The new mayor of Manila, Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, does not mince words when relating his life story. In a recent interview for the online forum “Straight Talk with Daily Tribune”’s live online show, Tribune Now’s Spotlight, he spoke of “not being born with a silver spoon,” and yet he described his childhood of poverty and want as a happy one, with his fair share of good marks in school, this despite being a working “pupil” beginning at age 10.
It had not been easy and yet, it was a time that Isko would look back on with gratitude, affection and, yes, even pride for having overcome the challenges that come with growing up in a district notoriously known for gang wars and filth. The distinguished maverick and handsome mayor of the noble and ever loyal city of Manila was born to parents who were not legally married to each other.
“I was a love child,” he revealed to us, this writer and Kat Llemit, my co-anchor. “I am sharing this with you among other trivia about my life, because I don’t want any misunderstanding. I want to be real.” Making light of his patrician looks, amplified by his fair complexion and Greek nose, which we described as being Castilian, and which we suggested might have come from a father of Hispanic origins, he said laughingly, “Wow! How good it is to hear that — me of Spanish roots, like some Don… Don Joaquin…”
“No, not at all,” said the perfectly slim, tall and mildly-spoken mayor. “My father was a stevedore, at a time when they actually carried heavyweight cargo with their bare hands. My mother stayed at home.”
Money for chewing gum
An only child, he had wanted to help earn the family’s keep, and asked for permission to be a scavenger, to which “my mother, in fairness to her, said no. I was in my elementary grades then, but I insisted and she gave in.” It all started when he saw that his friends had money for Texas, the chewing gum, and Mirinda, the orange soda, and they told him they were picking up trash that could be recycled.
In the morning, he attended school, and in the afternoon, he worked his long route picking up discards in trash cans. “I would first go to Mang Nanding who provided our carts, then I would make the rounds of trash bins. I would start on Tabora, then Ilaya, Carmen Planas, Santo Cristo, Habaneros, all those places… then, Palsacio del Gobernador where the trash container remains in the same place. I would proceed to the Banco Filipino condominium, then to the National Press Club where I had to rummage through the papers because they were inky and could not be sold. I then moved toward Jones Bridge, down to Escolta but we were not allowed to turn right to Escolta so I would go straight to Ongpin and from there to Juan Luna, Soler, all the streets of Binondo…” he recalled.
Isko, who is called by his constituents as Yorme, this being his street-language play on the word Mayor, described his childhood days as “a generally happy one, despite my awareness that I was missing a lot of things. I didn’t have clothes and toys especially during Christmas but I was not about to break my head out of envy. I took them as a fact of life. If it was my birthday, I was lucky to have a large-sized bottle of Coke. If there was none, my mother would console me and tell me to just go to sleep, ‘Your hunger will pass too.’”
Happy times came by way of swimming in the nearby Manila Bay, doing well in class including earning honors medals and, of course, “seeing my crush,” but this was in high school already. This time, he had found a new job, “driving a pedal sidecar to pick up and deliver passengers around.” “Anyway, I was in section 2 then, and she in section 4,” Isko recalled, “and I had to pass by their room before I could reach our room. I wanted her to notice me so I would buy a sachet of gel which I would wipe all over my head just so I would look good. Still, she turned me down.” It turned out she liked girls, too. While he had courted some girls, he never had a girlfriend. That would come only when he had entered showbiz already.
First guest appearance
Either for want of free food or an additional income because he usually watched over the “tong” (tills contributed by gamblers), Isko once attended a wake, “That of Aling Nita (may her soul rest in peace), and I saw Wowie Roxas. It would lead to Wowie discovering me. “When I was asked if I wanted to join showbiz, I immediately said yes because I knew I was going to be paid well. So, I joined Kuya Germs’ That’s Entertainment. I had never been happier at the time. Where else could one have a job where all I did was come out on the stage and wave at the crowd? Thereafter, they gave you P1,500, which was what I earned from my first guest appearance. It was a big departure from driving a sidecar for which I earned the same amount only after one month.
“How could I not love my showbiz job? I was seated in an air-conditioned room waiting for call time. If they had not called me and it was lunchtime or snack time, I had free food. I thought about when I would buy an order of mongo where you could count the number of mongo seeds swimming in a bowl of water.” For five years, Isko enjoyed the spotlight, but he wanted something more. He realized he had come a long way, but what about the others he left behind? Public service beckoned and on his own, ran for councilor in Manila and won. The rest is history.
When we asked him to address the youth among our online viewers, he said, “He who does not look back can never move forward and reach his destination,” as he reminded young Filipinos to love their roots, their native tongue and their country. It is a counsel that Yorme Isko practices.
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