MANILA, Philippines — In a nod to his beginnings in the slums, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso on Wednesday chose his months-old housing project for the poor in Tondo as backdrop for his formal announcement of his candidacy for president in 2022.
Domagoso, 47, presented himself as a neutral candidate and called for unity among political factions as a way of healing a divided nation. He said he was open to working with anyone, including Vice President Leni Robredo, who remains the opposition’s only prospective candidate against the Duterte administration.
But the mayor said backing out or sliding to a lower position was out of the question.
“I don’t want to give people the runaround … like a lover who is ‘paasa’ (gives false hopes),” he said in a news conference, adding that it was all systems go: “Tuloy na ’to.”
Domagoso is the third incumbent politician in recent weeks to declare himself a presidential candidate, after Senators Panfilo Lacson and Manny Pacquiao.
His announcement had been largely expected and was early on confirmed by his campaign manager, Lito Banayo, who said he would seek the presidency under Aksyon Demokratiko, a party founded by the late senator Raul Roco.
What came as a surprise was Domagoso’s choice of running mate — cardiologist and internist Willie Ong, who, he said, took “weeks” to convince to run as vice president after declining an initial offer of a slot in the party’s senatorial slate. (See related story on this page.)
“But I was determined [to persuade him],” said Domagoso, alluding to the grit that pushed him to break free of his “basurero” (scavenger) life in Tondo to become an actor, to complete his schooling, and to be elected mayor of Manila in 2019, beating the then incumbent, Joseph Estrada.
For Ong, there are just too many “coincidences” binding him and the mayor, starting with their shared birthday of Oct. 24.
They are both unsuccessful senatorial contenders—Domagoso placing 16th, with 11 million votes, in 2016; Ong finishing at 18th in his first attempt at politics in 2019, although he emerged the top choice of overseas Filipino workers.
“But I saw something in him,” said Ong, who spoke without a prepared speech.
Domagoso spoke at length about the city government’s response to the pandemic, such as building a field hospital in barely two months and stocking up on COVID-19 treatment drugs that were eventually made available even to patients not residing in Manila.
He said he would have understood if the Department of Health did not have funds for medicines and vaccines, but, he claimed, it had actually “embalmed the budget” for the pandemic.
“I don’t run on promises but on prototypes. Accept my application as president of the Philippines. I may not give you a perfect government but [we] will make it better,” he said.
He promised to replicate across the country not only Manila’s health programs but also its projects on education and urban poor housing.
Domagoso, though remaining unnamed, was the recent subject of snide remarks by President Rodrigo Duterte concerning old photographs showing him in sexy poses in his underwear.
Critics of Duterte said it was a move to undermine the mayor’s political plans.
But in 2018, the president appointed Domagoso undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and in 2017, a board member of North Luzon Railways Corp.
Domagoso said that if elected, he would continue the infrastructure projects under the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program, to show that he respected the president.
But he quickly added that he would stamp out the “talipandas” (crooked) in the government “in the wink of an eye.”
Asked how, if he were president, he would handle an inquiry by the International Criminal Court into the anti-drug campaign, Domagoso said he was not a president’s “son or daughter,” but he would champion the “rule of law … for any John Doe and Mary, Juan dela Cruz or Pedro.”
“In the same manner, we will continue to recognize our relationship with other countries … [and] the treaties and agreements of our nation with international organizations,” he said.
Domagoso can count on the support of Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto who, like him, was in the entertainment industry before she entered politics.
“Yes, we will support him. Mayor Isko is an inspiring and God-loving leader and we can see his drive to serve the Filipino people with a heart, hope, and action,” Santos-Recto told reporters in a text message.
“With what he did to Manila, especially during this pandemic, we saw his focus and sincerity as a leader,” she added.
—WITH A REPORT FROM NESTOR CORRALES
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