MANILA – The mayoralty race in Manila is heating up two months before the local election campaign starts.

This as the leading aspirants for the top city mayor belonging to three political clans in the country’s capital move around and meet the voters and discuss city concerns and issues affecting City Hall and the residents.

The aspirants are headed by incumbent Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan, a doctor by profession and daughter of the late Vice Mayor Danilo Lacuna and standard bearer of the local party Asenso Manileno of outgoing Mayor Francisco Isko Moreno Domagoso.

Contesting Lacuna to the top City Hall post are former Manila Congressman Amado S. Bagatsing, son of long-time Mayor Ramon D. Bagatsing; and lawyer-businessman Alex Lopez, son of the late Mayor Geminiano “Mel” Lopez.

Observers said Lacuna is considered the candidate to beat owing to the support of Mayor Isko, who is running for president in the May 9 2022 elections, and leaders of their party Asenso Manileno, and her exposure as a councilor, city health officer and assistant to her late father Danny Lacuna.

Doubts, however, are raised on the winnability of Lacuna’s runningmate, incumbent Manila third district Congressman Yul Servo, who is John Marvin Nieto in real life. Servo is an actor and a councilor before he was plucked by Mayor Isko to run for congressman, but he has not much exposure in the entire city and has not made a mark as a councilor or as congressman.

Another reason for Servo’s possible loss is the popularity of his opponent, actor Raymond Bagatsing, a grandson of the late Mayor Bagatsing and a top actor in the ABS-CBN network.

The younger Bagatsing, though, is a neophyte in city politics as he has not run in any election. Bagatsing was also questioned for his moral standard as he is known for marrying at least three old women one  after the other, some more than twice his age, while in the United States. One of the old women was then 83-year-old former professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

The elder Amado Bagatsing is experienced in city politics starting when his father was mayor of Manila. He has run for mayor at least twice and vice mayor but lost those elections despite the support of his KABAKA (Kabalikat ng Bayan Tungo sa Kaunlaran) party. He, however, remains hopeful for a surprise victory as he campaigns for the reelection of his daughter, Rep. Cristal Bagatsing, as congresswoman for the fifth district of Manila.

Alex Lopez, while relatively knew to Manilans, is the candidate of the Unity Team of former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, a connection which could work to his advantage as the Marcos-Duterte tandem is the team to beat in the presidential election.

Capitalizing on his family name and strong connection to the Marcos-Duterte team, Lopez opened his meet and greet with residents by questioning the renovation for what he said as untimely and staggering cost of P1.7 billion rehabilitatoin of Manila Zoo and its conversion into a vaccination site was “a mistake.”

Lopez said he believes the zoo’s renovation, which cost P1.7 billion, is “untimely.”

““Kung kulang ang pagkain sa hapag kainan, kulang ang trabaho, palagay ko ho hindi po napapanahon na itayo ang Manila Zoo, i-renovate for P1.7 billion, budget po ng tatlong probinsya yan. Eh sino ba ang pupunta sa zoo ngayon? (The P1.7 billion is already a budget for three provinces. And who would go to the zoo right now anyway?),” Lopez said.

“Sa tingin ko mali na naman yan… Magkiki-create lang ‘yan ng coronavirus [COVID] pero ginawa naman nila ng vaccination center. Alam n’yo naman na ang zoo ay maraming mikrobio dyan (In my opinion, it is a mistake… it will only create more COVID but they made it a vaccination site anyway. You know that a zoo has many microbes) and you don’t have to be a genius, just go to Google and you’ll see several animal-borne diseases coming from the zoo. That is the first time in the world, only in Manila ginawang vaccination center ang zoo (a zoo was turned into a vaccination center),” he further explained.

Lopez said that the city’s priority now should be the acquisition of medicines instead of infrastructure development.

“Pero nasa ngayon po na kung saan nakikita ko na ang kailangan po ng taong-bayan ay gamot po, basic medicines. Mahaba pila ng paracetamol, gamot sa ubo, sipon, sa lagnat, wala vitamins ang barangay halls, ‘yung gamot sa diabetes, gamot po sa lagnat. (I see now that citizens need basic medicines. Lines are long for paracetamol, medicines for colds, cough, fever, and diabetes, and there are no available vitamins in barangay halls),” he said.

Vice Mayor Lacuna-Pangan countered Lopez statement, saying that the Manila Zoo vaccination site is safe and that its opening was backed by research.

“Hindi naman po ‘yan gagawin vaccination site kung hindi po safe. Ang mga nagbabakuna po doon puro doktor. Pinag-aralan muna po ]yan (We wouldn’t have opened the vaccination site if it wasn’t safe. Doctors are overseeing the site and we researched about it first),” Lacuna-Pangan said.

Manila Zoo, a project of the late Manila Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson, was opened as a vaccination site last Wednesday, Jan. 19.

Earlier this month, Manila Zoo reopened to the public after nearly three years of closure for supposedly polluting Manila Bay.

If he wins, Lopez vows he will “empower” fish vendors in Tondo district by changing the “outlook” toward them.

“One of the first things we will do is to enact ordinances to repeal fish vendors, na nakakagambala sila sa traffic at pedestrian. Siguro it is about time that we look at them as partners in city building, nation building,” he said, adding that he would also build a fish market.

(One of the first things we will do is to enact ordinances to correct the view that fish vendors cause traffic problems. Perhaps it is about time that we look at them as partners in city-buidling, nation-building.)

He also plans to change zoning ordinances.