One of the pieces of advice that the philosopher-courtier Nicolo Machiavelli gave to his patron, the head of the Medici family of medieval Italy, was that he, and other leaders, should seek to be feared and loved. This piece of advice, which has resonated down the ages, came to my mind the other day as I contemplated the state of affairs in this country today.
I fully agree with Signor Machiavelli that a leader – a governor, an administrator or whatever other title may be assigned to him – should be feared. But before love I would put respect. A leader should be feared but respected. If in the process the citizenry gets to love him or her, that’s a bonus.
It bears saying – and Nicolo Machiavelli would have said it – that fear of a leader come in either of ways. One is the fear that a citizen feels toward a leader who is upright in every way, who is professionally well-equipped for his position and feels genuine concern for the welfare and rights of the citizenry. The other kind of fear is that which comes when a leader, totally disregarding the citizens’ rights and legitimate personal concerns, unleashes the State’s forces against them in the pursuit of his personal agenda. The first kind is magnificent; the second is abhorrent.
In one respect the political history of the Philippines is different from that of other democracies. In its comparatively brief history as a republic, the Philippines has seen three former city mayors make the ascent to the Presidency. I speak of Arsenio H. Lacson (Manila), Joseph Ejercito Estrada (San Juan) and Rodrigo Duterte (Davao City). Lacson did not complete his mayorship due to a fatal heart attack; Estrada was driven from the Presidency by the defection of the generals heading the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Joseph Ejercito Estrada is often said to have been educationally unprepared for the Presidency; however, that evaluation is surely belied by the fact that he was educated at the Ateneo de Manila and was enrolled in an engineering course at another university. Arsenio Lacso was a lawyer.
At the time of his death Arsenio Lacson undoubtedly was one of the brightest stars in the Philippine political firmament. Tricks did not have to be employed to get him to be the frontrunner for the Presidential nomination of his party. So great was the clamor from the Nacionalista Party faithful for him to lead the party in the 1961 Presidential election that Arsenio Lacson almost certainly would have gotten the party’s nomination by acclamation. And, in the considered view of many knowledgeable observers, Arsenio Lacson would have emerged victorious in that election.
Lacson served one term in the House of Representatives before being elected mayor of the nation’s capital. The legend and the myth about Lacson grew almost as soon as he took his seat in the mayor’s office.
Arsenio Lacson went to City Hall with a reputation for being fearless. An articulate lawyer, he incessantly lambasted the apparently corrupt administration of President Carlos P. Garcia in his very popular no-cussing radio show “In This Corner”. It was well-known that he conducted his inspection tours of the city seated in the front passenger seat of a police car. He didn’t have a death squad or Presidential security personnel to protect him from the highly-placed personalities whom he had offended.
Arsenio Lacson was both fearless and feared. He was feared not only by the people of Manila but also by the nation at large because he brooked no corruption or abuse of the citizens’ rights. He could properly appear tough because his constituents knew he was clean. No one ever accused him of having secret bank accounts, and there was never a demand for him to waive his rights under the Bank Secrecy Law. He and his wife died with no great wealth to their names.
Arsenio Lacson was a true leader, not a bogus one. That is why the people of Manila feared and respected him. And they gave him a bonus. They loved him.