At Cesar Climaco’s funeral, some 200,000 people joined a five-hour procession that walked him to his grave on a hilltop in Zamboanga City. It seemed the people could not do enough to show how much they loved their mayor: they showered his coffin with petals and confetti, they prayed and wept, they put up placards and streamers along the way.
Certainly he knew his life was in danger – he was shot by an assassin firing from behind – but Climaco wasn’t afraid to go on doing what he had always done: fighting injustice and corruption, trying to make peace in the community, defending the poor and weak from the powerful.
The Marcos dictatorship was the most powerful of all his adversaries, and he wasn’t afraid of it either. He openly denounced the imposition of martial law in 1972, because it robbed Filipinos of their basic rights and liberties. He vowed never to cut his hair until it was lifted. When Marcos announced that he was lifting martial law, Climaco called it a sham and still refused to cut his hair.
When Benigno Aquino Jr. was killed in August 21, 1983, he had a shrine erected in his honor and inscribed it with bold accusations against the military as perpetrators of the crime. He sent several telegrams to Marcos urging him to set up an independent tribunal to try the case, and urging him to order the legal panel to cooperate with the Tanodbayan.
Climaco devoted a total of 30 years to public service. Aside from some years spent in national positions – as customs commissioner and presidential assistant on community development in the 1960s – he was most well known as the fighting mayor of Zamboanga City. Before being elected (as an oppositionist) in 1980, he had already served, and made his reputation, in that position from 1953 to 1963.
An unconventional man, Climaco obviously loved his job. He liked to go around by himself on his motorcycle, dressed like any ordinary person. Muslims and Christians in the Zamboanga community got along with each other, thanks to his leadership. He was always telling jokes and playing pranks, but he was serious about curbing abuses of authority. He publicly blamed the military and police for the many crimes in his city that were being committed and going unpunished.
Cesar Climaco was killed at a time when the struggle against the dictatorship was reaching its height. President Marcos was very sick, but few were allowed to know it. Protest actions were raging every day against all aspects of the dictatorship. Two weeks after Climaco’s death, cause-oriented organizations struck back by launching a ten-day welgang bayan throughout Mindanao.
Despite the widespread indignation, however, the murder remains unsolved.