Arsenio Lacson

Last updated
Arsenio Lacson
Born(1912-12-26)December 26, 1912
DiedApril 15, 1962(1962-04-15) (aged 49)
15th Mayor of Manila
In office
January 1, 1952 April 15, 1962
Vice MayorJesus M. Roces (1952–1959)
Antonio J. Villegas (1959–1962)
Preceded byManuel de la Fuente
Succeeded by Antonio Villegas
Member of the House of Representatives from Manila's 2nd district
In office
December 30, 1949 January 1, 1952
Preceded byHermenegildo Atienza
Succeeded byJoaquin R. Roces
Personal details
Political party Nacionalista Party
Association football career
Playing position Midfielder
College career
Ateneo de Manila University
National team
c. 1934 Philippines

Arsenio H. Lacson (December 26, 1912 – April 15, 1962) was a Filipino journalist and politician who gained widespread attention as Mayor of Manila from 1952 to 1962. An active executive likened by Time and The New York Times to New York's Fiorello La Guardia, [1] [2] he was the first Manila mayor to be reelected to three terms. [1] Nicknamed "Arsenic" and described as "a good man with a bad mouth", [3] Lacson's fiery temperament became a trademark of his political and broadcasting career. He died suddenly from a stroke amidst talk that he was planning to run in the 1965 presidential election. [4]

Mayor of Manila

The Mayor of Manila is the head of the executive branch of the Manila's government. The mayor holds office at Manila City Hall. Like all local government heads in the Philippines, the mayor is elected via popular vote, and may not be elected for a fourth consecutive term. In case of death, resignation or incapacity, the vice mayor becomes the mayor.

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 125 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.


Early life

Lacson was born in Talisay, Negros Occidental. He was related to Aniceto Lacson, the President of the short-lived Republic of Negros. [3] His niece, Rose, would later gain prominence as a controversial socialite in Australia.

Aniceto Lacson Filipino general

Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma was a Filipino revolutionary general, sugar baron, and businessman. He is notable for leading the Negros Revolution along with Juan Araneta, and for being the President of the short-lived Republic of Negros.

Rose Porteous, a Filipino-born Australian, is best known for her marriage to Lang Hancock, a Western Australia iron ore mining magnate, and the protracted legal battle with her step-daughter, Gina Rinehart, over the circumstances that led to the death of Hancock, and the distribution of his estate. The action, commenced by Rinehart in 1992, was eventually settled in 2003 following a coronial inquiry that determined Hancock died of natural causes. Porteous, who lives in Perth and Melbourne, is often referred to by the media as a socialite.

A sickly lad, Lacson turned to athletics while a student at the Ateneo de Manila University, where he would obtain his Bachelor of Arts degree. He became an amateur boxer while a student, accounting for his broken nose that later became a prominent feature of his profile. [5]

Ateneo de Manila University a private teaching and research university run by the Society of Jesus in the Philippines

The Ateneo de Manila University, also known as simply Ateneo or The Ateneo, is a private Roman Catholic Jesuit research university in Quezon City, Philippines. Founded in 1859 by the Society of Jesus, Ateneo is the third-oldest university in the Philippines.

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, sciences, or both. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three to four years depending on the country, institution, and specific specializations, majors, or minors. The word baccalaureus should not be confused with baccalaureatus, which refers to the one- to two-year postgraduate Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in some countries.

Lacson studied law at the University of Santo Tomas. After graduating and passing the bar examinations in 1937, he joined the law office of future Senator Vicente Francisco, and later, the Department of Justice as an assistant attorney. [3] Lacson also worked as a sportswriter before the outbreak of World War II.

University of Santo Tomas private pontifical university in Manila

The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines, or simply the University of Santo Tomas (UST), is a private, Roman Catholic research university in Manila, Philippines. Founded on April 28, 1611 by Miguel de Benavides, Archbishop of Manila, it has the oldest extant university charter in the Philippines and in Asia, and is one of the world's largest Catholic universities in terms of enrollment found on one campus. The university is run by the Order of Preachers. UST is the only university to have been visited by three popes four times: once by Pope Paul VI on November 28, 1970, twice by Pope John Paul II on February 18 1981 and January 13, 1995, and once by Pope Francis on January 18, 2015. The patron of the university is St. Thomas Aquinas, while St. Catherine of Alexandria is the patroness.

Senate of the Philippines the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the Philippines

The Senate of the Philippines is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the Philippines, the Congress; the House of Representatives is the lower house. The Senate is composed of 24 senators who are elected at-large with the country as one district under plurality-at-large voting.

Department of Justice (Philippines) justice ministry of the Philippines

The Philippine Department of Justice is under the executive department of the Philippine government responsible for upholding the rule of law in the Philippines. It is the government's principal law agency, serving as its legal counsel and prosecution arm. It has its headquarters at the DOJ Building in Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila.

Personal life

Lacson was married to the former Luz Santiago.

Sporting career


Lacson was part of the collegiate team of the Ateneo de Manila University. [6] He played at the halfback position. [7] He was also part of the Philippine national football team and participated in tournaments such as the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games. [8]

Ateneo Blue Eagles

The Ateneo Blue Eagles is the collegiate men's varsity basketball team of the Ateneo de Manila University that plays in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the premiere collegiate league in the Philippines. The collegiate women's varsity basketball team is called the Lady Eagles while the high school varsity basketball team is called the Blue Eaglets. The Ateneo collegiate men's varsity basketball team was not always called the Blue Eagles. It got the name Blue Eagles when Ateneo adopted the Eagle as its mascot in 1938. Prior to that, from 1914 it was known under different names.

Philippines national football team national association football team

The Philippines national football team is the national football team of the Philippines and represents the country in international football. The team is controlled by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF), the governing body of football in the Philippines. Philippines' home grounds are Panaad Stadium in Bacolod, Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan, and the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

Football at the 1934 Far Eastern Games, held in Manila, Philippines was won by China while no other medals were awarded for second or third place.

World War II guerrilla

Lacson joined the armed resistance against the Japanese military which had invaded the Philippines in late 1941. He joined the Free Philippines underground movement, and acted as a lead scout during the Battle of Manila. [9] Lacson also fought in the battle for the liberation of Baguio City on April 26, 1945.

Battle of Manila (1945) battle in 1945 during World War II fought between Japan and the United States with the Commonwealth of the Philippines

The Battle of Manila was a major battle of the Philippine campaign of 1944-45, during the Second World War. It was fought by American forces from both the U.S. mainland and the Philippines against Japanese troops in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The month-long battle, which resulted in the death of over 100,000 civilians and the complete devastation of the city, was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theater. Japanese forces committed mass murder against Filipino civilians during the battle. Along with massive loss of life, the battle also destroyed architectural and cultural heritage dating back to the city's foundation. The battle ended the almost three years of Japanese military occupation in the Philippines (1942–1945). The city's capture was marked as General Douglas MacArthur's key to victory in the campaign of reconquest. It is the last of the many battles fought within Manila's history.

For his service during the war, Lacson received citations from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Sixth United States Army. [9] Years later, when asked by Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi if he had learned Japanese during the war, Lacson responded, "I was too busy shooting at Japanese to learn any." [1]

Political career

Election to Congress

Lacson resumed his career in journalism after the war. He also had his own radio program called In This Corner, where he delivered social and political commentary. Lacson became popular as a result of his radio show, but also earned the ire of President Manuel Roxas, whom he nicknamed "Manny the Weep". In 1947, President Roxas ordered Lacson's suspension from the airwaves. [10] The incident drew international attention after former United States Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes defended Roxas's action and in turn drew rebuke for such defense from the popular radio commentator Walter Winchell. [10] [11]

In the 1949 general elections, Lacson ran for and won a seat in the House of Representatives, representing the 2nd District of Manila. He was elected under the banner of the Nacionalista Party. During the two years he served in the House, Lacson was cited by the media assigned to cover Congress as among the "10 Most Useful Congressmen" for "his excellent display as a fiscalizer and a lawmaker. [12] [13]

Mayor of Manila

It was only in 1951 that the office of Manila mayor became an elective position, following the amendment of its city charter. Representative Lacson successfully unseated incumbent Manila mayor Manuel de la Fuente in the first ever mayoralty election in the city. He assumed the office of mayor on January 1, 1952. He was re-elected in 1955 and 1959. He immediately became known as a tough-minded reformist mayor, and in the 1950s, he and Zamboanga City mayor Cesar Climaco were touted as exemplars of good local governance. Climaco, in fact, was praised as "The Arsenio Lacson of the South".

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. [3] Within three years, the debt had been reduced in half, [11] 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. [14] 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. [14]

Lacson embarked on crusades to maintain peace and order and good government in Manila. He fired 600 city employees for incompetence, [1] and dismissed corrupt policemen. [10] He personally led raids on brothels masquerading as massage parlors and on unauthorized market vendors. [10] Lacson ordered bulldozers to clear a squatter colony in Malate that had stood since shortly after the war. [9] Lacson established a mobile 60-car patrol unit that patrolled the city at all hours, [13] and he himself would patrol the city at nights in a black police car. [5] [13] Lacson also established the Manila Zoo and the first city underpass, located in Quiapo, posthumously named after him. [13]

Throughout his ten years as mayor, Lacson maintained his radio program, which now aired over DZBB and would also later be broadcast on television. The broadcasts were pre-recorded in order to edit out his expletives and occasional foul language. [1] He spoke out on air on national and international issues, and responded to critics who suggested that he confine himself to local Manila issues that he did not lose his right as a citizen to speak out on public affairs upon his election as mayor. [10] He was a fervent critic of President Elpidio Quirino of the Liberal Party. [11] 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. [15] Lacson remained suspended for 73 days until the Supreme Court voided the suspension order. [16]

Though the hard-drinking, gun-toting Lacson projected an image of machismo, the author Nick Joaquin observed:

Lacson has sedulously cultivated the "yahoo" manner, the siga-siga style, but one suspects that the bristles on the surface do not go all the way down; for this guy with a pug's battered nose comes from a good family and went to the right schools; this character who talks like a stevedore is a literate, even a literary, man; and this toughie who has often been accused of being too chummy with the underworld belonged to the most "idealistic" of the wartime underground groups: the Free Philippines. [11]

Presidential ambitions

In 1953, Lacson actively campaigned for Nacionalista presidential candidate Ramon Magsaysay, who would go on to defeat the incumbent Quirino. After President Magsaysay's death in a plane crash months before the 1957 presidential election, Lacson claimed that Magsaysay had offered to name him as the Nacionalista candidate for Vice President, in lieu of incumbent Vice-President Carlos P. Garcia. [11] According to Lacson, he declined the offer, telling Magsaysay "the time has not yet come". [12]

Nonetheless, after Magsaysay's death, Lacson turned against the newly installed President Garcia, and considered running against Garcia in the 1957 election. In April 1957, Lacson went on a national tour in order to gauge his nationwide strength as a presidential candidate. [11] While the tour indicated considerable popularity of Lacson in the provinces, his potential run was hampered by a lack of funding and a party machinery. [11] It was believed that Lacson would have easily won the presidency in 1957 had he obtained the nomination of either his Nacionalista Party, then committed to Garcia, or the rival Liberal Party, [17] which would select Jose Yulo as its candidate. The American expatriate and industrialist Harry Stonehill later claimed that Lacson had asked him to finance his campaign against Garcia. [18] When Stonehill refused, Lacson decided not to run, and thereafter, staged a rally at Plaza Miranda where he denounced the United States and what he perceived as the subservience of the Philippine government to the Americans. [19] In his career, Lacson was frequently tagged as anti-American, [11] and he had criticized the United States for having no foreign policy "but just a pathological fear of communism". [13]

Garcia won in the 1957 election, and Lacson became a persistent critic of the President throughout his four-year term. In 1961, Lacson turned against the Nacionalista Party and supported the presidential candidacy of Vice-President Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party. He was named Macapagal's national campaign manager and was attributed as "the moving spirit behind a nationwide drive that led to Macapagal's victory at the polls". [13] Not long after Macapagal's election, Lacson returned to the Nacionalista Party and became increasingly critical of the President, explaining "I only promised to make Macapagal President, not agree with him forever." [13] Lacson was considered as the likely presidential candidate of the Nacionalistas for the 1965 elections, [4] and when that prospect was mooted by his death, the party would select Senator Ferdinand Marcos, who would defeat Macapagal.


As mayor, Lacson had faced several attempts on his life. He twice disarmed gunmen who had attacked him, and survived an ambush as he was driving home one night. [1] Yet it would be a stroke that ended Lacson's life at the age of 49. He was fatally stricken at a hotel suite while in the company of a popular local movie star. [5] [13] Lacson was buried at the Manila North Cemetery.

An Elementary School in Tondo,Manila and a street in Sampaloc, Manila have been named after Lacson. A statue in his honor was likewise erected in present-day Plaza Lacson, which is behind Sta. Cruz church. Another statue was erected along Roxas Boulevard facing Manila Bay, this time of Lacson seated on a bench reading a newspaper.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Fiorello in Manila". Time Magazine. 1962-04-16. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
  2. "Arsenio Lacson of Manila Dead". The New York Times . 1962-04-16. Retrieved 2008-02-02. The death of Mr. Lacson, who was an active and pugnacious city executive in the tradition of Fiorello La Guardia, marked the end of an era.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Hancock, Rose (April 2000). "April Was a Cruel Month for the Greatest Manila Mayor Ever Had". 1898:The Shaping of Philippine History. 35. II. Manila: Asia Pacific Communications Network, Inc. p. 16.
  4. 1 2 "Arsenio Lacson of Manila Dead (pay site)". The New York Times . 1962-04-16. Retrieved 2008-02-02. Mr. Lacson had returned to the Nacionalista party, now in opposition, and was considered likely to be its Presidential candidate in 1965
  5. 1 2 3 Hancock, p. 15
  6. Doronila, Amando (26 April 2015). "The 'Arsenic' made Manila among the world's finest". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  7. Henson, Joaquin (26 December 2003). "Readers Take Over". Philippine Headline News Online. Vanzi, Sol Jose. The Philippine Star. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  8. Ramirez, Bert (2016). "Looking Back (chapter author)". Philippine Football: Its Past, Its Future. By Villegas, Bernardo. University of Asia and the Pacific. p. 37. ISBN   978-621-8002-29-6.
  9. 1 2 3 Hancock, p. 18
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Hancock, p. 17
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Nick Joaquin (1957-05-11). "In this corner: Lacson". Philippine Free Press. Archived from the original on 2008-01-09. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  12. 1 2 Hancock, p. 19
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 The New York Times (1962-04-16)
  14. 1 2 Hancock, p. 20
  15. "The Mayor Returns". Time Magazine. 1953-01-26. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  16. Lacson v. Roque, 92Phil.456 ( Supreme Court of the Philippines 1943-01-10).
  17. Gleeck Jr., Lewis E. (1993). The Third Philippine Republic: 1946–1972. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. pp. 214–215. ISBN   971-10-0473-9.
  18. Gleeck, p. 216
  19. Gleeck, p. 216-217

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Political offices
Preceded by
Manuel dela Fuente
Mayor of Manila
Succeeded by
Antonio Villegas