Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Arsenio H. Lacson

(1911 December 26 , Talisay Negros Occidental – 1962 April 14, City of Manila)

Life and Political Career

Arsenio Hilario Lacson was born 1912 in Talisay, Negros Occidental and is the grandson of Aniceto Lacson, the President of the Republic of Negros. He graduated Bachelor of Arts in Ateneo de Manila and Bachelor of Laws in the University of Santo Tomas. He passed the Bar in 1937.
He became a member of the Free Philippines Movement in the outbreak of World War II. He was in the Battle of Manila (1945) and fought in the Liberation of Baguio.
Lacson was a journalist in radio and print, an athlete, a lawyer, professor and his most celebrated achievement: A colorful political figure of the City of Manila.
Lacson was a radio commentator of a radio program titled “In this corner” in which political and social commentaries are being made. The radio program made started the man’s colorful career, for it was popular among Manileños. The radio program continued still when the latter is still mayor. Then President Manuel Roxas suspended him from the airwaves for calling him “Manny the Weep”. Then, he paired with Pedro Padilla to write in Daily Star Express to write a newpaper column of the same title.
Lacson was back in the airwaves after the death of Roxas and the assumption of Quirino to the Presidency, which they proclaim as “His Accidency”. Lacson became the most fervent and the devil’s advocate of Elpidio Quirino after the ambush of former first lady Aurora Quezon and her family, allegedly by Hukbalahap in 1949. Pres. Quirino beforehand announced that the whole archipelago is in state of peace and order and the rebellion was quelled. The Quezon incident proved Quirino wrong.
Lacson entered politics at the 1949 General Elections under the Nacionalista Party. He successfully ran for the Representative of the Second District of Manila against the Vicente Fugoso of Quirino’s Liberal Party. He was named as one of the “Ten Most Useful Congressman” by the media group assigned in the Congress.
Before 1951, the position of Manila Mayor was an appointive position: the National Government Picks the Mayor for the Capital City. On 1951, changes are introduced so that Manileños can now elect the candidate they like for the position.
Running against palace stalwart and incumbent Mayor Manuel De la Fuente, Arsenio Lacson became the first elected mayor of the Capital City, and was re-elected for three times until his death.
Ridding the city of graft and corruption, he fired 600 incompetent or corrupt city employees and policemen. He inherited from his predecessors a 23.4 million pesos (that time it was very large considering that two pesos is a dollar) debt and by the end of 1959 the city had a 4 million pesos surplus.
He personally administered Manila’s peace and order situation having been along the police at raids, and patrols. He would patrol in Manila at nights and from time to time he would stop at Bay View and Filipinas Hotels to hear complaints from residents themselves.
Being a politician, he was an ardent critic of the Quirino administration and supported the Magsaysay Campaign in 1953. When President Magsaysay’s untimely death happened in 1957 and Carlos Garcia became the President, he had turned away from the latter because he claimed that he was offered by Pres. Magsaysay to be the Nacionalista Nominee for 1957 which he refused, saying that “the time has not yet come”. He was a critic of the Garcia administration in his full term as president. In 1961, he turned against re-electionist Garcia to support fellow Thomasian and Liberal Candidate Diosdado Macapagal because of principle. By this time, people knew he will run for president by 1965 as he returned to Nacionalista Party saying “I agree to make Macapagal President, but not to agree with him forever.”
The Mayor said himself “I will become a president of the Philippines or become a victim of an assassin.”That assassin would be the fatal disease called stroke which killed him in his hotel suite in April 14, 1962. That stopped him from becoming the President of the Philippines. By 1965, the Nacionalistas nominated Ferdinand Marcos for the Presidency.
He was buried in the Manila North Cemetery.

The Lacson Attitude

His fashion outfit was always in dark polos and pants and never forgetting that shades, which was never missing in his public appearances. His friend Pedro Padilla in his tribute book Arsenic and I reasoned that the shades are used to hide his black eyes he got from the night brawls in bars in Manila.
He maintained a brawny and compared by Americans to NY mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He is the man who challenged then Representative Ferndinand Marcos into a fistfight. He is a good man with a bad mouth. He has a good time mocking Manuel Roxas into Manny the Weep and Elpidio Quirino as Elpito Quirino. He subjected then Manila Councilor Ernesto Maceda into eternal damnation when the ribald mayor branded him so young yet so corrupt. When in a State Visit to the Philippines, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi asked him if he had learned any Japanese During the war and he answered “I was too busy shooting the Japanese to learn any.”His satire stings well during those days. His show has to be pre-recorded before broadcasting to delete of the expletives he said.
A factor which hastened the mayor’s end is his vice of drinking. He drinks, anytime of the day whether his stomach is empty or not.

The Lacson Legacy

By his second term as Manila Mayor, a group of American City Mayors said that Manila was one of the 10 best administered cities in the world, the only Asian City at that time to be given that recognition. The Manila of the Lacson Era was the envy city of the South East Asia, with almost all of its neighbours were just gaining independence from colonialism.
He was he brainchild of the Quiapo Underpass (now the Lacson Underpass), Manila Zoo, Ospital ng Maynila, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Almost all of the Post-war Manila was of Lacson’s Plans.
He is now celebrated not only by Manila as the City’s Greatest Mayor but also as the greatest Philippine President Filipinos never had. He is the Standard for all mayors all over the country like Cesar Climaco, had had the title Arsenio Lacson of Zambo.
His successors have honoured him of the greatest mayor the city ever had, the underpass in Quiapo was renamed by his immediate successor Antonio Villegas to his name. Plaza Goiti in Sta. Cruz (between Escolta, McArthur Brigde and LRT Carriedo) was renamed Plaza Lacson and an imposing sculpture was erected in it. Lacson, if still alive till today maybe ordering to remove his handsome statue in the ground with his vocabulary of the finest swear words, more to oust Gov. Forbes in place of him in the Streets.

Padilla, Pedro. Arsenic and I, Book one. Manila: 1962 (Available in the UP Main Library: Filipiniana Section)

“Arsenio Lacson”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


About the blogger:
Niki Jon Y. Tolentino is a student of Civil Engineering in UP Diliman in Quezon City. He was born and grew up in Sampaloc, Manila. He reads Philippine History Books and plots US invasion by the Philippines if at his free times. He currently resides in Quezon City but he still comes back to Manila, as there were more adventures in Manila.
Violent Reactions? Email bokologs_nickytolentino@yahoo.com.ph or leave comments here.


  1. Great write-up on a great man, Mayor Arsenio Lacson...

  2. "He is now celebrated not only by Manila as the City’s Greatest Mayor but also as the greatest Philippine President Filipinos never had"

    Philippine President? Mayor Lacson has never been a president of the Philippines.

    1. READ: the greatest Philippine President Filipinos NEVER HAD", meaning Lacson could have been our greatest president if only he did not die too soon.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. My goodness, I thought he understood perfectly what NEVER HAD means. Practice understanding idioms/figures of speech, we're all anonymous here but you know who you are like we do our own selves.

  3. Nice but I still it falls short of giving him enough credit for standing up to then fast-rising political star Ferdinand Marcos and why.

    There apparently were a number of verbal skirmishes between them stoked further by political rivalry and perhaps by the fact that one of the first cases assigned to him as a young lawyer prosecutor was the Nalundasan case.

    To die at such a young age of 50 purportedly while "on the saddle" due to heart attack is something I find "convenient". Is there a possible motive to suggest there was foul play, why of course there was, the Presidency of the Republic no less.

    1. I also doubt whether the heart attack was natural or induced. If the elimination of Nalundasan is indicative of an emerging pattern on how FM deals with his political enemies. Looking back, it seems our country has been deprived of 3 great Presidents, Bonifacio, Lacson and Ninoy Aquino, the latter 2 of whom FM was responsible for.

  4. I was only 3 when he died, but I heard a lot of great things about him from my dad and mom. Not necessarily the same as I was growing up in Manila with "Yeba" Villegas.

  5. Indeed the best mayor in the history of the city of Manila. The next greatest would have to be the beloved "Haligi ng Maynila" Mayor Ramon Bagatsing (also known as "The Incorruptible").

    How can anyone forget Mayor Lacson call out a then-Councilor Maceda as "so young, yet so corrupt". Hizzoner was truly the first to discover and be offended by the blatant corruption of Ernesto Maceda, which he still was in the Senate and as Ambassador to the United States.

  6. Arsenio Lacson did die a victim of an assassin but from neither stroke or heart attack. You will recall that by 1961 he was Marcos' fiercest political rival for the presidency. Marcos had every reason to fear going against Lacson because Lacson was among the prosecution lawyers in the Nalundasan case.

    Like the respected Teddy Benigno said: Lacson would win in a presidential race even with Marcos and Macapagal combined. Marcos was convicted for that murder and Lacson was instrumental in that conviction. Worse, Marcos knew Lacson cannot be bought and was the only man standing in the way of his burning desire to be president so he removed the impediment by using a poison that induces heart attack.

    Where is justice after half a century?