THE pandemic has taught many lessons and brought out either the best or the worst in each of us.

In the case of Manila Mayor Isko Moreno — ‘Kois’ to his closest friends of long standing— and without intending to, the crisis became his defining moment.

Who would have thought that this former trash scavenger and public school product (‘high school finish’, in his own terminology) would inevitably outshine not only his counterparts in other parts of the country but even higher-ranking public officials, when it came to preparedness, foresight and political will?

Before the pandemic hit, Moreno’s popularity had already soared to unimaginable levels owing to his colorful personality and surprisingly countless series of accomplishments that came in whirlwind fashion –some even previously thought of as impossible- leaving everybody in awe.

Just when the entire world nearly came to a halt as COVID-19 took over the reins of daily living, Moreno shone all the more and pulled a surprise by coming up with plans and actions ahead of everyone else.

Isko Moreno and Honey Lacuna
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna at work.
Photo by JERRY S. TAN

It was hard to keep track of the countless schemes Moreno put in place, with the aid of his very supportive fellow city officials led by Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna, his brainy secretary to the mayor Bernie Ang, members of the Manila City Council and the rest of the city officialdom, thus putting Manila in its rightful place as the country’s capital city.

In the thick of the lockdowns and quarantines where most citizens have begun losing their sources of income and had to stay home, Moreno had, beforehand, prepared residents by giving away food boxes containing basic necessities and food items, way ahead of the slated lockdowns. The monthly allowances for senior citizens, students and persons with disability were also given, some even in advance, to aid the penniless.

To ensure that the money does not go to vices, Moreno banned the sale of intoxicating beverages and public drinking as well.

Local laws were passed to make it mandatory for everyone in the city to wear face masks, this being the basic way to protect one’s self and others from getting the virus. Since not everyone can afford to buy masks, Moreno came up with the idea of hiring hundreds of Manilans to mass produce washable face masks, hitting two birds with one stone – giving job opportunities amid the crisis and providing with basic protection those who cannot afford to buy face masks.

Alternate work schedules were implemented among City Hall employes to stem infections and curfew was also imposed to limit the exposure of the people to the virus.

Hundreds of homeless people who are potential virus spreaders and locally-stranded individuals were ordered gathered by local social welfare chief Re Fugoso and placed in three facilities where they have been cared for and still are, for nearly eight months now.

Moreno also mobilized the Manila Health Department under Dr. Arnold Pangan to embark on a massive testing program in an effort to arrest community transmission, isolate infected ones and have them undergo treatment at once.

And just when every other city is struggling to have all their constituents tested, Moreno came up with two drive-through COVID testing centers for all kinds of motorists, including those driving motorcycles, pedicabs and tricycles. Not only were the tests given for free, they were also made available to those living outside of Manila.

Ensuring that no one will be left behind, Moreno, again aided by Lacuna, opened in each of the six city hospitals a walk-in center also offering testing for the virus, free of charge.

Mind you, these are not mere rapid tests that are unreliable and usually result in false negatives and false positives. The free tests offered by the city of Manila make use of the more reliable and accurate serology, utilizing expensive machines that are 100 percent sensitive and 99.6 percent specific.

Now since there are many who are not allowed to go out or are simply lazy to get themselves tested, Moreno came up with a mobile clinic which goes straight to the barangays, specially those with high incidence of COVID-19 based on reports given by barangay authorities. With the mobile clinic going around and doing the serology testing right in the heart of the communities, all that one has to do is step out of the house and get tested for free.

Even before COVID-19 peaked, Moreno already simultaneously began the building of at least a dozen quarantine facilities where those either awaiting results of their tests or are not suffering from severe symptoms that require hospitalization may stay, until they are well and are no longer infectious. These quarantine facilities proved useful when COVID patients surged and the hospitals became full to the brim.

Since the RT-PCR or swab testing, which is the confirmatory kind of test for the coronavirus, is very expensive and the limited capacity of institutions offering it inevitably slowed down the release of the results, Moreno again jumped the gun on other local government units by being the first to have not one, but two molecular laboratories in the Sta. Ana Hospital, being run by its tireless director, Dr. Grace Padilla.

With these in place, not only does Manila now have the swab testing capability for over a thousand residents daily, but it can now also offer faster results, unfortunately putting to shame blood-sucking profiteers who charge exorbitant fees for the same kind of tests.

Again ahead of all other local government units, Moreno worked on the allotment of a specific budget so that the city government was able to provide its public school students and even teachers with gadgets and connectivity, to aid them in their online classes which became the new norm in education.

Millions of his own talent fees from product endorsements also went to the purchase of tablets that were given to the students of the two city-run educational institutions, the Universidad de Manila and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Videoke sessions are now banned from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays, to help students focus on their studies.

Even while various leading companies are in a tight race to come up with a vaccine for the virus, Moreno already allotted P200 million for the purchase of such vaccines as soon as they become available. Thanks to his ever-supportive and equally hardworking Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna who also presides the Manila City Council, majority floorleader Atty. Joel Chua and president pro tempore Jong Isip whose all-out support have made most of Moreno’s brilliant ideas that need enactment come to fruition.

These are just some of the highlights of Moreno’s performance amid the pandemic. There are many, many more that he had done, enough to come up with a handbook on how to address a health crisis like COVID-19. He had been setting the trend and the bar of expectation among all officials, very high.

In fact, I’ve lost count as to how many times certain national officials have called on LGUs to copy what Manila had done.

On his 46th birthday this October 24, Moreno simply wishes for the coronavirus to go away and for his constituents to always keep safe, continue practicing the three Ws (wear your face masks, wash your hands and watch your distance) and support all government measures meant for their own sake.

President Kirkman, Keiffer Sutherland’s character in ‘Designated Survivor,’ said: “circumstances do make the man.” Indeed, in Moreno’s case, this is so true.

Suddenly, the slogan, ‘where Manila goes, the country goes,’ is back.

Itchie G. Cabayan
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