The Return of ‘Dirty Harry’

In a battle of geriatrics, Alfredo Lim, who earned the nickname “Dirty Harry” for his notorious anti-crime campaigns, has announced he is coming out of retirement at the age of 85 to take on Joseph Estrada, 78, to attempt to recapture the job of mayor of Manila, which he held 12 years in two different terms.

Lim’s candidacy looks like a long shot. Estrada possesses a formidable political machine. In addition, city councilors say Lim during his two periods in office did little to improve the teeming city and had no clear vision, beyond going after suspected criminals and closing a few whorehouses.

After 30 years as a policeman, during which he rose to head the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippines FBI, Lim was elected to the mayoralty in 1992, serving to 1998 before running for the Philippine Senate. In 2007, he decided to give up his post and ran successfully again for mayor. He won his nickname for personally marking the homes of suspected criminals and for padlocking whorehouses in Manila’s red light districts. He also closed down and removed all of the bars on the Manila Bayside highway of Roxas Boulevard, claiming he wanted to made the area a “wholesome park for everybody” with a view of the Manila sunset.

Unfortunately, he also presided over the botched 2010 rescue of a bus load of Hong Kong tourists that was hijacked by a former police officer, Rolando Mendoza protesting his ouster from the service. After 10 hours of televised stalemate, a police attempt to storm the bus led to the murder of eight hostages and the killing of Mendoza himself. That kicked off an international incident, with Hong Kong officials demanding that President Benigno S. Aquino III apologize for the botched action. Hong Kong’s security bureau blacklisted the Philippines for tourists, finally lifting the ban in 2014 after Estrada, Lim’s successor, flew to Hong Kong to apologize. Lim was declared liable for neglect of duty and misconduct. In a final report, he was found have been "administratively liable" for the incident.

When he sought another term as Mayor, he was defeated in 2013 by Estrada, who himself had been kicked out of the presidency in the so-called Edsa II rebellion against corruption in his administration in 2001 and sought the mayoralty as a step in rehabilitating his reputation. Lim first attempted to drive Estrada from the job through the courts, claiming the former actor was barred from holding elective office after he had been convicted of plunder. The Supreme Court, however, sided with Estrada, saying the fact that he had been pardoned by the former President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – who remains under house arrest herself on charges of plunder -- restored his eligibility for office.

He was also notorious for a 1987 incident when thousands of peasants, students and others marched Malacañang Palace to present their demands for land reform to then president Corazon Aquino. Riot police blocked the protesters, along with the Philippine Marines. Lim at that point commanded the police at the Mendiola Bridge where the confrontation took place. Security forces opened fire on the unarmed protesters, killing 13 and wounding another 100 or so. Although no charges were ever field, he is believed to have ordered the shooting. He blamed the Marines.

“The rematch between 'Dirty Harry' and ‘Asiong Salonga’—the gangster played in several movies by Estrada -- is a classic case of a friendship gone sour over politics. Since his appointment as Estrada’s interior secretary in 1998, Lim had served as a leader of Estrada’s political party – the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino – and even served as the party’s chair,” according to an analysis of the race by the country risk firm Pacific Strategies & Assessments which is available only to subscribers.

While Estrada supposedly forgave Lim for defecting to the opposition during the anti-Estrada protests in 2001, “sources say that the breakup became decisive after Lim was re-elected Manila mayor in 2007,”PSA said. Sources say that Estrada threw his support for Lim at that time in exchange for a contract in the collection of the city’s garbage in favor of an Estrada crony. Estrada also reportedly wanted Lim to appoint individuals recommended by Estrada to the local police force. Lim allegedly reneged on his promises, forcing Estrada to drop him from the party.”

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As an incumbent, the ex-president has maintained support from the city councilors who had earlier accused Lim of having no clear vision for the city and having caused the city to further decay. Estrada had also accused Lim of sending the city coffers into bankruptcy including unpaid electricity charges which forced Estrada to raise realty taxes by as much as 300 percent when he took over in 2013. While this angered business groups and residents, Estrada’s dole-out programs for Manila’s slum dwellers has buoyed his popularity.

Politics in the country’s capital city reflects much of the local politics in the countryside. For the most part, political issues on the local level are detached from national issues with national candidates appearing disinterested in synchronizing discordant priorities. While 'Dirty Harry' and 'Asiong Salonga' are established national figures – their political rematch fails to go beyond settling personal scores and recovering bruised egos.