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Panfilo Lacson and Grace Poe

/ 06:20 AM April 13, 2015

In the national elections of 2004, there were three candidates vying for the presidency: the incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) and Panfilo Lacson. Had FPJ and Lacson been successful in forging a unity ticket, most likely Arroyo would have lost, and FPJ could have moved in as the new occupant of Malacañang. This would have resulted in Lacson being a “heartbeat” away from the presidency. And we all know what  happened to FPJ a few months after the elections.

Ten years after this close brush with the presidency, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson is once again on the radar screen of a citizenry demanding competence and  integrity from the national leadership.

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In a recent manifesto signed by retired officers of the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the group noted that “the strong-willed, disciplined and decisive service reputation of former senator Panfilo Lacson, and the untarnished and compassionate brand of leadership of Senator Grace Poe, would be the best combination to serve the needs and greater interest of the Filipino people.”

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Lacson was born in Imus, Cavite, the fourth child of a large family composed of two girls and seven boys. He had no ambitions of joining the military service but after graduation from Imus Institute, and enrolling in a pre-law course at the Lyceum of the Philippines, he was coaxed into taking the entrance exams for the Philippine Military Academy. Upon passing the exams, he decided to push through with a  military career.

Lacson graduated in 1971 and, soon after, joined the Philippine Constabulary with an assignment in the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom).

Barely out of the military academy as a second lieutenant, he was given an order by then Metrocom chief Brig. Gen. Alfredo Montoya to arrest the mayor of San Juan, popular action star Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who was involved in an altercation with some fellow movie personalities. In the early hours of the following morning, he led a team of operatives who surrounded the mayor’s offices at a San Juan fire station along Santolan Extension. At exactly six in the morning, Lieutenant Lacson knocked on the door of the mayor’s office and informed him that he was under arrest. The mayor  suggested that there was no need for such unusual measures as he was prepared to turn himself in anytime the authorities required his presence. He jokingly added that he could also have easily escaped if he wanted to. The young lieutenant politely and firmly informed the mayor that this was not  possible since the whole place was surrounded and an  escape was out of the question.

Lacson then proceeded to Montoya’s office and, after dropping off the mayor, went on to carry out other assignments given him. Little did he realize that the person he had arrested would 20 years later become vice president of the country, head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC), and his direct superior. We can only assume that the vice president must have been impressed with the manner in which the young officer carried out his mission to consider him for the sensitive and challenging job as commander of Task Force Habagat, a key element of the PACC.

Lacson was also responsible for the successful resolution of several kidnap-for-ransom cases. One of the more famous of these cases was the one involving Robina Gokongwei, daughter of business tycoon John Gokongwei. Lacson was the leader of the rescue team that effected her release without any ransom being paid to the kidnappers.

From Metrocom, he was assigned to Isabela as the provincial commander and here locked horns with logging magnates that made him a highly unpopular official. From  Isabela, he got transferred to Cebu City as Metrodiscom commander and ended up as an adopted son of the city, primarily because he was an efficient and effective administrator of its enforcement agencies. City officials objected to his transfer and exerted efforts to retain him, resulting in a tour of duty a bit longer than usual.

After Cebu, he proceeded to another provincial assignment in Laguna and here, he incurred the wrath of some local officials who were unhappy with his uncompromising stand on gambling operations. After a few months, he decided to request for relief and reassignment.

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With his designation as Task Force Habagat commander, the unit quickly established a reputation as an effective force in the campaign against kidnapping syndicates. One of the most impressive accomplishments of the unit was the dismantling of the Red Scorpion Group, led by Alfredo  de Leon who died in the resulting shootout with government forces.

As chief of the PNP, Lacson made sure that stolen vehicles recovered by the PNP were returned to the rightful owners instead of allowing the use of these vehicles by police  officers. Have you heard of similar releases of recovered stolen vehicles lately?

For some sectors of society, there is a dark side to Ping  Lacson’s reputation. His name has been connected to some of the more sensational crime cases in Philippine history.

Unfortunately, when one is involved in anticrime activities, one must be prepared to step on delicate toes, to displease friends and even create enemies. As Lee Kuan Yew put it in his discourse on governance, “…there are moments when you have to be thoroughly unpopular…. Between being loved and feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I am meaningless. When I say something, I have to be taken very seriously.”

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Sen. Grace Poe, in her first term as a legislator, has gained widespread admiration for the manner in which she has conducted herself in office. Although an administration ally, she, more than anyone else, had early on pursued with determination and clarity of purpose the replacement of Police Director General Alan Purisima as head of the  national police force. Her handling of the Mamasapano hearings also elicited favorable comments and praise from all sides of the political spectrum and from the general public as well.

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One represents experience and competence, while the other is a breath of fresh air in a lackluster political landscape. October is the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2016 contest. It is not too early to start thinking who should be entrusted with our votes in the coming presidential election.

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