BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA, MAY 8, 2012 (PHILSTAR)  FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo PHOTOS by RICKY LO - No fairy godmother touched him with a magic wand but the life story of Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno (photo) runs, as everybody must know by now, like that of Cinderella.

It doesn’t lose luster in the retelling.

Francisco Domagoso was born on Oct. 24, 1974, to Joaquin Domagoso, a stevedore at Manila’s North Harbor, and Rosario Moreno, a Waray from Allen, Northern Samar. An only child, he started at age 10 helping the family make ends meet by pushing a cart, going from house to house gathering old newspapers and used bottles, and then selling them at a junk yard. Early on, he learned that there was dignity in labor.

“I would check out the garbage cans of the restaurants for leftover food and my mother would re-cook them for our dinner,” Isko recounted in a Conversation years back after he was elected vice mayor after serving as councilor for three terms. “My favorite restaurant was Jollibee kasi maraming chicken. I love fried chicken up to now.”

Then, the showbiz spotlight picked him out, with talent scout-manager Wowie Roxas as his fairy godmother. Roxas persuaded Isko to join That’s Entertainment, the youth-oriented show hosted by German “Kuya Germs” Moreno on GMA 7. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Using showbiz as springboard to politics, Isko graduated from being a councilor to being vice mayor without missing a beat.

And now here he was at the balcony of the London Hotel in Beverly Hills, feeling on top of the world as he surveyed the sweeping view with the HOLLYWOOD sign yonder.

How did Conversation chance upon Isko?

Well, my friend Tim Evans of the US Immigration tipped me off that two nights before this interview, Isko and his family arrived on a PAL flight from Manila. It was Tim who processed their papers (passports, etc.). Taking a chance, I texted Isko on his old celfone number. Connected!

It turned out that Isko was staying for two days in L.A. before flying to Boston to take a short course in Harvard. He was staying with his brother-in-law miles away so we compromised. We met late last month at the hotel where a few other writers from Manila and I were billeted by Penshoppe for the interview with its new A-list endorser Zac Efron (story out two Sundays ago). Isko should be back by now.

Wow, you’re going to Harvard. What course are you taking up and how long will it take?

“I applied for a short executive program at the John F. Kennedy School in Harvard. It has something to do with crisis management; they call it Leadership in Crisis…’yung man-made at natural crises ang pag-uusapan. For example, we’re going to study the destruction done by Hurricane Katrina and how we can best prepare for it. We’ll also talk about the wildfire that destroyed a wide area in San Diego, the H1N1 epidemic, the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. What I will learn is very helpful in the Philippines so I decided to apply for the course.”

Did you take a qualifying test?

“There was an online interview. Applicants were asked about their educational attainment and what your position in government is. Mayroon din Q&A. Then you will be notified after submitting the information. Fortunately after three days, I was notified na naka-tsamba ako.”

How humble! I don’t think it was tsamba (luck). Harvard yata ‘yan!”

“Sa awa ng Diyos.”

How long will it take you to finish the program?

“Only more than a week, with classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a simulation program wherein parang we will be given a chance to solve a problem that has already existed, like the Hurricane Katrina calamity.”

A few years ago, you also studied in a US university, didn’t you? Was it Public Administration?

“I studied forms of government, ‘yun naman something to do with local government. I was nominated and chosen by the US State Department. We were 13 from all over the world, ako lang ‘yung Filipino na sinuwerte and I was sent to Washington and to other states like Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Seattle. We studied programs about effectivity and efficiency in governance, and also transparency in office. After ko mag-eskuwela, meron akong mga bagay na ginawa. I applied what I learned. For example, we launched the first and only session hall run only by solar power.”

Good project. It can be expanded to include the whole City Hall and, why not, the whole City of Manila?

“In my present position, limited pa ang authority ko over certain portions of the building or even within the City of Manila. I don’t have executive power yet; I’m a member of a local legislative body as presiding officer, so may authority lang ako over the session hall. So I’m waiting for the right time.” (Adding after thinking for a while). “I hope that someday… masarap ding maging alkalde ng lungsod, someday sana.”

That “someday” may not be long from now. There are reports that you’re running in 2013. Is your taking a Harvard program in preparation for 2013? Are you running for a reelection or for a higher position?

“Well, I’m keeping my options open. I haven’t decided yet what position I will run for. For Mayor of Manila? I think it’s too early, siguro hindi pa sa 2013, because I think Mayor Lim will run again. Former Pres. Erap is also rumored to be running. (Note: In yesterday’s papers, Erap was quoted as saying he might not run because he has “nothing more to prove.” But Isko said that he’s “humbled” by Erap’s earlier reported plan to get him as running mate should he run for Manila mayor. “Erap is my idol and mentor in public service,” added Isko.)

“’Yung ginagawa kong pag-aaral ngayon, I’m just trying to equip myself to be better in terms of public service. I’m adding to my knowledge na pang-akademya; meron naman akong kaalaman sa naturalesa, for example how to survive in poverty and how to obtain education if you don’t have money.”

Anyway, you’re only 37 and you have more than enough time ahead of you. You’re a self-made man. You finished elementary school in Tondo where you grew up, then you joined showbiz and ran for councilor of Manila, before finally running for vice mayor after serving three terms.

“I took a crash course in UP, about local legislation and local finance. I enrolled twice at UP. Later on, I decided to take a four-year college course. Then, I went to a law school (Arellano University) but I had to quit on my second year when I was elected vice mayor. When I was a councilor, I covered only one district. But when I became vice mayor, six districts na. I had to stop my Law studies so I could devote full time sa pagsisilbi ng mga Manileño.

“Then came the chance to take a short course in Harvard and I grabbed it. The executive program is helpful to public servants like me because it will teach us the practical approach to solving a crisis.”

How would you describe a typical day in your life?

“On Mondays, I wake up at around 8 o’clock depende sa work load ko for the day. Sometimes, at around 6 o’clock if I have an early appointment. But usually, 10 a.m. My day ends at around 10 p.m. The joke is that I’m the one who closes the City Hall. Before I go home to Tondo, nag-iikot ako. If there’s a wake, nakikiramay ako. Pinaparamdam ko sa kanila ang presence ko, that I’m still the same Isko that they knew, na walang nagbago, hindi nagbago.”

How much time do you have for and with your family? (He and his wife Diana Lynn Ditan have four children: Vincent Patrick, 13; Frances Diane, 12; Joaquin Andre, 11; and Franco, 5.)

“Sundays are my family day. Saka lang ako uma-absent sa pamilya ko kapag may mga delubyo. My wife and I would watch a movie or eat out, depende kung swak ang schedules namin.”

Your wife doesn’t seem to be visible, unlike the wives of other politicians. (That’s why a family picture is not included in this piece.)

“Talagang hindi siya nakikisali, in fairness to her, talagang naka-focus siya sa pamilya. She has her own small business and that’s what also keeps her busy.”

In spite of your busy schedule, nakaka-apat ka na ng anak…

“Actually, mag-lilima na.” (Adding with a laugh) “At palagi pa akong puyat at pagod n’yan ha! Another one is coming soon. My wife is already into her fourth month of pregnancy.”

By the way, who are your role models?

“Among the foreign leaders…si John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad. Sa local naman, si Ferdinand Marcos.”

I guess you have become a role model yourself. Any piece of advice for the youth out there?

“What I always tell them is that it’s true na hindi lahat pantay-pantay — some are rich and some are poor. Pero sabi nga nila, libre lang ang mangarap. The only sure way to have a better future is to have education. Like me. I was lucky na naging artista ako. Pero ang pag-aartista may hangganan. Your looks will fade, lalabas ang mga kulubot sa mukha mo at may mga sisikat na mas bata at mas magaling kaysa sa’yo. So young people out there, don’t turn a deaf ear to what your elders remind you again and again --- that it’s only through education that you will have a better chances in our society. Times are very competitive.”

What values do you instill in your children?

“One, to treasure what they have. Two, that education is very important. Three, never to hurt anybody whether by words or by deeds. I would bring them to where I grew up in a depressed area in Tondo. ‘Papa used to live there,’ I would tell them. ‘He had no toys. Sometimes, his family ate only once a day.’ They would listen. I want to make them know that hard work and determination are the key to achieving whatever goal you have in life at hindi hadlang ang kahirapan. I would always remind them, ‘Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan’.”

When you pass by Jollibee, what comes to your mind?

(Smiles) “The early years. When I eat there or anywhere, at home or in a restaurant, I don’t leave any thing on my plate; sinisimot ko talaga, malinis na malinis ang mga buto ng manok.”

Don’t you miss showbiz?

“I do. But my priority now is public service. When I accept an offer (usually for a TV role), I would tell the producer that my Tuesdays and Wednesdays are reserved for our sessions at City Hall so I cannot shoot. Showbiz is already in my blood. That’s where I started; ‘yon ang nagbigay sa akin ng opportunity na makilala at naging tulay ko sa kinalalagyan ko ngayon.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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