In many ways, Tessa Prieto-Valdes and Mayor Isko Moreno couldn’t be more different. One is a vibrant voice in philanthropy while the other is a novel and groundbreaking politician with outspoken methods. Yet a common thread that runs through both is the dedication to serve and a relentless drive to give back to their community.
There are moments where you just have to pause and be at awe when an unlikely pair meets and chemistry builds instantly. This is what we witnessed with the convergence of our cover personalities at their photoshoot, with the regal and dapper Tap Room of the Manila Hotel as the backdrop of the unexpected, but nonetheless monumental meeting. The bar’s wooden walls accented by bright red furniture make for an adequate setting that reflects the contrasting yet harmonic interactions of these two personas. Tessa Valdes with her signature lively and uplifting energy represented in the regal red, while Mayor Moreno’s laidback demeanor harking to the wooden decor.
In between flashes of the cameras, the pair would talk about menial matters such as Manila traffic and family dynamics, Isko suggested new routes for Tessa to avoid congested areas all the while inquiring on the past-times of her children. Small talk, sure. But in those moments, you see the human behind the visage. Both have established certain public identities that sometimes make one forget that behind all the eclectic headpieces and unorthodox mayoral initiatives, are just two people doing the most and best they can to make a positive change with the resources available to them.
The Drive to Do More
With the many distinctive accomplishments of Tessa and Isko, we ask them where their drive to influence and serve people comes from. With over 11 years of organizing the annual Red Charity Gala with good friend Kaye Tinga, as well as of the numerous foundations she helps, Tessa reveals it is never done out of mere obligation. “This exercise of what we do is a good thing and it stems from my mom. [She has been] very charitable since then…She always says that you are blessed [and thus], be a blessing [and] share.” She and Kaye will be doing the gala for the long term as many, including herself, continue to witness its impact on Philippine fashion and on different communities. From promoting local designers and their works to improving the livelihood of people through the gala’s partner foundations, it is no wonder people continue to support the charity event.
Likewise, Isko recognizes the need to reach out to people especially as a public servant. His priority is to improve Manila after many years of losing the opportunity to do so. “This drives me to serve with everything that I have. I cannot rest until I have provided a better quality of life to Manileños,” he explains. It only makes sense as the daily struggles of living in the city have become unbearable that a change in any form has been the outcry of many. The mayor has begun these changes, believing it is the first step to witnessing and experiencing a new Manila.
Through Thick and Thin
As public figures, it is no surprise how Tessa and Isko experience challenges in their respective work. With Tessa moving within the realm of the private and social sector, she finds the freedom to choose how she can share her blessings. One of which is through the highly anticipated yearly gala. Mounting and organizing a major event proved to be a challenge in the first few years, however as Tessa and Kaye remained committed, the gala eventually earned its reputation and established itself. Many continue to show their support—from foundations, centers, livelihood programs, private organizations, and yes, of the greater fashion landscape itself.
Dancing past the Red Charity Gala, Tessa Prieto-Valdes continued to help when and where she can, proceeding to share how on her 20th wedding anniversary, she and her husband donated 20 homes. On their 25th anniversary, they are having 25 reef buoys built for Malapascua Island as the ocean has always been close to their hearts. No matter the background and the gravity of help, Tessa affirms the importance of taking initiative. “Sometimes you feel like your efforts are never enough, [but] you will make a difference even how small,” she says.
Initiating efforts no matter how small reflects the initial work of Isko in Manila like his clean-up operations. While some have criticized his manner of governance and curbing corruption, the mayor thoughtfully comments on this, saying: “Challenges arise when the mindset of the people is not at par with the government’s vision. We need to change the mindset of Manileños, [and change what has become familiar for the sake of development].” It is a tough task as people struggle with a change in the system. Nonetheless, the mayor firmly believes in the power of “strong will and consistent efforts” that people would eventually appreciate all these changes in the city. Even Tessa acknowledges the plans of Isko on returning to the basic way of doing things—keeping the environment in order. From there, Manila can become a liveable city.
The work of these two strong personalities hardly goes unnoticed. Yet no matter the challenges they face and the reception of the people towards them, Tessa and Isko remain firm in their beliefs, values, and commitment to impact people in the long run.
The Duty to Continue
Looking to the future as our time on this earth is finite. We open the topic of the younger generation and what advice they can give to those wanting to get a start in engaging their own communities. Tessa emphasized the little things to start things off, sharing: “Go back to basics. Start small, it doesn’t need to be an overwhelming amount. It doesn’t need to be always about money. It can be consciousness, it can be time, it can be awareness.” She continues that with the modern tools available today one can be an agent of change by just utilizing these tools, “Just the power of social media. Spreading the news being of service to a smaller group. It’s really just caring for the world in your own way. You just can interpret it in your own way and that’s already a step forward.”
Isko, on the other hand, imparts some advice to those entering public service, “Forget everything that you think you know. In public service, you must be willing to learn, willing to adapt, willing to accept everyone, regardless of race, gender, social status and political beliefs.” He also highlights the moral discipline that is needed when taking public office, stating, “There would be no color, no party once you are elected. You should serve all people equally.”
Though they differ in backgrounds, it is clear that the two are dedicated to the endless stride of progress for the betterment of the country. Whether it’s through an annual charity gala or public policies, the means to be an agent of change is within reach using whatever you have access to – big or small. From what Tessa and Isko have shared, no matter where we come from, the ability to help is always there. Isko says it bluntly, “Everyone is an agent of change,” one just has to have the drive and willingness to serve others. What the two have shown through their words and actions is that the pursuit to be of service to others is a continuous effort, one must have an unquenchable morality to enact change, always hungry for more.
Photos: FLOYD JHOCSON
Art Direction: PAULINE DE MESA
MUA: DAISY TALOSIG-FERNANDEZ
Hair: SHERWIN AMODIA
Styling: GEE JOCSON
Shoot Coordination: ALY TIMOG
Special Thanks: ANNIE ALEJO & ANDREI AYCARDO
Shot on location at the TAP ROOM, MANILA HOTEL