kaming magandang (What’s good about the situation is that we already have a good) working relationship. The best way for me to be effective is to continue having a good relationship with the city council because we have many commitments. The things that we said during the campaign, we have to fulfill. And most of these need legislation by the local legislature.”
Mayor Isko knows that transforming Manila into a more livable city will involve both short-term and long-term projects. Thus, even as he has pledged to tackle the garbage and traffic problems from day one, he has also vowed to start laying the foundations for turning part of Paco into a business district which will rival those in Makati and Taguig, and to reinvigorate Escolta and Binondo. In all these, balance will be a major consideration: balance between development and environmental protection, between efficient tax collection and spending, between modernization and protecting the city’s heritage.
The city government will also maximize the use of new technology “in all levels of transaction… in order for us to serve more efficiently,” Mayor Isko says, taking the cue from national government agencies and private businesses. Moreover, this will also “limit human intervention, human discretion” and in effect “limit the source of corruption.”
Recognizing the challenging task at hand, Mayor Isko puts emphasis on three things as he addresses his fellow Batang Maynila: unity, participatory governance, and receptiveness to new ideas. “I want a united City of Manila, a united people,” he declares. He implores his constituents not to be fence-sitters but rather active participants in crafting policies and making sure that programs are implemented properly. He asks Manileños to realize that sometimes, what they “have been accustomed to may not necessarily be right.”
Mayor Isko expects intrigues to be thrown his way as he goes about his duties. This, however, is the least of his worries. The best way to silence critics and to remain relevant, he says, is to do the job right.
“I think it is a lesson for us… government officials… not to take things lightly. The mandate given to you, the opportunity given to you, you really have to take these seriously. Talagang kailangang pagbutihin mo kasi nagbabago ang panahon at nagbabago rin ang isip ng tao. (You really must strive to do your best because times change and people’s minds also change.) I think it is a good lesson for anyone who wishes to serve the government or hold an elective office.”
Experience, a clear plan, a good working relationship with the city council, and an overwhelming mandate from his constituency. With these tools in hand, the man at Manila’s helm is more than ready for his most important journey. — GODFREY T. DANCEL
YORME ISKO: THE FIRST 60 DAYS
YORME ISKO has fully embraced the role of Manila’s man of action. Rather than staying at his office all the time, he has chosen to personally go around the city to see the situation firsthand. Instead of waiting for his deputies to implement the city’s ordinances, he has chosen to lead relevant teams in implementing important changes in the country’s capital. Following are some of the things the Man of the People has done in his first 60 days in office.
YORME ISKO signed an executive order mandating the strict implementation of ordinances banning the sale of liquor within 200 meters of schools, and to minors within the city. Non-compliant establishments were padlocked, to open only when they have complied with the requirements.
THE MAN OF THE PEOPLE ordered the removal of politicians’ names—including his—in public schools around the city. Having one’s name plastered in schools is tantamount to “immortalizing yourself, as if it is your money. It is not your money. That’s the people’s money,” the mayor said.
THE MANILA MAYOR launched an anti-gambling drive, targeting video karera machines and an amusement center inside a mall. He said that based on their investigation, the supposed amusement center was actually a gambling center which catered even to minors.
YORME ISKO signed two ordinances—passed in record time regarding social amelioration for the city’s residents. These provided for a Php500 monthly allowance to qualified senior citizens, persons with disability, and Gr. 12 students from public schools being run by the city government.
THE LOCAL CHIEF EXECUTIVE launched a cleanup drive in Divisoria, Carriedo, Quiapo, Blumentritt, Binondo, and other areas in Manila. Streets were cleared of stalls and other obstructions, making them serve their real purpose again. Even barangay halls blocking sidewalks were demolished.
PRAISE FOR YORME ISKO
Government officials have taken note of what Yorme Isko has done so far. Here’s what some of them have to say.
“We hope that the actions of Mayor Isko will inspire other Local Chief Executives in other parts of the country to follow his example and to similarly show decisive leadership in bringing about change in their communities because that is what the people expect.”
DILG Secretary Eduardo Año
“Mabuhay ka, Mayor Isko, for what you are doing in Manila.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana
“Being the regional director of the NCRPO, I am really impressed with what he’s done in his initial weeks in office. We all like what he’s doing.”
NCRPO Chief P/Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar
YORME ISKO went around the city on Sundays and at night to know how things are when people think “government is not at work.” He called out barangay chairmen and policemen found not doing their jobs.
MANILA’S TOP OFFICIAL signed a memorandum of agreement with a popular food chain for the employment of senior citizens.
YORME ISKO granted Museo Pambata a 25-year lease extension, thus guaranteeing that the museum will continue to be of service to children from Manila and beyond. This is being hailed as a fine example of a partnership between a local government and a private institution. —LEAGUE Photos courtesy of Christian TuringanLEAGUEand KR De Asis/Manila PIO