Former ‘basurero’ Isko Moreno vows to clean up filthy Manila

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Former ‘basurero’ Isko Moreno vows to clean up filthy Manila

Lito Borras

(UPDATED) Former vice mayor Isko Moreno, who is running for mayor, asks his rivals, who have both served as mayor: 'Eighteen years ago, there's no such thing as BGC. How are we after 18 years? Where is Manila? Where is Manila headed?'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Once a garbage collector himself, Manila mayoral candidate Isko Moreno vowed to clean up the filthy City of Manila as he kicked off his campaign for mayor on Friday, March 29.

“We will clean Manila,” Moreno said in a forum at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila, which was skipped by his rivals Alfredo Lim and incumbent mayor Joseph Estrada.

Moreno asked, “Napansin ‘nyo po ang Maynila, dugyot? Alam mo ‘yung dugyot – ‘yung may libag, banil, ‘yung hindi natatanggal na libag.” (Have you noticed that Manila is filthy? It’s filthy – it has lots of dirt, the kind of dirt that’s hard to remove.)

“This is aesthetics. Don’t get me wrong. It may not be the biggest issue in this city, this may be aesthetics, but this also affects our daily lives – atmosphere in working environments, in institutions like schools. Social scientists will agree with me that it will affect our daily lives,” Moreno said. 

He pointed out that garbage hurts not only the eyes, but also the health of Manila’s residents. 

He said managing garbage is his expertise because he himself was once a garbage collector when he was a high school student. “Meron na kayong kandidatong basurero (You now have a candidate who was a garbage collector). I used to be there, eh.”

Moreno also promised to organize vendors in the city, as he played a video of his proposed “Mercado de Divisoria” – in reference to a popular area for cheap goods in the city. Vowing not to displace vendors in his clean-up drive, Moreno said, “We will find space for them.” 

Once the crown jewel of the Philippines, the capital city of Manila is now one of the poorest, dirtiest cities in the country due to years of corruption, neglect, and traditional politics. 

The former seat of the Spanish colonial regime has long been outdone by business hubs like Makati City and Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig. “Eighteen years ago, there’s no such thing as BGC,” Moreno said. “How are we after 18 years? Where is Manila? Where is Manila headed?”

It is in this context that Moreno is challenging Estrada and Lim in Manila. “Sila naman ay napagbigyan na (They have been given their chance),” Moreno said.

Moreno repeated the same message in his campaign kick-off Friday evening. Referring to Estrada and Lim, he asked his supporters, “Nagbakasakali nga kayo nang 18 taon ng buhay ninyo sa dalawa, bakit hindi kayo magbakasakali sa akin?” (You took your chances on the two of them for 18 years of your lives, why won’t you take your chances on me?)

CAMPAIGN KICK-OFF. Manila mayoral bet Isko Moreno speaks at his campaign kick-off in Sampaloc, Manila, on March 29, 2019. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Lim was Manila mayor from 1992 to 1998, and then from 2007 to 2013. Estrada – who was a longtime mayor of San Juan before he became senator, vice president, and president – was elected mayor of Manila in 2013 and 2016. 

Lopez was a former Manila councilor and vice mayor. He was set to run for mayor in 2013, but agreed to be Estrada’s running mate, after having been promised that Estrada would seek only one term. Estrada broke this promise in 2016, forcing Moreno to run as senator and lost. 

What makes the battle of Manila more interesting is that it’s a contest among 3 allies-turned-rivals. 

In 2007, Lim said Estrada agreed to endorse him for Manila mayor.

Moreno meanwhile considered Lim his mentor in politics, and later became Estrada’s prospective political heir. In 2013, Estrada said he would serve only one term as city mayor, and was willing to give way to Moreno after that. 

Walang utang na loob?

Moreno’s ties with Estrada, his former standard bearer, continue to haunt him this year.

On the sidelines of the UP Manila forum on Friday, Moreno was asked about criticism that he lacks utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to Estrada.

Moreno answered, “Hindi naman ako may sabi na, I don’t know if I remember it right, ‘di ba he said one term lang siya? (I was not the one who said – I don’t know if I remember it right – didn’t he say he will serve for only one term?) I don’t know if he remembers that.”

Saying he does not want to engage in black propaganda, Moreno added: “Ang isang sigurado ako na may utang na loob ako, may utang na loob ako sa Diyos, may utang na loob ako sa mga taga-Tondo nung ginawa nila akong konsehal, may utang na loob ako sa mga taga-Maynila nung ginawa nila akong vice mayor. May utang na loob ako, sa taumbayan.

(I’m sure I have a debt of gratitude to God, to the residents of Tondo when they made me councilor, to the people of Manila when they made me vice mayor. I have a debt of gratitude to the people.)

He added that politics “is not business,” taking potshots at Estrada, a former San Juan mayor who became senator, vice president, and later president, and whose children and relatives occupy other posts in government.

Baka kasi kaya iniisip nilang utang na loob, baka kasi nasanay na sila na ang pamilya niya ay nasa pulitika at negosyo nila ang pulitika, kaya feeling nila utang na loob. Ang utang na loob sa taumbayan,” Moreno said.

(Maybe they talk in terms of debt of gratitude because they’re used to having a family in politics, and their business is politics, that’s why they think in terms of debt of gratitude. Our debt of gratitude is to the people.) –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email