The City of Manila under COVID-19: Projecting Mayoral Performance amid Crisis.

AuthorCalimbahin, Cleo

As the second-largest city in the Philippines' National Capital Region (NCR), with a population of nearly 1.8 million, Manila is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With 42,857 people per square kilometre, the city has tried to contain the spread of COVID-19 by employing hard lockdowns and curfews. As the pandemic hit in early 2020, problems were exacerbated by poor access to clean water due to an earlier water crisis and a lack of clean public sanitation, particularly among informal settlers living in crowded and squalid conditions in many of the city's 897 urban wards (barangays). The lack of decisive and swift actions from the national government, especially Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, was only one of many factors that fuelled public anxiety over the government's response. The reality that the Philippine healthcare system does not have the capacity to address the pandemic became readily apparent when, two weeks into the lockdown, the five best-equipped private hospitals in the NCR (also known as Metro Manila) publicly announced that they could not accept any more COVID-19 patients.

The key figure leading the pandemic response in the City of Manila was Mayor Francisco "Isko" Moreno Domagoso, a former actor elected to his post in May 2019. One month into the pandemic, Mayor Isko enforced a hard lockdown in the areas of Tondo and Sampaloc, both with high concentrations of urban poor, to control COVID-19 outbreaks. In July, an additional 31 barangays were placed under hard lockdowns due to rising COVID-19 cases. The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila was turned into a 600-bed quarantine facility. Eight months into the pandemic, Mayor Isko was handing out cash incentives of PhP100,000 (US$2,000) to 73 barangays that had recorded zero COVID-19 infections during the previous two months.

With the assistance of his public relations team, Mayor Isko has managed to use the pandemic as an opportunity to show his leadership skills during the crisis and contrast his performance with the slow and inadequate response of the national government. Using both new and old strategies, the local government's response has been projected not just across the six districts of Manila but also to a national audience. Good optics and ample promotional material can be found in the actions and rhetoric of the mayor, from his crisis management to his cash aid to constituents, to his attempts to promote order by adopting a tough approach to those who disregard the law. None of this is new. Filipino politicians have long used posters or large banners, prominently displaying their name and picture, to take credit for public goods and services they extend to their constituents. However, Mayor Isko has adopted a novel approach through the use of digital platforms, from live Facebook feeds of his daily activities to YouTube channels that show he is a take-charge mayor roaming the streets of Manila. This technique has successfully drawn nationwide public attention and private sector support.

Since Moreno became mayor, parallels have been drawn between him and Rodrigo Duterte, who before assuming the presidency in 2016 displayed a populist style of mayoral governance in Davao City. Like Duterte, Mayor Isko uses tough rhetoric to try to curb opposition and enforce order. Moreno has further demonstrated an impressive...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT