Looking Back

Mayor Lim, lotto, and history

Alfredo S. Lim (1929-2020), two-time Manila mayor, Philippine National Police general, National Bureau of Investigation director, secretary of interior and local government, senator, and losing presidential candidate is best remembered for his controversial methods against crime: spray-painting the houses of suspected criminals to publicly advertise their nefarious professions, and salvaging. These earned him a reputation as Manila’s “Dirty Harry.” His stern countenance, no-nonsense, black-and-white style of governance, and resemblance to the Singapore prime minister earned him a lesser known nickname: “Lim Kuan Yew.”

Lim was on the good side of history when he refused an order by President Marcos to disperse the crowds gathering on Edsa in February 1986. But he got on the wrong side less than a year later when, defending Malacañang and Cory Aquino in January 1987, trigger-happy men under his command greeted urban poor protesters with gunfire, leaving 13 dead and a hundred wounded. He was partly blamed for the tragic 2010 Luneta hostage crisis after he ordered the arrest of the hostage-taker’s brother and his transfer to Tondo, an innocent statement that, according to Manila policemen, was a euphemism for summary execution.


One cannot be neutral about Fred Lim; either you liked or hated him, and that depended on which side of his complex personality you saw or experienced. I was fortunate to have been on Lim’s good side: He awarded me the Bonifacio Chair at the City College of Manila in 1996; appointed me CCM president and co-chair, with Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, of the Manila Historical Commission in 1997; and made me a juror of the 2004 Manila Film Festival and regent of the Universidad de Manila (formerly the City College) in 2010.

Before I assumed office, Lim told me to never pass a problem to his office, and if I did it should always come with a solution. I was never to wait for orders but decide on my level, and if I made a wrong call I was assured of a scolding and the knowledge that he would always presume that whatever decision I made was in the interest of the service, for the good of the people and city of Manila. Navigating local government prepared me for national government later on.


Philippine history was our bond. He attended all commemorations, always emphasizing how the past contributed to pride and civic duty. Once, I was informed that a ladies’ toilet was to be built on the grave of Gomburza in Paco Park; when I tried to dissuade the administrator from doing so, he sneered, “Anong pakialam mo?” On that note, I took it up with Mayor Lim, who stood up from his desk and said, “We are going to Paco now!” In the back seat of his speeding car, a large pistol slid out from under a pile of papers, making me nervous that it would go off. Friends on the police beat told me later that it was there for back-up, that Lim would never go out without a piece on his person.

Upon arrival at Paco Park, Lim went straight to the Gomburza grave and, as he looked at the men at work on the makeshift toilet, the park administrator ran out of his office to the site. Lim cut him off. After looking at his watch, he calmly said: “It’s nine o’clock, I will return at 5 p.m. and I don’t want to see this toilet.” Like magic, the toilet vanished before noon.

Likewise, during an event commemorating Roman Ongpin in Binondo, I pointed out a barangay outpost built on the island that was crowding out the monument. It was gone before nightfall.

The only other time we shared a ride was in New Washington, Aklan, where we both attended the unveiling of a Jaime Cardinal Sin statue. Local organizers did not provide airport transfers, so to catch our flight home, we shared a tricycle ride. Lim asked me to look for a policeman, and finding one, Lim asked to be brought to a lotto outlet. He advised me to make a P40 lotto ticket part of my weekly budget, and that I should bet double when out of town because chances are better than Manila. Hoping to catch some of his luck — Lim had won the Sweepstakes jackpot once after buying whole booklets monthly — I decided to copy his favorite numbers, but he said just ask for Lucky Pick.

Lim taught me a lesson in hope that day in the tricycle: that I would never win a raffle if my ticket was not in the tambiolo.

Remembering Lim’s long and colorful career this week reminded me that history has many sides, and that, in the end, Lim stood on the good side of history more than the bad.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: Alfredo Lim, Ambeth R. Ocampo, Looking Back, Philippine history
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