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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Lim's 'Bang-Bang' Theory

Ending crime to improve the economy

By Antonio Lopez / Manila


FORMER PRESIDENT CORAZON COJUANGCO Aquino and the influential Manila archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Sin, support his quest for the presidency. He is the second most-popular candidate in the race (after Vice President Joseph Estrada). But Manila mayor Alfredo Lim is not having an easy time of it. In an election where the economy is the issue, his ideas on the subject seem worryingly simple to some. Others criticize his poor human rights record as Manila police chief and director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). There are even doubts about his citizenship, and winks about his relationship with Aquino. Welcome to national politics.

Rodolfo Reyes, chief media strategist for Estrada, says: "I have known Lim for years. He is nothing more than a policeman. His vision does not go beyond that." Lim's notions of economic reform can best be described as the "bang-bang" theory. He believes the way to economic recovery is shooting down criminals. It is an approach that has endeared him to those Filipinos weary of regular kidnappings and the growing menace posed by drug dealers. "We can only improve the economy by restoring law and order," he says. Beyond that, he hasn't said much. "My weakest link is economics," Lim admits. He says his running mate, popular senator and businessman Sergio Osmeña, will take up the slack. That seems good enough for many. If elections were held today, one in six voters would choose Lim as president.

That is largely because of his reputation as a tough law enforcer. Lim, 68, acquired (and enjoyed) the nickname "Dirty Harry" for his efficiency in dealing with criminals and suspects. They seem to just drop dead, victims of what human rights activists call summary killings, "salvaging" in local parlance. Among the victims are alleged drug lord Jose Oyson (shot inside an NBI van while trying to "escape"), army colonel Rolando de Guzman (shot during a supposed drug bust) and more than 30 suspected drug dealers who were making life unpleasant for residents of the capital. "How can I give protection to the good citizens of this country if I compromise with criminals or adopt a soft-glove treatment?" Lim asks. "The only language these criminals understand is the use of force and violence."

Lim is not too worried about the accusations of human rights violations. But he is taking seriously allegations that he is not a natural-born Filipino, a requirement for the presidency. A Manila newspaper found an original copy of Lim's birth certificate that indicated his parents were "Chinese mestizos," in other words half-Filipino and half-Chinese. On a March 25 television program, Lim was forced to reveal that his parents were not married at the time of his birth and that he never met his father. Lim was raised by his maternal grandparents, a landed family from a province north of Manila. But Lim apparently did not enjoy their wealth. Unlike many other presidential candidates, Lim worked his way through high school and college.

The Constitution defines natural-born citizens as those who do not have "to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship." Some Supreme Court decisions state that a person claiming to be a natural-born Filipino but described as a Chinese mestizo on his birth certificate must establish his citizenship in court at the time of his birth. The Philippine Constitution Association has asked the Commission on Elections to determine if Lim is a natural-born Filipino.

Some are also asking if Lim isn't a little too close to Aquino, 65. He seems to enjoy the question -- even if he doesn't answer it. During campaign sorties, Aquino's youngest daughter, popular TV talk-show host Kris Aquino, would ask the mayor: "Aside from being president, do you also want to win over the heart of my mother?" Lim would smile broadly and respond: "That's difficult to answer."

"I am doing it for Lim -- and not for love," says Aquino of her endorsement of his candidacy. She considers Lim a hero of the 1986 People Power revolt that ousted Ferdinand Marcos, though others recall that the police-general sided with the dictator and dispersed anti-government crowds at the time. In supporting Lim, Aquino has minced no words. She says: "Poverty at almost all levels of society is prevalent. People are going hungry and many are out of jobs. The government is in bad shape, and graft and corruption are rampant."

Aquino's backing for her former defense secretary, Fidel Ramos, helped him win the presidency in 1992. But the so-called "Cory magic" may be an illusion this time. And, though Lim wears the "Dirty Harry" image well, it too can only last so long.


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