An Officer & a Gentleman
The late former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim.
Jojo Guingona courtesy of PeopleAsia
An Officer & a Gentleman
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2020 - 12:00am

In many ways, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who passed away on Aug. 8 at the age of 90, personified “Manila’s Finest.” Not only because he was a decorated member of the capital’s police force that is reverently, traditionally called “Manila’s Finest,” but also because he has kept a record in public service that deserved the accolade.

Lim, who was a public servant for more than six decades until his retirement (he joined the police force in 1951), had a reputation that was a curious mix of “Mr. Clean” and “Dirty Harry.”

Mr. Clean because his reputation had not been tainted, as far as I know, by graft and corruption. (In his early days as a cop, he surprised many by returning money recovered in a police operation to its rightful owner, down to the last centavo. The owner of the money reportedly fainted in astonishment.) Dirty Harry, because of his supposed no-nonsense way of dealing with lawbreakers.

In an interview in 2013, we asked Lim if he minded being called the Philippines’ Dirty Harry, the fictional character of Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police, popularized by Clint Eastwood in a movie trilogy of the same title.

“Perhaps to those who do not know the origin of this Dirty Harry thing, baka ang iniisip nila we are doing dirty things, but that’s not the meaning,” Lim clarified. He went on to quote verbatim Callahan in the movie, who was told by the mayor to slow down on his arrests.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim (right and center) lead the opening of the Flora V. Valisno de Siojo dialysis facility, the country’s largest free dialysis facility, at the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in 2019. With them in photo is GABMMC director Dr. Ted Martin. Flora Siojo was Lim’s grandmother.
Photo by Edd Gumban

“Tinawag niya yung mga officers together with the police commissioner and the chief of police. Sabi ng mayor, ‘Gentlemen, at the rate that we are being charged by this people, pretty soon, San Francisco will be bankrupt. So, I am requesting you to go slow in accosting and apprehending these guys.’ Tumayo itong si Callahan, sabi niya, ‘Mr. Mayor, you appointed me as a chief officer, you gave me a gun, the authority to enforce the law and apprehend these criminals. As long as I am a police officer, I will do my job in accordance with my sworn duty.’ He didn’t compromise with criminals kaya huli siya nang huli. Eh, itong mga criminals, alam na ganun, kapag nakita siya dumarating sa kotse niya, sasabihin, ‘Here comes Dirty Harry.’ Doon nagsimula ‘yang Dirty Harry.”

In that sense, Lim was Dirty Harry, indeed.

“I don’t compromise. I am not even awed by position or status in life. Hindi ba ako ang humuli kay (then Defense Secretary) Juan Ponce-Enrile after the alleged ‘God save the Queen’ plot? I felt, trabaho ko ‘yun eh. Enrile and I have become friends since then. Kapag nakikita ko siya sa mga social affairs, nagbibiro siya, ‘How’s my arresting officer?’ Tumatawa lang.”


Despite his tough exterior and demeanor, Lim betrayed a soft spot during our interview. Tears sprung unbidden to his eyes whenever he talked about his maternal grandmother Flora Siojo, who raised him.

“I grew up in an orphanage, at the Hospicio de San Jose. My father died early, tapos ‘yung mother ko, nag-asawa ulit kaya inilagay ako sa Hospicio. I did not experience the love of a father and a mother. Hanap nang hanap ‘yung grandmother ko sa akin. When she finally found me, she took me out of the orphanage when I was nine. My grandparents gave me all the love parents can give. For you to make me cry, you let me recall my grandmother,” he paused, all choked up with emotion. “She was a rice dealer from San Miguel, Bulacan. She showered me with all the love and affection.”

“She died on April 10, 1943 during the Japanese time. My only regret in life is that I was not able to repay her for all the good things that she had done for me.”

Aside from the police academy, it was the Hospicio that taught Lim the importance of being disciplined and methodical.

Lim became an avid reader of books on Sherlock Holmes, the famous English detective and investigator, in his senior year in high school. He joined the police force in 1951 after graduating college at the University of the East (where he also obtained his Law degree in 1963) because of his fascination with Holmes, his biggest hero of fiction. (Andres Bonifacio and Corazon Aquino were his real-life heroes, he said.)

“I was fascinated with crime stories. Iniisip ko, ang galing pala ng mga pulis, nahuhuli ang mga masasamang tao, they are the protector and defender of the victims. Kaya noong makatapos na ako sa college, nagkaroon ng exam for the first time ang Civil Service here in Manila for the police. Kumuha ako, nakapasa naman.”

The Chief of Police at the time wrote to the Civil Service Commission to send him the names of the first 200 who passed the exams. There were 121 vacancies in the police force and Lim made the mark.


The Sherlock Homes fan served as director of the National Bureau of Investigation in 1989 before being elected mayor of Manila in 1992 and 1995. He also led the Department of the Interior and Local Government from 1998 to 2000 before being elected senator in 2004. He ran anew for Manila mayor in 2007 and was re-elected in 2010 with the highest majority in the history of Manila at the time, according to the official website of the city.

Lim told us he considered the social services he instituted in Manila as one of his greatest accomplishments as mayor. At the time, 2013, he built five hospitals in the country’s capital — though he was more known for his drive against drug pushers and for erasing the Red Light District off the map of the city.

Among Lim’s dreams was the transformation of the strategic Port Area as a financial hub, similar to the ports of Singapore and Hong Kong.

We ended our interview by asking Lim his concept of what “earthly happiness” is.

“As long as you don’t commit acts of abuses or acts of oppression, if you don’t think ill of people, I am happy,” he replied without a second thought. “But the maximum form of happiness to me is being able to help those in dire need. When I wake up, I ask myself, ‘Sino kaya ang pwede kong matulungan ngayong araw na ito?’ That’s one question that’s always in my mind. Before I sleep, I review my day and ask, ‘Sino ba ang natulungan ko?’ Kapag mayroon akong natulungan, happy na ako.”

An officer and a gentleman, indeed.

(You may e-mail me at Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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