Touting his rags-to-riches story, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno is aiming to become the second actor-turned-politician to claim the Malacañang Palace.
If the 47-year-old were to perform the biggest role of his life, Moreno would follow in the footsteps of the former president and actor Joseph Estrada, who served from 1998-2001 and had to resign after being impeached. But he will have strong competition from the likes of boxer-turned-Senator Manny Pacquiao.
The former actor and television personality is the president of the progressive Aksyon Demokratiko party, and his running mate is the media personality Dr. Willie Ong. Moreno entered politics in 1998 and has served in his current post since 2019.
In March, a survey by private pollster Pulse Asia of some 2,400 people on who they would vote for saw Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. firmly in the lead with 60 percent. Vice President Leni Robredo was second with 15 percent, while Moreno came in third with 10 percent.
Raised in poverty
Announcing his candidacy last September, Moreno declared, “I have pulled myself out of the gutter with no Daddy Warbucks helping me along.” He has drawn comparisons with Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, who both became president after serving as city mayors.
Born in the slums of Tondo, Manila in 1974, Francisco Moreno Domagoso was an only child who would rummage through restaurant garbage bins for leftover food. At the age of 19, he was discovered at a funeral wake by a talent scout and urged to audition for the now-defunct teen variety show "That's Entertainment", hosted by the late German Moreno.
He then adopted the stage name Isko Moreno out of gratitude to the late host and eventually landed film roles thanks to his boyish good looks. Moreno briefly featured in the "titillating films" genre that was popular in the Philippines in the 1990s.
Aged 23, he decided to join public service and was elected councillor of Manila, a position he held for three terms. By 2007, Moreno had been elected vice mayor of Manila, being re-elected in 2010 and 2013.
He later served as chairman of North Luzon Railways Corporation in 2017, as well as undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development for Luzon Affairs in 2018. Moreno quit these posts for an unsuccessful senatorial run in 2016 but was elected Manila mayor in 2019, defeating Estrada in the process.
Moreno studied public administration at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila). He has been married to businesswoman Diana Lynn Ditan for more than 20 years.
As Manila mayor, Moreno has removed illegal stalls from the street and imposed a nighttime curfew for children aged 17 and below.
His handling of the pandemic has also drawn praise in the capital, by overseeing a massive vaccine rollout, building field hospitals and isolation centers, and handing out cash and food to poor households.
But while Moreno is popular in Manila, he is often seen as an opportunist by supporters of Duterte. The father of five said he was running for president to undo the Duterte administration's handling of the pandemic, claiming that after more than 550 days of quarantine, "instead of flattening the curve we have flattened the economy".
But he has recently attempted to mend fences with Duterte, a move that risks upsetting his supporters. Moreno said in December 2021 that he is willing to include Duterte in his senatorial slate and is personally willing to vote for him. (Duterte withdrew his candidacy for a seat in the Senate on December 14).
"I will personally vote for President Duterte for senator. And I will be grateful, honored, and humbled to have somebody like the president on our slate as an additional candidate for senator," said Moreno.
Duterte's daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is Davao City mayor, is also running for vice-president alongside Marcos. But both Moreno and the Dutertes have recently turned up the heat on Marcos, raising the issue of unpaid estate taxes from the estate of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., which now amount to around P203 ($3.8) billion,
Moreno has expressed confidence that he would have the support of the "silent majority".
Despite some suggestions that voters would favor an "Isko-Sara" ticket, the Manila mayor has insisted that he is sticking with Ong as his running mate.
In February, Moreno said that he would be open to appointing Vice President Leni Robredo, who is also running for president, to a Cabinet position if he is elected.
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