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Encounters with Fred Lim

"Long will our city remember the man."

Mayors of Manila have always been national figures. It is after all, the nation’s capital, and the seat of highest political power --- Malacanang.

The colorful Mayor Arsenio Lacson, whose family roots were Negrense, or so the narrative goes, was offered to be the vice-presidential running-mate of then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay in 1953. He declined, saying “Monching, you are as strong as a carabao, and I don’t want a position that merely waits for someone’s death.”

Magsaysay won over Quirino in 1953, but died in a plane crash in the mountains of Cebu in 1957. If Lacson had become his vice-president, he would have become president, instead of Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol.

Kapitan Lucio Tan recounted this story to me sometime February of 2005, after the death of Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004, less than six months after he would have assumed the presidency had he won, and compared the fate of Arsenio Lacson to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who was being persuaded to slide down from a presidential quest in 2004, and be FPJ’s running mate.

I was one of Ping Lacson’s confidantes in that election, and I must confess that I advised against sliding down and accept to be FPJ’s running mate. Having seen how my former boss, Pres. Estrada, despite being mayor for the longest time of the then municipality of San Juan, senator for one term, and then vice-president from 1992-1998, faltered in running the country, and was ousted by the elite in January 2001, I dreaded the fate the country would have under one whose experience in governance, let alone business other than the production of self-starred movies, was wanting.

Many supporters of “sure winner” FPJ have not forgiven Ping Lacson to this day for refusing to slide down. I plead guilty to being one of those who advised against the move. Of course, in hindsight, Ping would have become president, as the other Lacson would have become president after Magsaysay’s death.

Ping continued to serve in the Senate, and in 2007, was up for re-election for a second term. With him in the Senate was Alfredo Lim, police chief and NBI director under Pres. Cory Aquino, who ran and won as mayor of Manila in 1992 with Lito Atienza as vice-mayor.

Seeing that Ping’s public governance abilities, which showed so brilliantly when he turned around the Philippine National Police from being a cesspool of corruption and ineffectiveness within the last 14 months of Pres. Erap’s term, I and friends like San Juan Rep. Ronny Zamora advised him to chuck a second term as senator, and run instead for mayor of the nation’s premier city, where in three years, he could show the country how he could manage well the city’s affairs.

Mayor Lito Atienza was “graduating,” and the field seemed clear for a Ping Lacson run.

Preparations were made, such as car “sticklers,” or stickers meant to tickle the public curiosity, reminding Manilenos of how good a mayor Arsenio Lacson was, and how a Ping Lacson could run the city very well. We started the ball rolling, holding town hall meetings in the city’s six districts, and a legion of volunteers pledged active support.

Ronny and I had talked to the former mayor of Manila, Mel Lopez, and his brother, Congressman Jimmy, and they pledged their support. Likewise then 3rd district congresswoman Zenaida Angping and her husband Harry, finally getting Sampaloc congressman Rudy Bacani, who was completing his third term, to run as Ping’s vice-mayor. In short, a formidable political machinery was assembled.

This was after it became clear that my good friend Mayor Atienza was bent on fielding his son, Ali, to succeed him. I was hoping to convince my tukayo Lito to agree to getting Ali as Ping’s running-mate earlier. Then vice-mayor Danny Lacuna was likewise running for mayor.

Early surveys indicated that Ping would win in such competition.

The game plan, at least as far as Ronny Zamora and I plus close-in strategists were concerned, was to have a highly successful three years governing Manila, and then run once more for president in 2010.

Then Sen. Fred Lim, who was in his first term which would expire in 2010 yet, gave word that he would support Ping Lacson if his colleague in the Senate would make a go for the post.

But out of the blue, Ping decided not to run for mayor, and instead run for re-election as senator. He cancelled his voter registration in the city’s fifth district and re-enlisted in Imus, Cavite.

With Ping out of the race, Fred Lim ran instead, raring to come back to a position he held for six years, before running for president in 1998, unsuccessfully, against Joseph Estrada. Magnanimously, Pres. Erap appointed Lim as his secretary of the interior and local governments.

I considered running for vice-mayor with Lim, and he encouraged me to move around the city to introduce myself, but when the surveys came out, I saw that it would be tough, even impossible. Lim eventually got Joey Hizon, the fifth-district congressman, as his running mate.

Danny Lacuna paired off with Isko Moreno, then a councilor from Tondo who was nurtured by Lito Atienza when he first ran for mayor in 1998.

The rest is history. Lim won over Lacuna and Atienza. But Lacuna’s running-mate, Isko Moreno, won as his vice-mayor.

Isko Moreno is now the mayor, after having triumphed last year in a contest that saw him pitted against the incumbent, former Pres. Joseph Estrada, and the man he served twice as vice-mayor, Fred Lim.

Now the crusty and durable Fred Lim, at 90 years, succumbed to the coronavirus.

My sympathies to his family. Long will our city remember the man.

Topics: Lito Banayo , Manila mayors , Arsenio Lacson , Ping Lacson , Alfredo Lim , Lito Atienza , Mel Lopez , Joseph Estrada , Isko Moreno
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