Philippines: Manila’s Popular Mayor Enters Race for President

Marielle Lucenio
Philippines: Manila’s Popular Mayor Enters Race for President Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso (left) and Willie Ong bump elbows while announcing their plan to run for president and vice president in the Philippine elections next year, Sept. 22, 2021.

The popular mayor of Manila, former film actor Francisco Domagoso, officially declared his candidacy Wednesday for next year’s Philippine presidential polls, promising to improve the government’s anti-pandemic plan if elected.

Domagoso, 46, who grew up in poverty and scavenged garbage as a child, joins Manny Pacquiao, the boxing superstar-turned-senator who announced his candidacy for the top political office at the weekend. 

“I am humbly asking you, my countrymen [that] in this coming May elections, please accept my application as president of the Philippines,” said Domagoso, who is also known as Isko Moreno, the name he used as a matinee idol. 

Domagoso named Willie Ong, a doctor, as his running mate for vice president. The choice indicated that their immediate campaign strategy would be to focus on controlling runaway infections of COVID-19.

“Instead of flattening the curve, we have flattened our economy,” Domagoso said. “Yet, many people continue flat-lining in hospitals, without beds, without doctors, without medicine and sadly, even without oxygen. The state of public health in our country is saddening.” 

While other nations applied best practices in trying to control infections, the government under President Rodrigo Duterte experimented by declaring unlimited lockdowns and movement restrictions, he said.

Duterte, whose six-year term ends next year, has announced plans to run for vice president because the constitution bars him from seeking a second term as president.

Duterte’s ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Laban (PDP-Laban) party has nominated his longtime aide, Sen. Christopher Go, to run for president. While Go has said he does not plan to seek election, analysts have said that if both men win, he is expected to step down to make way for Duterte to replace him. 

Domagoso, who was elected president of the Aksyon Demokratiko party in August, and Ong entered the race at a time when the senate has been investigating alleged corruption tied to the Duterte government’s vaccine procurement program.

Duterte has denied the allegations.

In July, amid talk about Domagoso’s possible run, Duterte started attacking the mayor of the Philippine capital as being out of his depth. He criticized Domagoso for his perceived inefficiency because of out-of-control vaccination lines in Manila.

‘No magic wand’

On Wednesday, Domagoso said he would expand Manila’s anti-COVID19 program to the entire country and call for health-care front-liners who risk their lives to get better pay and improved working conditions. 

“The next administration will inherit many problems,” Domagoso said. “The road to recovery will be hard, the journey long, the challenges complex, the sacrifices required from each of us will be great.

“There is no magic wand that will make our problems go away. Only hard work will,” he said, adding that he would soon release his platform. 

Domagoso said he previously held talks with the camps of Pacquiao, who was nominated by a faction of the same ruling party that nominated Go, and opposition leader and Vice President Leni Robredo regarding the election and potential candidacies.

Robredo, a lawyer who had served as a legislator, has said little about her political future. On Monday, her camp confirmed that she had reached out to Domagoso and Pacquiao in an effort to unite potential candidates. 

Among other potential presidential candidates is Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, who serves as mayor of the southern city of Davao. She has said she would not seek top office if her father ran again. 

Domagoso said he had no illusions that running for president would be easy. He offered a vague response when asked if he was running an opposition campaign.

“I can work with anybody, opposition, administration. If we’re going to define ourselves based on political colors, only the politician will benefit,” he said. 

The Manila mayor is not the first former actor to seek the presidency.

Action movie star Joseph Estrada parlayed his acting career into politics and won the presidency handily in 1998. But he was ousted by a military-backed popular revolt three years later.

Convicted of corruption following his ouster, Estrada was pardoned and elected mayor of Manila in 2013, only to lose to Domagoso six years later.

Born into poverty in Manila’s tough Tondo district, Domagoso scavenged garbage and junk as a child. Sometimes, he salvaged garbage bags for leftover food for his mother to cook for family dinners. 

The candidate was discovered by a talent scout in 1993 and was cast in a daily television variety show. Five years later, he won a seat in the city council before being elected vice mayor in 2007. He lost a senate race in 2016 before winning the Manila mayor’s race in 2019.

“First, I don’t belong to a large clan. I am neither a son nor a daughter of a president. You can’t see the faces of my penniless ancestors on bills,” Domagoso said Wednesday. “I have pulled myself out of the gutter with no Daddy Warbucks helping me along.”


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