(Published in the column 'FROM MY VIEWPOINT' in VIEWLINER WEEKLY NEWS)
Fifty-five years ago, November 6, 1959, early in the morning, Doctor Jose P. Laurel (J.P.L), a nationalist politician died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was buried at Tanauan, Batangas on Sunday, November 8, with the simplest of ceremonies according to his own wishes expressed before his demise. There were no eulogies.
President Carlos P. Garcia, on Laurel’s death, issued Proclamation No. 627, stated:
“Whereas, the death today of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, a great patriot, eminent jurist, statesman, legislator, and constitutionalist, is a great loss to our people and has caused deep sorrow among them... Now, therefore, I Carlos P. Garcia, President of the Philippines, do hereby proclaim a period from today to the day of his burial as a period of national mourning. During this period, flags of all government buildings and installations throughout the Philippines shall be flown at half-mast...”
His life story is worth looking back. Born March 9, 1981 in Tanauan, Batangas. His father Sotero Laurel had been an official in the revolutionary government of General Emilio Aguinaldo and a signatory to the 1898 Malolos Constitution. While a teen, Laurel was indicted for attempted murder when he almost killed a rival suitor with a fan knife. While studying law school, he argued the case all the way to the Supreme Court and received an acquittal.
He attended the public educational system and graduated at the University of the Philippines College of Law in 1915 and became a lawyer that same year. He had the opportunity to be the student of Dean George A. Malcolm, whom he would later succeed on the Supreme Court. He received a Master of Laws degree from the Escuela de Derecho (now Faculty of Civil Law of University of Santo Tomas) and a Doctor of Civil Law from Yale University.
He began public service while being a student, from a mere messenger in the Bureau of Forestry he rose to the rank of a clerk in the Code Committee tasked with the codification of laws. While working as a clerk, he was mentored by american lawyer Thomas A. Street, a future Supreme Court Justice.
Upon his return to the Philippines from Yale University, he was appointed by Governor-General Wood Undersecretary of the Interior in 1922 and Secretary in 1923. In a political maneuver, he resigned his post in protest against alleged interference by the Governor-General in police matters. The move launched Laurel into politics, he ran for Senate and was elected by the fifth senatorial district, he served from 1925 till 1931 in which year he was defeated in a reelection bid by a fellow nationalist statesman Claro M. Recto.
In 1934 he was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In 1935, he was appointed by President Manuel A. Quezon as Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1942 during Japanese Occupation he was one of the six Filipino leaders named in the Philippine Executive Commission by the Japanese High Command, being named Commissioner of Justice. On June 5, 1943, he was shot from ambush while playing golf at the Wack-Wack Club; struck by three bullet, he was severly wounded.
The Japanese decided on granting the Philippines mock independence. Laurel was named President of the “Preparatory Commission for Independence” which framed the “Constitution,” following which the “National Assembly” elected Laurel as “President” and was inaugurated on October 14, 1943. The guerilla assasination attempt on Laurel tended to convince the Japanese invaders that Laurel was on their side.
During the opening day of the first regular session of the assembly, President Laurel in person delivered a message calling upon members of the assembly to do their duty as Filipinos and to help the him “to tide the people over to better times.” He further said:
“Only the spirit can save us. We must live. We can not let the Filipino Nation die. My problems are difficult, even dangerous. As long as I am needed by my people and have the strength, I am determined to go ahead. We can not abandon the people.”
“for wealth, glory, or glamour for there are no such things in the government in these crucial days. We are simply following in the footsteps of our heroes and martyrs. If we can not say that we have died for our country, at least we have endeavored to serve her with all our hearts and souls."
Certainly, those words are not words of a traitor.
Today, it is now known to us that President Laurel saved many valuable lives during his Presidency, including that of Manuel A. Roxas, later to become President. He and many Filipino leaders of his cabinet were arrested September 1945 for by the Americans for “collaborating” with the enemy. While his trial is pending, President Roxas issued Amnesty Proclamation, ordering the dismissal of all cases except those involving persons accused of treason.
In 1949, he ran for President because he desire to “vindicate” himself. He lost to Elpidio Quirino, although he ran up a very creditable vote of around 1,300,000 against Quirino’s around 1,800,000. In 1951, the country at large elected Laurel as Senator of the Republic receiving more votes than any other candidates for Senator, almost 2,500,000. In 1953, he yielded the Nacionalista Party nomination for the Presidency to Ramon Magsaysay.
The JPL journey of life is a rough one. From being a nobody to a high official. He was falsely labeled as a traitor by his countrymen and was successful in redeeming himself.
Today, as we commemorate his 55th death anniversary it is my prayer that more Filipinos will be like Laurel, willing to do the morally correct despite of it being politically incorrect. He did not mind being labeled as a unpopular, for after all he knows to himself he is serviing the interest of the Filipino people.
Often recalcitrant, but always principled.