(Note: This is the third of a five-part series on candidates running for president in the Philippines in the May 9, 2022 election. Canadian Filipino Net started the series in November 2021 with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Maria Leonor Robredo in December.)
This isn’t the first presidential rodeo for Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.
In 2004, the former police officer, then on his first term in the Senate, ran for the highest office of the Philippines.
Lacson placed a distant third behind the winner, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and second placer, Fernando Poe Jr.
Now on his third term as senator, Lacson is gunning again for president, this time in the May 9, 2022 national election.
On social media and in his official profile in the Senate, Lacson brands himself as a “public servant”.
In a nod to his background as a member of Class 1971 of the Philippine Military Academy, Lacson refers to himself as a “soldier” and “policeman”, plus his current title as a senator.
His rallying cry, “What is right must be kept right; what is wrong must be set right.”
His official Senate profile explains that these words have served as the “constant guide” of the person who has been “circumspect in matters of public interest and committed against various forms of corruption in his more than 40 years of public service in the fields of law enforcement, lawmaking, and humanitarian work”.
“Lacson is an untiring, tenacious watchdog of the national budget, making sure dubious congressional insertions (a.k.a. pork barrel) and useless appropriations are checked and deleted during plenary debates,” the profile notes.
This point was duly noted by the Center for Empowerment in Governance when the Quezon City-based public policy think tank drew profiles for the major candidates in the 2022 election.
CenPEG described Lacson as a “budget guardian”.
“From a professional career as a police officer climaxing as head of the Philippine National Police (PNP), three-term Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson has reinvented himself as the country’s guardian of the country’s coffers (budgeting process in Congress) and as an anti-corruption champion,” the center stated.
As well, “Lacking the natural mass appeal of presidential bets Sen. Pacquiao and Mayor Moreno, Lacson projects an image of the stern but reliable and rational technocrat perceived by some as a more rational, benign version of [current Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte.
“As a veteran senator, he has authored or co-sponsored many consequential laws including the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the AFP Modernization Act, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the Sin Tax Reform Act, and the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act.
“In 2020, he was the principal author of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act which was assailed by human rights and civil society groups as a dangerous law that provided an expansive definition of ‘terrorism’, heightened the powers of executive agencies and the military in prosecuting and detaining suspects, and the red-tagging of legitimate dissenters against the Duterte administration,” CenPEG wrote.
For his vice-presidential running mate, Lacson chose veteran four-term senator, Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who has been Senate President since 2018.
Sotto’s choice as a vice-presidential bet by Lacson “injects into their campaign the mass appeal that is potentially to be gained by the movie-television persona of the former”.
John Nery, an opinion writer with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, has written about the other side of Lacson, who served as chief of the Philippine National Police during the time of then President Joseph Estrada.
Lacson became the country’s top cop in 1999.
“I cannot forget that, on the very day Estrada appointed him PNP chief, an orgy of extrajudicial killings rocked the country,” Nery wrote.
“Statesmen like Nene Pimentel and Raul Roco in the Senate and Joker Arroyo in the House denounced the violence that, by then, trailed Lacson like a cape,” Nery noted.
It must be recalled that as a police officer, Lacson has been implicated in controversial killings.
These include the alleged rubout of Kuratong Baleleng robbery gang members in 1995.
Lacson has also been linked to the murder of well-known publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000.
However, Lacson has managed to evade criminal prosecution for these cases.
During the time of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Lacson was an officer with the Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group, a dreaded military intelligence unit blamed for alleged human rights violations against political dissenters.
As Nery wrote, “The truth is, even today, Lacson’s past as a police officer in one of the worst units under Ferdinand Marcos and then his career as a superstar in the police force working with Estrada continues to shadow him. Much remains unknown, and that can only be a danger sign.”
Nery doesn’t see Lacson winning the presidency in his second run.
“History is working against him,” Nery wrote.
“No one who has previously lost a presidential race ever becomes president; you get only one chance,” the opinion writer stated. “A corollary exists: A second run for the presidency is always worse than the first.”