LIST: Ambassadors promise Isko Moreno aid in reviving Manila
MANILA, Philippines – Ambassadors have been flocking to the office of Manila Mayor Isko Moreno to pay him a courtesy call after he assumed office on June 30.
The envoys made it a point to commit to being a part of his vision of a new Manila, all too familiar with the story of how it had deteriorated from being once a sterling city of Asia to what some writers have called the entrance to hell.
And Moreno listened intently.
The shared histories between the Philippines and its allies were mirrored by the eagerness to help of ambassadors from the United Kingdom in the West to China in the East. Appreciative of this gesture, Moreno told them he would continue with what he has started – to achieve what he promised when he ran for mayor: that Manila will rise again.
As of September 15, Moreno has met with 13 ambassadors, all of them expressing their country’s commitment to Manila. We document them in this story.
1. United Kingdom Ambassador Daniel Pruce
The first to visit Moreno in his City Hall office was United Kingdom Ambassador Daniel Pruce.
During their meeting, Pruce offered the UK’s assistance in urban planning for the capital city. “There’s so much beauty, there’s so much history,” Pruce said.
In later interviews with reporters, Moreno said Pruce committed to helping open up more green spaces in Manila, aside from the already-endangered Arroceros Forest Park.
While the British embassy sits in the southern metro city of Taguig, the British share a deeper history with Manila, given the 20 months they occupied it between 1762 and 1764. The brief occupation was the culmination of the so-called “Seven Years’ War” between Britain and Spain.
In his conversation with Moreno, Pruce also committed to opening up more exchange programs with Manila’s universities – Universidad de Manila and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila – for their students to study in the United Kingdom with waived or discounted fees.
2. Panama Ambassador Rolando Alvarado
On July 19, just two days after Pruce’s visit, came Panama Ambassador Rolando Alvarado. Moreno also welcomed him in City Hall.
During their meeting, Alvarado stressed the importance of Filipinos in the global economy. He pointed out that around 60% of crew members in their ports and ships in the Panama Canal are Filipinos. (READ: Pinoy sailors send home record $6.1B in 2018)
“It’s something I always wanted to promote, how important they are for my country,” Alvarado told Moreno.
Alvarado said their ties could further deepen by holding “cultural exchange” programs. Like the Philippines, Panama was under the colonial rule of Spain for over 300 years.
He then proceeded to praise Moreno for his “energy” as a local chief executive.
Alvarado concluded his visit by handing Moreno a “mola” cloth, textile made by indigenous peoples in Panama. Moreno thanked him and asked his staff to frame the gift.
3. Japan Ambassador Koji Haneda
On July 22, came Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda.
While Japan is known for its futuristic application of technology for local government, Haneda advised Moreno on how to lure more Japanese tourists to the capital: improve Intramuros.
“I think that can be a magnet for Japanese tourists. When Japanese visit Manila, they want to do culture,” Haneda said.
And he said no other country has a shared history with Japan when it came to Christianity. An icon of the Japanese Christians in Manila is the samurai Takayama Ukon, who was exiled in Manila for his faith.
Ukon is remembered with a larger than life statue at the center of Plaza Dilao, which marks the historic neighborhood in Manila where thousands of Japanese stayed during the Spanish colonial era.
“The trail where he stayed can be an asset I’m going to promote,” Haneda said. Moreno replied, “You promote, I protect.”
Before leaving, Haneda gifted him with a polished clay plate, commemoratively made for the arrival of the Japanese Reiwa period.
4. Saudi Arabia Ambassador Abdullah Al-Bussairy
The next visit came from Saudi Arabia Ambassador Abdullah Al-Bussairy on August 5.
Bussairy focused their conversation on labor and Moreno’s pace as a mayor.
“It’s a very beautiful city,” Bussairy said of Manila, as Moreno was ranting about his frustrations about the city's revival.
Bussairy then stressed how his country valued Filipinos, saying that around one million of them are already working in Saudi Arabia – most of whom are domestic workers vulnerable to abuse.
Moreno said he hopes that the number rises to “two million” and that Saudi Arabia would take in “skilled workers” too.
5. Israel Ambassador Rafael Harpaz
Israel Ambassador Rafael Harpaz visited City Hall the same day as Bussairy on August 5.
Harpaz praised Moreno about his work style.
“In Filipino, you say dahan-dahan (slowly). You don’t know dahan-dahan. It’s bilis-bilis (fast). I like it,” Harpaz said.
Harpaz also reminded Moreno of the continuing settlement of Jews in Manila. Most of them stay in Makati, where their synagogue stands. But because Manila is the capital city, many of them still go by Moreno's jurisdiction.
“Filipinos have high expectations for you,” he said.
After Moreno said he has never visited his country, Harpaz invited him to visit Israel to learn how its cities have rapidly grown in the past decades.
He then committed to extending educational assistance to two Manila schools: the Rosauro Almario Elementary school and the Tondo High School.
6. Singapore Ambassador Gerard Ho
Singapore Ambassador Gerard Ho visited on August 8. Moreno was especially eager about his visit as one of his revered statesmen is late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In his conversation with Ho, Moreno lamented that Manila has been left behind by its other city neighbors. He traced the problem to the lack of urban planning.
“I don’t think we have a 10-year plan. I think our plans are not yet intertwined,” Moreno said.
He said his experience with Manila is a far cry from that of Singapore, which saw a meteoric rise, thanks to its goals. Returning Moreno’s compliments, Ho said, “I think you know what you are doing.” Nevertheless, he added that they are “ready to share.”
“Ask us if you need any help. We have areas of expertise in traffic management, sewages, but you have to see what works for you because you cannot blindly apply,” Ho said.
Moreno asked for help then and there. He said that the had a “dream” of addressing flooding in Manila. (LOOK: Heavy rain floods areas in Metro Manila)
“I think in a million light-years we will arrive there, but with your help (Singapore's) we will get there,” Moreno said.
7. Russia Ambassador Igor Khovaev
On August 13, Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev dropped by Morenos’ office, carrying one message.
“Mr Mayor, my message is very simple. It’s to establish new ties between Moscow and Manila. I think there is good opportunity for that,” Khovaev immediately said after they traded pleasantries.
Khovaev then described Moscow as a “dynamic” city where Moreno can learn much. Moreno said he wanted to learn about sustainability, causing Khovaev to perk up.
“Moscow hosts an energy summit,” he said. He then invited Moreno to the next one in October, to which Moreno said he would attend.
“It’s an opportunity for you and your counterpart to see what should be done for Manila and Moscow,” Khovaev said.
He added: “If you have any proposal for the integration between our two capitals, please don't hesitate.”
Moreno replied: “The same is offered by Manila.”
8. European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen
European Ambassador Franz Jessen presented Moreno a challenge when they met on August 14.
“I hope that the Mayor would bring that back to Manila and make it the best city to live in,” Jessen said, referring to the return of cleanliness in the capital.
Jessen invited Moreno to go to Europe and see for himself how cities in the continent handle their trash problems.
The EU ambassador said they have been trying hard to help local governments in Manila to clean the Pasig River, but efforts have been derailed. “We need to be very consistent to be able to succeed,” Jessen said.
With the Pasig River slowly becoming cleaner, Jessen then pitched for the cleaning up of Manila Bay, which has been placed under rehabilitation on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.
9. New Zealand Ambassador David Strachan
New Zealand Ambassador David Strachan also went to City Hall on August 14, with all praises for Moreno.
“He has made such a dynamic start,” Strachan said.
Strachan said New Zealand, like Manila, is focused on improving ease of doing business to attract more investors. New Zealanders flock to their cities like Auckland and Wellington, which, like Manila, are harbor cities.
Strachan also told Moreno that his country would be ready to help with disaster preparedness efforts, as New Zealand frequently deals with floods.
“They are knowledgeable with disasters. We can learn from them,” Moreno said in an ambush interview after the meeting.
10. Australia Ambassador Steven Robinson
Australia’s Steven Robinson had the most immersive visit.
They began at City Hall, with each of them giving short speeches, then proceeded to the Arroceros Forest Park.
Australia has been one of the biggest aid donors to the Philippines for disaster and warfare. In his visit, Robinson said the country is interested in how Manila will grow under Moreno.
“We have been talking about his plans for the future, which are impressive indeed,” Robinson said.
For about 20 minutes, Moreno toured Robinson in the so-called last lung of Manila. During the tour, Robinson pitched areas where they could help in rehabilitating Arroceros Forest Park.
The tour concluded in a dining hall near the park where they sang the classic song, Manila, by the former Hotdog band, with a crowd cheering them on.
11. Georgia Ambassador Irakli Asashvili
Georgian Ambassador Irakli Asashvili visited on August 21 and focused his advice on ease of doing business.
He told Moreno that they made the processing of documents easier, particularly passports, attracting more businesses to invest in their country.
Georgia, like the Philippines, is classified as a developing country. The two celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations in 2017, with calls to “affirm commitment” in supporting each other.
“After we reformed the policy, we attracted investors in Georgia, and we are proud to say we are one of the top 10 countries to do business in Europe,” he said.
He added: “You cannot have reforms and development when you have interruptions.” Asashvili also invited Moreno to Georgia, which calls Tbilisi its capital.
12. China Ambassador Zhao Jianhua
The latest ambassador to visit Moreno was Zhao Jianhua, who met with Moreno on September 12.
Of all the ambassadors, he was the only one who brought a check to the meeting, specifically a P20-million check pooled from Chinese businessmen and intended for the rehabilitation of a bridge near the Pasig River.
Zhao stressed that under President Rodrigo Duterte, the opportune time has come to revisit ties between Manila and Beijing – capitals that also call each other sister-cities.
“Our relationship will be more vibrant. Rest assured we will do our best to deepen our friendship so that we can help you carry out your grand program,” Zhao said, referring to Moreno’s dream for Manila.
Zhao said China continues to hold interests in the capital, especially because it is home to the oldest and biggest Chinatown in the world: Binondo.
“This indicates we have a profound, solid foundation for friendship and cooperation,” he said.
Moreno thanked Zhao for his promises, and said he hoped that he would also see how Manila “wakes” again. “We really have to wake up the sleeping dragon. It used to be a dragon, but because of politics, we hibernated, while our neighboring cities developed,” Moreno said.
13. United States Ambassador Sung Kim
A unique case in this list is United States Ambassador Sung Kim, who received Moreno instead of visiting him on July 12.
Kim, the ambassador of the Philippines’ former colonizer and longest-standing ally, met Moreno at the US embassy, which is located along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
Kim called Moreno a “rockstar” for his frontline-style of government which landed him frequently in the headlines and the evening news during his first weeks in office.
Weeks later in August, the US embassy sent a contingent from its Commercial section to Moreno to ask how they could help in his vision of building a smart city.
According to Moreno’s chief of staff Cesar Chavez, they want the US’ help in doing plans and studies, as large portions of the city were designed by Americans during their occupation. – Rappler.com