ISKO Moreno of Manila and Vico Sotto of Pasig have earned widespread praise for “bursting through the gates” of the mayoralties of Manila and Pasig.

Many are now in a cooperative and collaborative mood after being wowed by the bold steps they have taken starting on Day One.

In Manila, Moreno explains that he just wanted everyone to be put on notice that “governance is back.” His banner achievements so far are the swift cleanup of Lagusnilad and Divisoria, and the restoration of the Bonifacio Shrine just across the street from City Hall.

Sotto, meanwhile, ushered in “open governance” in Pasig, declaring transparency as a cornerstone policy. He has reportedly opened a freedom of information office to serve the public, and required public officers to submit reports on how public money had been spent.

It remains to be seen how mavericks Moreno and Sotto could still be after “breaking out” quite magnificently, and how progressive-minded they could be.

Consider this: As he presided over the clean-up of the biggest public market and streets, Moreno used his now-familiar colorful language to refer to a syndicate mulcting billions from vendors in exchange for precious space. The money apparently went all up to the highest levels of Manila government, and the corrupt attempted to bribe the new mayor.

Moreno owes it to the people of Manila to expose this network of corruption, to identify the ringleaders and henchmen, and to prosecute them. They have misruled the streets for a long time, requiring merchants and vendors to pay billions in exchange for
“protection.”

Vendors have largely cooperated with Moreno, and rightly so. They were perhaps thinking that Moreno would liberate them from the predatory “real estate brokers” and provide them space in the city. Sadly, in the narrative that Moreno has pursued or others have promoted, the vendors had become the problem.

Vendors are in fact victims of corruption and government sellout. Lest we forget, 17 public markets had been ordered privatized in the six years of the pardoned plunderer-turned-mayor. I could remember vividly how many welcomed and defended the privatization of the “palengke” in many Manila districts as “modernization.”

Quiapo ‘TALIPAPA’ / Photo by SIXPOUND

If we are wondering why Divisoria, Carriedo, and other places had became the messy affairs they were, look no further than the corrupt and the sellouts. The corrupt profited from billions in the “rent” and “protection money” they mulcted regularly from vendors, shopkeepers, and entrepreneurs. The sellouts meanwhile profited from questionable contracts on the privatization of public markets.

I’m sure the vendors and their organizations would cooperate with Moreno if he launches such a battle with the corrupt and sellouts and — this is important — in making street vendors beneficiaries too of this “new” Manila by providing adequate, corruption-free, well-ventilated, safe, and accessible selling spaces.

Vendors are members of the informal economy. They are hardworking microentrepreneurs who should be supported and encouraged — not demonized and treated as enemies. They support families, neighborhoods, and the city. In return, the city should support them.

Ask any suki: Without vendors, there’s no Divisoria.

Sotto, meanwhile, apparently knows that it won’t be easy taking over a mayoralty long treated as a family property or heirloom.
He had been friendly to the city employees who have become so familiar with and perhaps dependent on the patronage and corruption of the toppled dynasty. He would have to show them that clean, transparent governance is better.

Photo by SIXPOUND

In his campaign, candidate Sotto opened many minds when he declared that scholars should not fear losing their scholarships. Scholars earned those scholarships and no mayor could take them away.

Now Mayor Sotto, he should take a step further and tell city scholars that not only do they deserve the scholarship. Education is a right of all young people of Pasig. It is not a “gift” from the mayor or even the city government. It is a right.

The people in Manila and Pasig should support Moreno and Sotto. And perhaps the best way to help is to organize themselves from streets to neighborhoods, districts to professions, vendors to commuters, unemployed to homeless, students to seniors.

The people should be more organized than the syndicates and operatives of the deposed dynasties. When organized, the people could guide the mayor on what steps could be taken for pro-people governance. When organized, the people could vote for or install more activists, changemakers, and mavericks in public offices.

The deposed dynasties are waiting for Moreno and Sotto to fail — in short, to be like their bosses — by lapsing into little benevolent dictators.

Any deficit in democracy on the part of Moreno and Sotto would give their rivals the opportunity to sow problems or, worse, deny their mayoralties the public support needed in promoting and achieving bold changes.

Indeed, the best way to help Isko and Vico is to always remind them and ourselves that Isko and Vico should serve us. They are not kings or dictators; they are public servants.

We must organize ourselves against foes who have been organized for a long time in making our cities their kingdoms: The corrupt and the sellouts, the bribe-takers and mulcters, the contratistas and urban landlords seeking to buy off precious land in Manila and Pasig, the dynasts and trapos, and envoys of foreign interests.

Moreno and Sotto might have many bold plans. They should solicit support and feedback from the public, and not from the same malignant forces who caused and profited from the decay of our cities.

Just imagine: The people of Manila and Pasig forming movements for good governance and against corruption, for improving and not selling out public services. It is a concept mayors like Isko and Vico would surely prefer over the same old politicos and opportunists out to stab them in the back and bring us all back to the path of corrupt and neoliberal decay.

Published in MANILA BULLETIN | July 20, 2019