July 18, 1953
MANILANS who saw scout and armored trucks menacingly rumble through the streets of the city last Monday evening, with mounted machine guns manned by soldiers in full battle regalia, at once thought that either the Huks had swooped down on the city or a foreign enemy had just landed. Many a city resident was truly scared by the presence of the battle wagons, with soldiers who were armed to the teeth, as they rolled grimly through the metropolis.
But there was no Huk invasion. Nor was there an invasion to be repelled. They were merely soldiers from Camp Murphy who were responding to a frantic call from their boss—Secretary of Justice and National Defense Oscar Castelo, who was at the Shellborne Hotel.
Why did Mr. Castelo call for the army and the constabulary at that time of the night? And why so many men in arms and in battle uniform?
According to the secretary, his life was being threatened by City Mayor Arsenio Lacson and his men, numbering about 40. They were right around the premises of the Shellborne, the secretary said, lying in ambush for him. Castelo felt certain that Lacson was out to murder him that night. Hence, the SOS to Camp Murphy—which was promptly and adequately answered.
But Mayor Lacson vehemently denied Castelo’s allegation, said he was not at the Shellborne, but in another adjacent place, waiting, for a call from somebody to make arrangements with Florentino “Scarface” Suarez who was going to “spill the beans” that night on the Monroy murder. Suarez’ confession was going to be tape-recorded by the mayor, in the presence of newspapermen, newsphotographers and members of the police department.
The armed forces were merely obeying Castelo’s order to arrest Lacson. But the city mayor defied the secretary’s order because the arresting officer had no warrant of arrest. “Mr. Castelo should come and personally arrest me and I’ll break his neck,” Lacson is said to have told newsmen in a moment of excitement.
If Secretary Castelo’s real purpose was merely to have Lacson arrested, why didn’t he do the usual thing under the circumstances: call for a squad of Manila policemen (of whom we have a number) and order the cops to nab the city mayors? And since he is the secretary of justice, although on leave, why didn’t he first secure a warrant of arrest from any of the many Manila judges before ordering the arrest of Lacson? It becomes obvious that in summoning the army and the constabulary to “pinch” the mayor of Manila, Mr. Castelo was trying to impress all and sundry that being the biggest boss of the army, the men in that organization were at his beck and call, and that any time he could summon a battalion to parade before people he wants properly “impressed.”
Unfortunately, he met one who refused to be impressed—Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson.