Today in Philippine history, April 15, 1962, Manila Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson died of a heart attack at the Hotel Filipinas

Sunday February 28, 2016 ()

On April 15, 1962, Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson, Manila's first elected mayor died of heart attack at around 6:00 in the evening in his suite at the Hotel Filipinas where he had been going over his radio-television broadcast that should have been aired at 7:30 that evening. He was 49 years old.

President Diosdado Macapagal upon hearing the sad news, issued the following statement:

Mayor Arsenio Lacson with President Macapagal and Senator Marcos
(Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson (in dark glasses) with President Macapagal and Senator Marcos)

"The nation will miss Arsenio H. Lacson; my Administration will miss him. He was the national sentinel of the public morality. As an individual I grieve over his death because he was a personal friend. As President, I mourn his demise because he was a loyal friend of the people. He did not live or die in vain. In my Administration, which he helped to bring about, his uncompromising crusade for clean government will continue to cast its influence as effectively as if he were still alive."

Macapagal at 7:30 in the morning, the following day, administered the oath of office to Vice-Mayor Antonio J. Villegas as Mayor of Manila.

Lacson was born in Talisay, Negros Occidental. He came to live in Manila in 1922, when he was around 10 years old. Lascon was sickly when he young and it was not until he grew up as a young man when he gained athletic build allowing him to start to venture into sports while a student at the Ateneo de Manila University. His broken nose that later became a prominent feature of his profile was a football injury.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ateneo, he went on to study law at the University of Santo Tomas. In 1937, he passed the bar exams and was employed in the law firm of future senator Vicente Francisco, one of the prominent lawyers of that time. Lacson later left Francisco to join the Department of Justice. Lacson's penchant for writing would lead him to work as a sportswriter in one of the pre-war newspapers.

At the outbreak of the second world war, Lacson found himself joining the underground movement which fought the Japanese invaders. His wartime exploits would eventually make him recipient of several commendations.

After the war, Lacson continued his journalistic career by hosting his own radio show. It was here where he found popularity with his pugilistic, no-holds barred tirades against incumbent government officials. His flair for colorful and eloquent language, would soon get the indignation of President Manuel Roxas, whom Lacson had christened "Manny The Weep". So enraged was Roxas of Lacson's invectives that Roxas decreed the suspension of Lacson's radio show.

In the elections held in 1949, Lacson, running under the Nacionalista Party, won as congressman for Manila's second district. Now nicknamed as "Arsenic", Lacson showcased his talent as a worthy lawmaker and fiscalizer during his tenure in Congress, for which he was chosen by the media as one of the ten most useful congressmen.

In November 1951, following the amendment of the Manila city charter in 1949, Manila would elect Arsenio H. Lacson, its first elective mayor and would reelect him in 1955 and in 1959. Before the charter change Manila was governed by an appointive mayor.

At the time Lacson assumed office, Manila had around 23.5 million pesos in debt, some of which had been contracted thirty years earlier, and had no money to pay its employees. Within three years, the debt had been reduced in half, and by 1959, the city had a budget surplus of 4.3 million pesos and paid its employees twice the amount earned by other local government employees. By that time, Lacson claimed that the income earned by Manila for the Philippines supported 70% of the salaries of the national government officials and members of Congress, as well as 70% of the expenses of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Lacson embarked on crusades to maintain peace and order and good government in Manila. He fired 600 city employees for incompetence, and dismissed corrupt policemen. He personally led raids on brothels masquerading as massage parlors and on unauthorized market vendors. Lacson ordered bulldozers to clear a squatter colony in Malate that had stood since shortly after the war. Lacson established a mobile 60-car patrol unit that patrolled the city at all hours, and he himself would patrol the city at nights in a black police car.

"There is a Manila joke that the Tondo goons respect only two beings in this world — Mayor Lacson and the Señor Quiapo the image of the Black Nazerene."

Often described as "a good man with a bad mouth", Lacson, throughout his ten years as mayor, maintained his radio program that would also later be broadcast on television. The broadcasts were pre-recorded in order to edit out his expletives and occasional foul language. He spoke out on air on national and international issues. He was a fervent critic of President Elpidio Quirino of the Liberal Party. In 1952, upon the filing of a criminal libel complaint against Lacson by a judge whom he criticized on his radio show, Quirino suspended Lacson from office. Lacson remained suspended for 73 days until the Supreme Court voided the suspension order.

Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

Lacson established the Manila Zoo, the nation's first underpass (then Quiapo Underpass, now named Lacson Underpass), the Stockyard, the City Slaughterhouse, the Boystown, the Girl Home, the Youth Reception Center, the Ospital Ng Maynila, and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

The mayor who had uncontrolled appetite for alcohol and careless lifestyle, was rumored to have suffered the heart attack while he was on top of the then stunning movie starlet, Charito Solis, in the midst of their passionate lovemaking. Solis denied the gossip.

Sources:

  1. The Business View, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, May 1962
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Law And Behold! by Jun Brioso (http://junbriosolawandbehold.blogspot.com/)
  4. Photo credit: Philippine Presidential Museum and Library


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