Cesar Climaco
Cesar Cortez Climaco was a Filipino
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 politician who served as mayor of Zamboanga City
Zamboanga City
The City of Zamboanga : is a highly urbanized, independent and a chartered city located in Mindanao, Philippines....

 for 11 years. A prominent critic of the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, Sr. was a Filipino leader and an authoritarian President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. He was a lawyer, member of the Philippine House of Representatives and a member of the Philippine Senate...

, he was famed for his toughness in governance and colorful personality. He is also famous for his refusal to cut his hair until democratic rule was restored in the Philippines. He was assassinated by an unknown gunman in 1984.

Early years

Climaco was born in Zamboanga City, the son of a customs broker who later became a municipal councilor. He finished his primary and secondary education in his hometown, then moved to Manila
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. It is one of the sixteen cities forming Metro Manila.Manila is located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay and is bordered by Navotas and Caloocan to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong to the east, Makati on the southeast,...

 together with his future wife, Julia, to pursue a college education. He enrolled in a pre-law course at the University of Santo Tomas
University of Santo Tomas
The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines , is a private Roman Catholic university run by the Order of Preachers in Manila. Founded on April 28, 1611 by archbishop of Manila Miguel de Benavides, it has the oldest extant university charter in the...

 and worked as a family driver to finance his studies. He then studied law at the University of the Philippines
University of the Philippines
The ' is the national university of the Philippines. Founded in 1908 through Act No...

 College of Law
University of the Philippines College of Law
University of the Philippines College of Law or UP Law is the law school of the University of the Philippines. Since 1948, it has been located at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City, the flagship campus of UP's seven constituent universities. Until the 1970s, night classes of...

, working at the same time as a janitor
A janitor or custodian is a professional who takes care of buildings, such as hospitals and schools. Janitors are responsible primarily for cleaning, and often some maintenance and security...

 at the Court of Appeals
Philippine Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals of the Philippines is the Philippines' second highest judicial court, just after the Supreme Court. The court consists of 68 Associate Justices and 1 Presiding Justice...

. Coincidentally, his older brother Rafael, also a law student at UP, became an associate justice of the Court of Appeals under Pres. Marcos. Climaco earned his law degree
Law degree
A Law degree is an academic degree conferred for studies in law. Such degrees are generally preparation for legal careers; but while their curricula may be reviewed by legal authority, they do not themselves confer a license...

 in 1941, and was admitted to the Philippine bar later that year after having passed the bar examinations
Philippine Bar Examination
The Philippine Bar Examination is the professional licensure examination for lawyers in the Philippines.It is the only professional licensure exam in the country that is not supervised by the Professional Regulation Commission...


Political career

Climaco first entered political life when he ran and won a seat in the Zamboanga City council in 1951. Within two years, at the age of 37, he would be appointed as mayor of Zamboanga City, holding the post until the following year.

In 1954, Climaco joined the Operation Brotherhood, a group sponsored by the Jaycees to help provide for medical and relief needs to refugees in war-torn Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. As the Project Manager and Field Coordinator based in Vietnam, Climaco earned the friendship of South Vietnam
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

ese President Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngô Đình Diệm was the first president of South Vietnam . In the wake of the French withdrawal from Indochina as a result of the 1954 Geneva Accords, Diệm led the effort to create the Republic of Vietnam. Accruing considerable U.S. support due to his staunch anti-Communism, he achieved victory in a...

 and found his activities covered by LIFE
Life (magazine)
Life generally refers to three American magazines:*A humor and general interest magazine published from 1883 to 1936. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name....


Climaco would first win election as Zamboanga City mayor in 1955
Philippine general election, 1955
A senatorial election in the Philippines was held on November 8, 1955. The 1955 elections were known as a midterm election as the date when the winners take office falls half-way through President Ramon Magsaysay's four-year term. Since Magsaysay was very popular midway through his term, there...

, as a candidate of the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (Philippines)
The Liberal Party of the Philippines is a liberal party in the Philippines, founded by then senators Senate President Manuel Roxas, Senate President Pro-Tempore Elpidio Quirino, and former 9th Senatorial District Senator Jose Avelino, on November 24, 1945 by a breakaway Liberal group from the...

, and served in such capacity until 1961.

Mayor (1955-1959; 1959-1961)

Climaco would become a national figure during his first stint as Zamboanga City mayor. He would become known for his personal courage, as shown by his willingness to venture alone out to hotspots and personally confronting neighborhood toughies with threats of imprisonment. He maintained a similarly tough stance towards the city's policemen, once disarming cops he caught asleep at their posts during a surprise inspections. Climaco also maintained a harmonious relationship with the city's Muslim population, and cracked down on gambling.

As mayor, Climaco ordered the construction of Abong-Abong park in Pasonanca, which was planned to provide space for a camp site, housing projects, and a shantytown to house the city's homeless population. During this period, Zamboanga City would earn the appellation as the cleanest city in the Philippines. One measure he enacted to earn such a reputation for his city was a directive requiring all horses in horse-drawn carriages to be tied with diapers beneath their tails as they plied their routes.

He struck a friendship with the legendary mayor of Manila, Arsenio Lacson
Arsenio Lacson
Arsenio H. Lacson was a Filipino journalist and politician who gained widespread attention as Mayor of Manila from 1952 to 1962. An active executive likened by Time and The New York Times to New York's Fiorello La Guardia, he was the first Manila mayor to be reelected to three terms...

, who had earned a similar reputation for toughness and good governance. Climaco soon earned the nickname "Arsenio Lacson of the South", to which Lacson remarked that at the rate Climaco was going, the Manila mayor would soon be known as the "Climaco of the North."

Macapagal administration official

In 1961
Philippine general election, 1961
A senatorial election was held on November 14, 1961 in the Philippines. The two candidates of the Progressive Party, guest candidates of the Liberal Party, topped the election, while the Liberals themselves won four seats cutting the Nacionalista Party's majority to 13 seats in the 24-seat...

, Climaco gave up his post as mayor for an unsuccessful run for the Senate
Senate of the Philippines
The Senate of the Philippines is the upper chamber of the bicameral legislature of the Philippines, the Congress of the Philippines...

 under the Liberal Party. After his defeat, he was appointed by President
President of the Philippines
The President of the Philippines is the head of state and head of government of the Philippines. The president leads the executive branch of the Philippine government and is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines...

 Diosdado Macapagal
Diosdado Macapagal
Diosdado Pangan Macapagal was the ninth President of the Philippines, serving from 1961 to 1965, and the sixth Vice President, serving from 1957 to 1961. He also served as a member of the House of Representatives, and headed the Constitutional Convention of 1970...

 as Commissioner of Customs. As Customs Commissioner, he brought in cadets from the Philippine Military Academy
Philippine Military Academy
The Philippine Military Academy or PMA, is the Philippine military school for the Armed Forces of the Philippines . PMA was established on December 21, 1936 by the virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 1 . PMA is located in Baguio, Benguet province...

, vaunted for their idealism and honesty, to work in a Bureau of Customs which had long been reputedly corrupt. He again ran and lost for a Senate seat in 1963. Climaco then was appointed as a Presidential Assistant under Macapagal.

In 1965
Philippine general election, 1965
A senatorial election was held on November 19, 1965 in the Philippines. The Nacionalista Party wrestled back control of the Senate; originally a Liberal, Senate President Ferdinand Marcos defected to the Nacionalistas, became their presidential candidate and won this year's election...

, Climaco tried for a third time to win election as a Senator. He fell only around 4,000 votes shy of winning a seat in the Senate. In the same election, his political ally, President Macapagal, was defeated for re-election by a law school contemporary and friend of Climaco's, Senate President
President of the Senate of the Philippines
The President of the Senate of the Philippines, or more popularly known as the Senate President, is the presiding officer and the highest ranking-official of the Senate of the Philippines. He/she is elected by the entire body to be their leader...

 Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, Sr. was a Filipino leader and an authoritarian President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. He was a lawyer, member of the Philippine House of Representatives and a member of the Philippine Senate...


Martial Law Years

President Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Distressed at the development, Climaco left for exile to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 He vowed never to cut his hair until democratic rule was restored in the country. He returned to the Philippines in 1976, and two years later, sought election to the Interim Batasang Pambansa
Interim Batasang Pambansa
The Interim Batasang Pambansa or the First Batasan was the legislature of the Republic of the Philippines from its inauguration on June 12, 1978 to June 5, 1984...

 as a member from Zamboanga. He was defeated in this effort.

Mayor (1980-1984)

In 1980, Climaco staged his political comeback when he won re-election as Zamboanga City mayor under the banner of a political party he had organized, the Concerned Citizen's Aggrupation. By this time, crime and violence, often at the hands of policemen and the military, had become prevalent in the city, and a frustrated Climaco posted a scoreboard in front of city hall listing a running tally of unsolved violent crimes in the city. Climaco did not hesitate in denouncing the military and the police in the city, and had the police chief transferred out of the city. Upon the outbreak of violent incidents in the city, Climaco would rush to the scene on board his motorcycle and quell the disruption. Despite the threats of violence, Climaco never carried a gun or surrounded himself with bodyguards.

Climaco maintained a harsh view towards the Marcos government. He was critical of the highly centralized structure of government under which it was necessary to obtain the blessing of the Office of the President before funds could be disbursed. When President Marcos lifted martial law in 1981, Climaco retorted, "Marcos did not lift martial rule. He only tilted it." Climaco was able to stoke anti-Marcos sentiment within Zamboanga City. When Benigno Aquino, Jr.
Benigno Aquino, Jr.
Benigno Simeon "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. was a Filipino Senator and a former Governor of Tarlac. Aquino, together with Gerry Roxas and Jovito Salonga, formed the leadership of the opposition to the Marcos regime in the years leading to the imposition of martial law in the Philippines...

, a close personal friend of Climaco's, was assassinated in 1983, Climaco renamed one of the city's main squares as "Aquino Plaza".

In 1984
Philippine parliamentary election, 1984
Parliamentary elections were held on May 14, 1984 in the Philippines. Like any other elections, charges of bribery, protests and complaints on irregularity of the elections. But supported the campaign of boycotting the elections like Former Publisher of the Manila Times Chino Roces and Former...

, Climaco successfully sought election as a Member of Parliament in the Batasang Pambansa
Batasang Pambansa
The Batasang Pambansa , also known by its nickname, the Batasan, was the former parliament of the Philippines, established as an interim assembly in 1978 and finally as an official body in 1984. Under the 1973 constitution, it replaced the former Congress established under the 1935 Commonwealth...

. Climaco however declined to assume his seat until he had completed his six-year term as mayor, a stance that was seen as an act of defiance against the Marcos government.


On the morning of November 14, 1984, Climaco rushed to the scene of a fire that had broken out in downtown Zamboanga City. He supervised operations to put out the fire, then prepared to leave. He sighted a display of caskets at the nearby La Merced funeral homes and jokingly said, "reserve one of those for me". Climaco then mounted his motorcycle to return to his office. A man approached from behind the mayor and shot him in the nape at point-blank range. The assassin escaped, while Climaco was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The crowd that attended Climaco's funeral
A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

 in Zamboanga City was estimated as ranging from fifteen thousand people to up to two hundred thousand people. He was buried at Abong-Abong Park.

To date, nobody has been convicted for Climaco's assassination. Police and military officials pinned the blame on a Muslim group led by Rizal Alih, but attempts to apprehend him were unsuccessful. Climaco's widow publicly expressed that it was the military who was behind the murder. A relative from the Air Force was the only military personnel allowed into the wake. Climaco himself was said to have remarked before his death that if he were ever assassinated, the military would blame Alih for the murder.


Climaco's son, Julio Cesar, was appointed Zamboanga City OIC mayor in 1986, and served in that post until the following year. His niece, Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar
Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar
Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar , also known as Beng Climaco is a Filipino politician.Having been elected as a topnotch Councilor of the Zamboanga City for two terms, her performance was undeniably outstanding...

 aka Beng Climaco, was elected in 2007 to the House of Representatives
House of Representatives of the Philippines
The House of Representatives of the Philippines is the lower chamber of the...

, representing the 1st District of Zamboanga City.

In 1994, Eddie Garcia
Eddie García
Eddie Garcia popularly known as Manoy is a Filipino film actor and film director.- Biography :...

 starred in a film biography of Climaco, "Mayor Cesar Climaco", produced by Seiko Films
Seiko Films
Seiko Films is a Philippine film company owned and run by Robbie Tan.Nowadays, Seiko Films is known for bold film in the late 1990s.-History:...

, the film was rated PG7 in an effort to show the youth the fights of one of Ninoy Aquino's greatest allies in the fight for democracy, in the film Climaco himself goes to Ninoy Aquino's residence in the US and convinces him to come home to challenge Marcos for an election.
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