MANILA, April 12, 2004
By Jess Diaz (People Asia Magazine) -  In a country where many people lose their sense of personal security the moment they step out of their homes into the streets, it is not difficult to like and maybe vote for a former police officer who wants to do a Thaksin.

Opposition presidential hopeful Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson made a name for himself as a no-nonsense law enforcement official. He takes pride in his track record as head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) and chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP). It is indeed his biggest asset in his quest for the presidency.

It is widely acknowledged that reforming the corrupt and feared police organization could be the most important achievement of Lacson in his long career as a police officer, though politics slowly killed the reforms he initiated after he left the police organization.

As PNP chief, he used to say that people had two fears: fear of crime and fear of the police. So from day one, he launched a relentless campaign against criminals and hooligans, whether they were civilians or they belonged to his own organization.

Among his first directives was for policemen to return to Camp Crame all seized vehicles that they had been using and turn them over to their owners. His reason: his men had no right to use these private vehicles.

By his own admission, he was surprised to find out that in a few days, hundreds of vehicles were in the parade grounds of the PNP headquarters waiting to be turned over to their grateful owners.

After the deadline for the return of the vehicles lapsed, Lacson ordered the arrest of all policemen found using seized vehicles. At least four officers were arrested and charged, including two caught with confiscated cars inside Camp Crame itself. The four probably wanted to find out for themselves whether their PNP chief meant his word.

And he meant every directive he made. He told his men he did not want them to extort money from anyone, whether from the lowly jeepney or bus driver or the wealthy businessman caught transgressing the law. "We should put an end to kotong (extortion)," he told them. Many policemen complied, and the few who did not were disciplined.

Annoyed with the image of a policeman as a fat-bellied man in uniform, Lacson ordered his men to exercise and shed weight so they could keep fit and trim. In six months, those with bulging tummies reduced their waistlines by changing their lifestyle, exercising and even going on a diet.

The PNP chief envisioned a man in uniform whom people respected and obeyed.

"When I became PNP chief in 1999, I wanted to regain the lost glory of the police. When I was a kid, our barrio policeman in Cavite got the same respect as the school principal," he told friends after quitting the police organization in January 2001.

Lacson succeeded in accomplishing the mission he set for himself, judging from the public approval of the reforms he made. During his term as National Police chief, the PNP earned the highest approval rating of 69 percent. Before his stint, the organization received negative ratings.

It is not thus surprising that justice and law and order are on top of his platform of government. He says economic gains will follow if there is peace in the land and justice for everyone.

He says investors are shying away from the country not due to political uncertainties but because they feel they are not safe here. It is the same sentiment that prompted the controversial remark of a Japanese diplomat, who publicly complained that he had not been able to sleep well since he arrived in the country.

Lacson told a recent meeting of travel agency operators and tourism officials that Japanese tourists prefer to go to Thailand because they feel safer there than in the Philippines.

Bangkok is two hours farther than Manila by plane from Tokyo, and the natural beauty of tourist destinations here is comparable to those in Thailand. But Japanese tourists and investors would rather go to Bangkok than Manila because they can have peace of mind there, the opposition senator says.

Besides envisioning a peaceful environment that is conducive to tourism and investments, Lacson's economic plans include tackling the soaring budget deficit, reducing if not eliminating graft and corruption and promoting investor-friendly policies.

He plans to solve the deficit problem by widening the tax base (from the present 2.8 million income earners paying taxes to a potential of 14 million) and offering taxpayers value for their money.

He says if people see that their tax payments are used wisely and none of it is going to waste or into the pocket of a corrupt bureaucrat, they would only be too glad to pay their taxes.

By his own estimate, about 50 percent of a lawmaker's public works fund allotment is shared by corrupt officials and contractors, and only 50 percent is actually spent for projects. Lacson, by the way, gave up his P200-million pork barrel last year. This year, he is again giving up such a huge fund, which he could easily use to boost his presidential candidacy.

The presidential aspirant reckons that if he is able to plug inefficiency in both the revenue generation and expenditure sides, there would be enough money for infrastructure and social services, and in the long run, tax rates could be cut.

He promises transparent, corruption-free and accountable governance if he is elected president in May.

Can he deliver on his promises? He himself asked the question in the course of addressing the Philippine Business Conference at the Manila Hotel last Nov. 29: "Candidates can make beautiful, inspiring speeches, but can they translate this into action? I promise you that I can. My track record proves this. After I became PNP chief, kidnap-for-ransom was reduced to nil, practically zero. After I left the PNP, the Philippines became Asia's crime capital once again. Where others failed, I succeeded."

Born on June 1, 1948 in Imus, Cavite, Lacson graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1971. He was with the dreaded Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group during martial law. He served as provincial police commander for Cebu and Laguna before rising to fame as PAOCTF and PNP chief. He has a master's degree in Government Management from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

He was elected senator in 2001. He regards his election as a gift the people gave him for his good performance as National Police chief.

A native son of Imus, Cavite, he is married to Alice de Perio of Bolinao, Pangasinan and San Miguel, Bulacan. The Lacsons have three sons.

Feng shui has it that those born in the Year of the Rat can get lucky in the Year of the Monkey. His rivals should better watch out for the 55-year-old Lacson.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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