Dirty Harry’s unknown side

Very few remember that he went rogue during People Power !, he disobeyed the orders of the Commander-in -Chief and found ways to divert the menacing army tanks from entering EDSA where thousands were already gathered to protest against the dictatorship. When he was Mayor of Manila, he was called “Dirty Harry” because of the almost vigilante -like crusade he waged against heinous crimes, drug trafficking and corruption. When I was invited to join his staff, my wary friends asked how it felt to work with a man who always, albeit inconspicuously, carried a silver gun.

On an October morning, the 23 rd day to be exact, I was at the foot of Juan Luna’s monument with the first rays of the sun. I was not alone, a crush of people had arrived before me, making sure that everything was in place for the commemoration of Juan Luna’s birthday. I had a check list— red carpet properly swept and clean, rows of chairs for school principals, teachers and students, a special section for VIPs, usually heads of agencies of the Executive Department led by the Secretary of Education, Chairpersons of historical and cultural agencies, members of the diplomatic corps. The guards of honor were either from the navy or the army, more often the former because of the proximity of their headquarters. The officers in formal regalia, those bearing the national colors were already standing at attention, waiting for the Mayor to arrive. Those ceremonies started at precisely 7 a.m. At 6:30, the Mayor’s close-in aide , Col. Baltazar, would call me. “We are ready to go, is everyone seated?” Everything and everyone are ready, except for some VIPs—my standard answer. It’s too early, please think of something to detain the Mayor. Punctuality was one of Mayor Lim’s virtues, that was probably why we got along.

Mayor Lim made it a point to commemorate and honor the heroes of the Philippine Revolution, most of whom were born, studied, worked or lived in Manila; he also honored the revolutionaries who fought in the Philippine-American War, like Gen. Macario Sakay, for whom he commissioned a larger- than -life monument and installed it at Plaza Morga in Tondo, near where Sakay used to live. A standard ceremony consisted of the entrance of colors, offering of wreaths of flowers during which the Manila City Band played patriotic songs. The Mayor would then give a brief speech to explain why we were all gathered there and what the particular hero did for our beloved country.

A few days before those commemorations, he would summon me to his office so I could brief him about the life of the hero , with emphasis on what he or she did for the country. He was not at all ignorant of history, he also had his own analysis. He would ask me to write down the point we had discussed.

On Juan Luna’s day, as soon as the colors made their exit, he walked to the podium, greeted everyone cheerfully, after which he began to read the “talking points”. He always spoke with pep and purpose, was never vulgar or rude. On that day, he ended his speech by saying, “ That is what Mrs. Gemma Araneta told me about Juan Luna, so if you have questions, you can ask her. And by the way, she also said that we should all go to the National Museum (he points to the venerable building across the street) so you can all see Juan Luna’s prize-winning “Spoliarium.”

That was before the National Museum of Fine Arts decided to remove the entrance fee, so it was a splendid opportunity for the public-school teachers and students to visit. With the Manila City Band playing “Alerta Katipunan”, Mayor Lim ordered the police to stop the traffic so we could all march to where the Spoliarium is dramatically displayed. I heard a lot of ooohs and aaaahs. None of them had seen the Spoliarium up close, the teachers said they did not expect to see something so spectacular. They thought it would be small frame, like in the history books.

In my unvarnished opinion, Mayor Alfredo S. Lim will be sorely missed specially by the teachers and students who were invited to those commemorations of eminent Filipinos and the historical events that enveloped their lives . “Dirty Harry” gave relevance to history and made us feel that we are all part of it.