Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko" Moreno Domagoso / Photo by Edd Gumban, Philippine Star

The movie star turned mayor of Manila declared his candidacy for the Philippine presidency in next year’s elections, posing the biggest challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to extend his hold on power.

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso, 46, said on Wednesday he will soon unveil his platform, but pledged to expand his pandemic response and projects for the poor in the capital on a national level. He also said he will appoint officials outside his circle and encourage millennials to join a “government of national reconciliation.”

“The road to recovery will be hard, the journey long, the challenges complex,” Moreno said in a speech declaring his presidential bid. “There is no magic wand that will make our problems go away, only hard work will.”

Moreno has picked cardiologist Willie Ong as a running mate, his political strategist Lito Banayo said in an earlier interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

The Manila mayor’s entrance heats up a crowded presidential race as he is the nearest rival to Duterte’s daughter, Sara, in a presidential preference survey carried out in June. While Duterte’s daughter has since said she will no longer seek the presidency in next year’s elections, her father accepted his party’s vice-presidential nomination with his aide-turned-senator Christopher “Bong” Go as a potential presidential candidate.

Moreno was a garbage collector before becoming a movie teen star in the 1990s. He later entered Manila politics as a city councilor and eventually became its vice-mayor. Rivals have often tried to use Moreno’s sexy photos from his showbiz career to cast doubt on his character, but Moreno has been candid about his past and often talks about how his impoverished childhood in Manila gives him perspective in governing the city.

In a sign of increasing rivalry, Duterte in August mocked a mayor who has “bikini” photos, without naming Moreno. Duterte himself appointed the former movie star as the social welfare undersecretary in 2018 before Moreno resigned a year later to seek the top post in Manila, which he won.

Moreno is now the third politician to confirm joining next year’s presidential race. Aside from him, boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, who is from the same ruling party as Duterte, launched his bid over the weekend, while Senator Panfilo Lacson declared his run earlier this month.

The son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos has said he’s eyeing a national post in the 2022 elections. — Bloomberg