2022 Philippine Elections

Malacañang refuses to name Isko Moreno as object of Duterte’s ire

Pia Ranada

CHALLENGER. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno has been floated as a possible challenger to President Rodrigo Duterte's candidates in the 2022 elections.

Ben Nabong/Rappler

The anonymous word war between the President and the mayor of the nation's capital continues

Malacañang refused to name Manila Mayor Isko Moreno as the subject of President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent outburst yet still continued to heap accusations against an unnamed local chief executive on Tuesday, August 10.

Wala pong pangalan at walang pangalan ng siyudad ang nabanggit ng ating Presidente. Bilang tagapagsalita, I cannot add doon sa hindi linabas ng ating Pangulo,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque during a Tuesday press briefing. 

(The President mentioned no name and no city. As spokesman, I cannot add to what the President didn’t reveal.)

“He has a reason for not saying but I do not know what it is so I will have to leave it at that,” added Roque.

There was also little clarity on how the government would implement Duterte’s order to prohibit the unnamed city and mayor from distributing lockdown cash assistance already downloaded to accounts of the local governments.

“Frankly, I don’t know,” said Roque, adding that the public would know “in due time” who Duterte was referring to and what impact this would have on residents of that city.

But he gave assurances that the low-income households in that city would still get the aid, just not from the city government. It would be national government agencies like the Department of the Interior and Local Government or Department of Social Welfare and Development that would distribute the aid for that city only.

Roque grilled

Not naming the mayor, who could only be Moreno based on references to sexy photos and fact that Duterte was referring to Manila vaccination sites in his tirades, allowed Roque wiggle-room to evade questions of reporters on Tuesday.

“First off, your premise that this is about Manila, I cannot confirm that,” Roque said after being asked by CNN Philippines’ Triciah Terada if the President was mudslinging and politicizing in view of the 2022 elections.

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But the Duterte spokesman also struggled to respond to other questions about the mayor-who-cannot-be-named, frequently resorting to phrases like “I don’t know.”

Hindi ko alam. Bakit mo linalabas ang pangalan ni Isko Moreno. I have no information, sorry,” he said when asked by Rappler why Duterte appointed Moreno as social welfare undersecretary in 2018 if he had moral qualms about people with previous careers involving sexy roles.

Asked why Duterte had no problems appointing former sexy dancer Mocha Uson to two government posts, Roque said: “Hindi naman siguro siya nagdwe-dwell kung sino i-appoint ‘no. Ang ini-issue lang niya is ano ang moral ascendancy ng taong ito para mamuno. Si Mocha Uson na-appoint po ‘yan pero hindi ko naman po alam kung anong nakaraan ni Mocha Uson, sa totoo lang po.

(He probably doesn’t dwell on who he appoints. He took issue with the moral ascendancy of this person to govern. Mocha Uson was appointed but I don’t know what Mocha Uson’s background is, in truth.)

Asked by Terada what moral ascendacy Duterte has to preach against lewdness when he himself has been accused of sexist and inappropriate remarks and acts, Roque could only say, “Ewan ko po ano, pero wala pong ganoong mga larawan ang Presidente.

(I don’t know but the President has no such sexy photos.)

Why not name Isko?

Despite extremely specific references to the Manila mayor, Duterte has never uttered Moreno’s name in relation to his recent outbursts.

In his Monday meeting, he claimed he was refraining from doing so to avoid the perception that he was politicking.

Hindi lang tayo puwede magsalita ng pulitiko dito (We just can’t talk about politics here),” said the President, in between digs at Moreno.

But Duterte has never refrained from naming former senator Antonio Trillanes IV or Vice President Leni Robredo in past speeches delivered during meetings supposed to be about the pandemic.

He’s even used these weekly taped public addresses to promote the possible senatorial candidacies of his allies and Cabinet members. Duterte openly talks about the 2022 elections in these meetings supposed to be about the health crisis.

But unlike Trillanes or Robredo, Moreno is very close to Duterte and his daughter Sara in terms of survey ranking among preferred presidential and vice-presidential bets. 

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Duterte himself once praised Moreno in public and had appointed him twice, in 2017 as North Luzon Railways Corporation chairman, and in 2018 as social welfare undersecretary.

Moreno, perhaps taking his cue from the Palace, has also not named Duterte in his recent criticisms about government competence. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.