Sen. Panfilo Lacson planted the Philippine flag in a surprise visit to the Spratlys six months before the May 2022 elections, one step and a cargo plane ride ahead of his rival presidential candidates who try to explain their position on the Philippines' long-running sea dispute with China.
It's something that only the likes of the police general turned graft-busting politician could pull off. When he was wanted over the revived Dacer-Corbito double murder in 2010, he went into hiding and surfaced over a year later when his nemesis Gloria Arroyo was no longer in power and was about to be jailed by the new government of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino.
On March 24, Lacson quit as chairman of his own Partido Reporma party, saying it chose to support one of his rivals, whom he did not immediately name, but the party identified several hours later as Leni Robredo.
"No leader can succeed if he cannot practice what he preaches. Kailangan natin ng leader na ang tama ay ipaglalaban at ang mali ay lalabanan," he said at the launch of his candidacy on Sept. 8, where he positioned himself as the alternative to political scions and their proxies.
What's next for the 73-year-old who's running for president for the second time? With no political party to back him up and low survey numbers from the get-go, it might be more difficult for Lacson to pull off his campaign, analysts said.
"There would be sympathy votes as our electorate would have plenty of that but I think inadequate to pull Ping for a win. Ping’s numbers are so low that no amount of tears could afloat him," De La Salle University political science professor Gerardo Eusebio told reportr.
With Lacson’s current positioning in pre-election surveys, quitting his political party could be more to his disadvantage, said Ronald Castillo, who teaches Political Science at the University of Santo Tomas.
“Bababa ang boto niyan. A political party is not a be-all but it’s important to have a political party kasi makakatulong yun in a place where the competition is about having a support base,” he told reportr.
Philippines, meet General Lacson
Lacson's decades of public service in the military, police and the Senate show he is always the tactician.
It was the early 90s and crimes were so sensational, a new genre of massacre films was born. In real life Filipinos saw the rise of Lacson, then a senior police officer and head of Task Force Habagat, the syndicate-busting arm of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, led by then President Joseph Estrada.
A decade prior, Lacson led the rescue of Robina Gokongwei, daughter of the late industrialist John Gokongwei Jr., from her kidnappers without ransom. Lacson refused a P400,000 reward and instead asked the JG Summit founder to donate patrol cars to the PC Metrocom, the precursor of the PNP.
His law enforcement stint also gained Lacson notoriety as his men were accused of killing members of the Kuratong-Baleleng kidnap for ransom gang in a rubout, instead of a shootout as claimed by authorities. He denied wrongdoing.
Lacson was also implicated in the deaths of public relations man Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and Dacer's driver, Emmanuel Corbito. It was the height of impeachment proceedings against then President Estrada in late 1999, and Dacer was suspected to have been involved in a destabilization attempt against the government.
Then a four-star general and chief of the PNP, Lacson also denied wrongdoing. It would haunt him in 2010 when the case was revived, for which he blamed Arroyo. The arrest warrant against him was revoked by the time he resurfaced in 2011.
@pinglacson2022 Disiplinado mga pulis nung PNP Chief si Ping Lacson, at sign of a good leader na naging loyal mga tao nya hanggang ngayon! #pinglacson ? original sound - Ping Lacson 2022
Lacson's trim figure and sharp gaze were the antithesis to the big-bellied and corrupt image of the police force at that time. At one point, he placed a 34-inch cap on policemen's waistline, which was adopted by many of his successors as a PR move.
Lacson is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy's Matatag Class of 1971, a batch that is among the most politicized as its graduates were deployed just as martial law was taking hold.
Senator Lacson hates pork and 'Jose Pidal'
Lacson first won a seat in the Senate in 2001, a midterm vote that tested Estrada's clout after he was ousted in the Edsa Dos uprising that installed Arroyo as president. Former first lady Loi Ejercito also won in that election.
In the Senate, Lacson became known for refusing pork barrel, billions of pesos in discretionary funds that were a longtime source of corruption until it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Before Arroyo could run for a fresh six-year term in 2004, Lacson initiated Senate investigations wherein then First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo was accused of stashing away millions of pesos under the pesudonym Jose Pidal. A younger brother of Mike, Ignacio, later claimed that the account was his.
In a pushback, a government witness, Ador Mawanay, later claimed to have witnessed Lacson's wrongdoings in the PNP. He later recanted his allegations claiming he was pressured to implicate Lacson.
Lacson eventually built a reputation for flagging "insertions" or questionable items in the national budget.
'We Need a Leader' in 2022
Lacson banked on his tough, graft-busting persona for his second crack at running for president, tapping Senate President Tito Sotto as his running mate.
While he retained the checkered button down shirt from his 2004 campaign where he placed third, he made fashion statements with his shoes that eagle-eyed sneaker heads would notice. That's one way to soften his stern persona.
According to Pulse Asia's Feb. 18 to 23 poll, Lacson is the choice of 2% of voters if elections were held during that period. On Google Trends, he accounted for 5% of searches during the week of March 13.
The president of his former party, Reporma, said there was growing momentum for Robredo that needed to be seized. Her rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people and have gotten so big that U.S. pop star Ariana Grande took notice, without necessarily endorsing her.
"In the face of these recent developments, allow me to say: Like a true-blooded warrior that I am all my life, I will continue this fight in pursuit of my quest to serve my country and our people, as your chief executive -- if God and the Filipino people will it, come May 9, 2022," Lacson said.