Perhaps the most colorful person ever to hold the position of chief executive of the city of
Cesar had two brothers and two sisters. They were Rafael, a lawyer who became a Justice in the Court of Appeals; Jose or Jolly also a lawyer who became a Vice-Mayor of Zamboanga; Leticia, who married a prominent physician in the city, Dr. Espiridion Alvarez; and Lydia.
As a boy, Cesar finished his elementary and secondary education at the Normal School, presently the
Immediately after the war, Julpha became a teacher at the
As a young lawyer, he was described as flamboyant, dynamic and popular. His experience in the government service started when he was appointed prosecutor in the town of
Cesar’s political career began when he ran for the City Council in 1953, an election which he won overwhelmingly. It was in the same year that he was designated as Mayor of Zamboanga. In 1954, he became the Chief Project Manager and Field Coordinator of Operation Brotherhood in
He was reelected as Mayor of Zamboanga in 1959. Under the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal, he tried a position in the Senate in 1961, 1963, and again in 1965, but missing each time, the last one by only 3,567 votes.
If there was one trademark that was Cesar’s, it would be his character as an outspoken critic against corruption in any form. It was because of this that he became an ardent critic and opponent of President Ferdinand Marcos. Even during the time of President Diosdado Macapagal, Cesar was always noted to be the nemesis of corruption. In 1961, he was appointed Customs Commissioner, but later resigned from his post in protest to the corruption practices of some congressmen who wanted to take advantage of their position in government to import Mercedes Benz cars without having to pay the corresponding taxes to the government. President Macapagal begged Cesar to stay in the government service, and offered him the position of Presidential Assistant on Community Development, the forerunner of the present Department of Interior and Local Government. He was later appointed by President Macapagal as chairman of the Anti- Graft Committee.
It was no wonder that when Martial Law was declared in 1972, Cesar Climaco became a staunch oppositionist, becoming one of President Marcos’ most vociferous critics. It was for this reason that Cesar for a while decided to put himself in voluntary exile in the
With the creation of the Batasang Pambansa, Cesar decided to run against Joaquin F. Enriquez, Jr., who was then running for the position of assemblyman under the Marcos banner. Cesar lost in that election. For a time he became a private citizen in Zamboanga. He kept himself busy looking after his farm in Titay, Zambonga del Sur. He described himself as “jobless farmer, fighting to dismantle the Marcos one-man rule.”
In 1980, Climaco, egged on by his supporters made a comeback bid for the mayoralty, choosing for his running mate a young Zamboangueño air force major named Manuel Dalipe. He founded the Concerned Citizens Aggrupation, a political party that was to be the rallying point for those who were opposed to the Marcos regime. In this election, he was to be pitted against a political opponent who had once been his political protégée for the council seat, Jose Vicente Fermin Atilano II, the mayor of Zamboanga at that time. Atilano was no match for the Climaco charisma and the local people’s discontent with the Marcos administration only served to bolster Cesar’s political bid. Climaco and his party captured all but one of the elective seats available.
But the cohesiveness of his party was not to last very long. His vice mayor and protégé, Manuel Dalipe, split from the CCA in favor of the KBL party of the administration under Maria Clara L. Lobregat when the elections were held for the city’s lone seat in the Batasang Pambansa. Cesar decided to step down from his post as mayor of the city to run for the position of Assemblyman against Lobregat and Joaquin Enriquez, Jr., both of whom were identified at that time with the Marcos administration. Cesar won in the election but refused to serve in the Batasang Pambansa until after he had served his full term of six years as mayor of Zamboanga. His aides would say that this was Cesar’s way of defying the Marcos regime by denying Marcos his presence in the rubber stamp parliament.
He would continue to be a stalwart of the opposition in the country, and the symbol of the fight for the preservation of the freedom of speech. At a time when few dared to speak up against President Marcos, Cesar would be the only one who could accuse Marcos of corruption and injustice in an open assembly and get away with it.
Unfortunately, his dream and vision for a peaceful and progressive Zamboanga was not realized when on November 14, 1984, he was felled by an assassin’s bullet while inspecting a fire scene on
When Cesar was laid to rest at the
Cesar had his frustrations as a man, foremost of which was his continued battle against corruption in government which he found to be deeply rooted in the system. As some friends would admit, Cesar’s idealism was his undoing.
Yet as he was a man who left lasting legacies for his people he so loved. To his credit belongs the development of the
Cesar’s closest friend described Cesar as a highly transparent person who was not afraid to show feelings, one who did not hesitate to expose his opinion freely. Engineer Leonardo Uro said that Cesar Climaco as a person had three “grievous faults”: 1) his lack of tact because he did not mince words when he felt he should call someone’s attention; 2) his irrepressible wit which has often misunderstood, but which was the best evidence of his razor sharp mind and his brutal frankness, for he cared not to whom he was speaking, whether a clergyman, a diplomat, or head of state; 3) his total disregard for his personal safety. He was noted to be the only mayor who went around without a bodyguard as he had complete trust and confidence in his fellowmen. Uro said the last was his greatest fault.
In Uro’s opinion, Zamboanga will have many great leaders as history goes, but there is only one Cesar Climaco.