Thursday, October 16, 2014

Exposure to 'Arsenic' Lacson of Manila

From a personal account of the late Raul M. Gonzalez:

"While I was working for Iloilo Governor Zulueta, there came an offer I could not refuse.  Manila’s aggressive mayor, Arsenio ‘Arsenic’ Lacson (1912-1962), wanted me to join him, and I bid goodbye to the Iloilo governor.  Lacson was one of a kind.  A fiery political figure and a straight shooter, his grit and courage was legend.  He was a no-nonsense administrator, and called a spade a spade.  His religiously chronicled tantrums were not pretense, and he was a man of the masses.  He spoke from the heart, and had the courage to stand up for his beliefs, principles and advocacies.  Some of his firm views soon rubbed off on me, and we had a productive relationship. 

"Lacson’s favorite picture was the one that showed him walking that macho Lacsonesque walk, in dark pants and printed sports shirt with sleeves rolled up showing muscled arms and with the trademark sunglasses to accentuate his ensemble.  This picture decorated my work table, as it did the tables of Lacson’s favorite lieutenants at City Hall.

"In his desire to cleanse his administration of grafters, I was hired by Mayor Lacson to be the watchdog and prosecutor of erring Manila City Hall employees.  Lacson was a born reformer, and he worked with transparency to demonstrate to his staff what a public servant should be as a guardian of the people’s rights and resources.  Guided by Lacson’s directives, I ploughed through scores of graft cases and prosecuted a good number of them. 

"Lacson got as much exposure in the media as national officials, and he toyed with the idea of a presidential excursion to see how far he could go.  One day in 1960, Lacson and his supporters were stomping through the towns in the province of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija when they were interrupted by a drunken Philippine Constabulary (PC) officer in San Miguel, Bulacan.  The officer pestered the crowd that attended the caucus, and it reached a point when it was useless to continue as the soldier was getting all the attention.  Lacson, fed up with the antics of the drunken soldier, rose, confronted the intoxicated fellow, and asked him to leave.  They stood there, toe to toe, Lacson with hands akimbo, the PC with his .45 caliber pistol.   The soldier slowly lost his composure, probably remembered who Lacson was, and shuffled his way out of the crowd.

"The Arsenic was my enthusiastic teacher.  He found an eager understudy and I gladly absorbed all his inputs.  This was an education with free tuition and an excellent professor.  We prepared for the presidential elections, as Lacson immersed himself in the fight.  But he failed to get the necessary numbers among convention delegates who would choose the party nominee, and the front-runner, Diosdado Macapagal, asked him instead to manage the campaign against incumbent president Carlos Garcia.  Macapagal won, and there were talks of a possible tandem in the next presidential elections.

"I continued to work closely with Mayor Lacson in prosecuting erring officials.  I was up to my neck in investigating anomalies and providing legal assistance to the mayor.  Among those I successfully prosecuted were three police majors who were found guilty of corrupt practices.  

"The Arsenic who left behind a deep impression on me died on 15 April 1962.  His death left a void in my world.  I was emotionally devastated because his death was so sudden, so permanent. The mayor who died of a stroke never had the chance to forewarn us of his sudden departure from this world.   We had many plans on the drawing board, so many projects to launch, so much unfinished business to settle.  Many of those projects and plans had to be shelved, a pity because they were so beneficial to the poor of the city."

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