From the gutter to the spotlight
If Moreno feels like he knows what Manila needs and how best to achieve his goals, he’s certainly earned it. The story of his unlikely rise to the top of city’s political totem pole is well-known by now—from his years growing up in crippling poverty in the alleyways of Tondo to his big break in local showbusiness after being accidentally discovered by a talent scout during a neighbor’s wake, and finally, to his eventual foray into politics. But hearing it come from Moreno’s lips is something else altogether.
“I literally came from the gutter of society,” he says. “Paminsan-minsan, pagnagmumuni-muni ako, hindi ko sukatakalainnaposible pala naangisangbasurero, isang sidecar boy, ay pwedengmagingalkalde ng lungsod ng Maynila nakapitolyo ng bansa. (Sometimes, I find myself stopping to think, I never dreamed that it would be possible for a garbageman, a sidecar-driver, can become the mayor of the city of Manila, the country’s capital).
He launches into that oft-repeated tale of his youth—his days rummaging through garbage to find the family’s next meal. “May mgaarawwalakangmakakain. So walakangchoice kundikainin mo yungtira ng tao nanasabasurahan. (There were days when you had nothing to eat. So you had no choice but to eat other people’s leftovers, which you would get from the garbage). Ten years old akonagsimulangmagingbasurero. I needed to survive. Sa awa ng Diyos, hindinamanakonagkasakit. We used to collect yung garbage of (a popular fast food chain). Kasi mga 9 p.m. magsasaranasila. Yung mgatira-tira ng tao, ipi-pritonaminulit.” (I was 10 years old when I first became a garbageman. With God’s grace, I never got sick. The leftovers we got from the garbage, we would re-fry and eat).
The new mayor is open about his roots in the slums of Tondo. He says there were days when he would rummage through the trash bins of fastfood outlets looking for the family's next meal
In those days during the late 1980s, options to get themselves out of poverty were limited for people like Moreno. Girls fantasized about going to Japan and becoming entertainers, while boys either applied as laborers in Saudi Arabia or as seamen. For Moreno, it was the latter. The dream for a better life hinged on becoming captain of a ship.
But a different route was waiting for him. His days living in extreme poverty—going to school with an empty stomach, using the same pair of shoes through the four years of high school, going to prom wearing his PE uniform—ended that fateful evening while hanging out at a neighborhood wake.
With his fair skin, patrician nose and overall good looks, “Scott,” as classmates and friends used to call him back then, stood out in the slums of Tondo. Talent manager Wowie Roxas asked him if he was interested to become an “artista” and, without hestitation, the then-18-year-old said yes.
“That changed everything,” he says. “The transition was immediate. It was almost like, one day, basura (garbage), and then the next, the glamour (of showbiz).”
The former Francisco Moreno Domagoso officially adopted the screen name Isko Moreno as soon as he stepped into the bright lights of showbusiness. His years as an actor and entertainer throughout the 1990s are well-documented, although he never quite became a white-hot superstar. In fact, he would be the first to characterize his success in the entertainment industry as “moderate.”
He also doesn’t gloss over the years he spent doing more risqué roles for movies produced under notorious studio Seiko Films.
“No regrets at all,” he says. “I always tell my children, work is work. Anong gusto mo, basurero or artista? (Woud you rather be a garbageman or an actor?) Some people, of course, thought hindisiyamagandanggawain (that it wasn’t decent work). But for me it was a profession.”
Besides being the youngest elected mayor of Manila, Moreno was also the youngest-ever councilman (23 years old), and the youngest-ever elected vice mayor (32 years old) of the city
Double-breasted jacket by Ring Jacket, shirt by Luca Avitable, trousers by Ambrosi Napoli, and silk necktie by Tie Your Tie, all at Signet, Shangri-La at the Fort
Transition to politics
The last time this much attention was paid to the new mayor of Manila was during the first term of his immediate predecessor. Joseph Estrada had once been ousted as President of the Philippines but decided he wasn’t quite done with politics. In 2013, he moved from his traditional bailiwick of San Juan to run for mayor of the country’s capital city. Moreno, who by then had served nine years as city councilor and two consecutive terms as vice mayor, agreed to be his running mate on the condition that the former President would only run for one term and would hand the reins over to his vice mayor in the next local elections.
Three years later, Estrada allegedly reneged on the deal and decided to run again. Disappointed but not dejected, Moreno chose to cut ties with Estrada and seek a seat at the Senate. He lost, placing 15th.
“The only good thing to come out of that (Senate run) was that I got to go and travel the country,” he says. “Seriously, go around the country. It’s beautiful.”
He says the decision to run for public office happened more because he felt the desire to give back—to return the blessings he had been given during his years in the limelight. Having only finished high school, Moreno admits an initial ignorance of the exact function and responsibilities of a councilor, but an intense desire to learn the ropes—and to actually take politics so seriously that he was willing to quit showbiz altogether—set him apart from many other actors-turned-politicians.
And he didn’t just bank on his showbiz cache to coast through life as a councilman. With the prodding of his mentor, former Manila Vice Mayor Danny Lacuna, Moreno went back to school, taking courses at the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance. He also proudly ticks off the other educational courses he completed: the International Business Leaders Program courtesy of the U.S. State Department, and executive programs at the JFK School of Government in Harvard University and at Oxford University.
“Awa ng Diyos, kahitpapano may diploma na ko ngayon,” he says with a smile. (With God’s grace, I at least have a diploma now).
In just his first week of office, Mayor Isko has earned praise from different sectros of society for his quick actions on a variety of issues facing his constituents