President Jose P. Laurel History

Jose P. Laurel: Biographical Sketch

Among Filipino leaders who dominated the national stage during the first six decades of the 20th century, the one who most deserves the title of philosopher of democracy and economic nationalism is the late Dr. Jose P. Laurel. Many Filipinos in those eventful decades spoke and wrote of democracy as well as of economic nationalism, in the political, academic and educational fields, with competence and sometimes brilliance, but none presented or committed to print a whole body of ideas, beliefs, and convictions on these two great issues of the world of the 20th century better or more comprehensively than the Sage of Tanauan whose name literally became a by-word in Philippine politics, education, and economics in the years following the establishment of Philippine Independence.

More than any of his contemporaries, Dr. Laurel understood clearly the problem that democracy must need to face in a Philippines that was for the first time politically sovereign since the Filipinos’ brief experience with this form of government and political faith in 1898 to 1899. More than any of his contemporaries, Dr. Laurel also understood sharply the role of economic and cultural nationalism in the building of a democratic society in a developing country which is heir to all the defects and weaknesses caused by long centuries of domination by Western powers.

Who was Jose P. Laurel? Whence came his keen understanding of the many-sided problems of the Filipino nation in the social, economic, cultural, and political spheres?

Jose Paciano Laurel–the Paciano was in honor of Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s elder brother who became a general in the Revolution of 1896– born in Tanauan, Batangas on March 9, 1891. His father was Don Sotero Laurel and his mother was Doña Jacoba Garcia, both of Tanauan. Don Sotero himself a revolutionary, having served as Secretary of the Interior in the Revolutionary Cabinet of General Emilio Aguinaldo, and was a signatory of the Malolos Constitution. Taken prisoner during the Filipino-American War, Don Sotero died while in concentration in 1902, when Jose Paciano was only 11 years old.

Young Jose, industrious and energetic though a town pillo since his youngest years, worked part-time as a chorister and altar boy, in order to earn some pocket money. When he was 18, and a third year student in high school, he got a job as temporary clerk and part-time laborer in the Bureau of Forestry with a wage of 40 centavos for half a day. A year later, he was promoted to a clerk-ship in the Code Committee. Here he met an American who was to influence his thinking and early career–the able and noble-minded Thomas Atkins Street, who later became a member of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

After finishing high school in 1911, the adventurous youth assumed two heavy responsibilities. He took a wife, eloping with a pretty Tanauan belle, Paciencia Hidalgo, and at the same time enrolled in the College of Law of the University of the Philippines. These responsibilities did not prevent him from graduating the second in his class of 60 and from coming out as the second notcher in the 1915 Bar Examinations.

In 1919, while holding the position of Chief of the Administration Division of the Executive Bureau, he obtained the degree of Licenciado en Jurisprudencia from the Escuela de Derecho in Manila. In the same year he was sent as a government pensionado to Yale University where he obtained the degree of Civil Law in 1920. He was admitted to the Bar by the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia the same year.

Before returning to the Philippines in 1921, he traveled extensively throughout the United States and took special courses in International Law at Oxford University in England and at the University of Paris in France. With such academic distinctions, rare in those days among Filipinos, Dr. Laurel was upon his return appointed Chief of the Executive Bureau. In 1922, Dr. Laurel was promoted to Undersecretary of the Interior and ten months later was made full Secretary by Governor-General Leonard Wood. It was while serving as Secretary of the Interior that he first showed his nationalism by upholding the dignity of the Filipino in the celebrated Conley Case and the Cabinet Crisis of 1923.

After resigning from the Cabinet, Laurel opened a law office, taught in various law schools in Manila, and began his long career as a publicist in the course of which he was to write something like 50 books and treatises covering a wide variety of subjects. In 1924 he was elected Senator of the Fifth District and became Majority Floor Leader. In the Constitutional Convention of 1934 to 1935, Laurel was elected as a delegate of Batangas. He headed the committee on the Bill of Rights and aside from that was named a member of the Committee of Seven which was given the task of hammering into shape the final draft of the Constitution.

President Quezon later appointed Laurel to the Supreme Court and Tanauan’s distinguished lawyer soon was attracting wide attention for his humanistic interpretation of law, his erudite dissenting opinions, and his philosophical definition of Social Justice.

Justice Laurel was shifted by President Quezon once more; this time to the Cabinet as Secretary of Justice. He was holding this position when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 and the Man of Destiny from Tanauan was hurled into the vortex of a world struggle.

Laurel, easily the most astute, circumspect, and courageous among men around President Quezon when the Pacific War broke out and the Philippines was invaded by Japan, was left to match wits with the Japanese and to do all he could to minimize the rigors of an enemy occupation. For Dr. Laurel’s role during the enemy occupation, he was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor, Degree of Commander, thus symbolizing the official attitude and evaluation of the government itself with respect to his difficult role during the Japanese Occupation.

But even before that, Laurel had already been amply vindicated by the people themselves in three national elections, in 1949, 1951, and 1953 when the voters of the Philippines endorsed enthusiastically the noble and courageous acts and decisions of the Filipino leader who steered the nation safely, and with self-abnegation, during more than three difficult years.

In 1952, Laurel together with a number of his colleagues, founded the Lyceum of the Philippines of which he was the first president. When he decided to retire from public office in 1957 upon expiration of his term in the Senate, he devoted his time to the Lyceum of the Philippines and the Philippine Banking Corporation which he organized in 1957. He was concurrently president and chairman of the Board of the Lyceum of the Philippines and the Philippine Banking Corporation when he died on November 6, 1959.

In recognition of his distinguished performance in the public service Laurel was conferred various awards and distinctions by different sectors both here and abroad. Among these are Medallion, Knight Commander–Grand Cross of the Knights of Rizal; Medal, Kapulungan Sa Wika, Lions International; Distinguished Service Award, Philippine Association of School Superintendents; Tribute of Honor, Courageous Champion of Justice from the Philippine Association of Doctors of Civil Law; Man of the Year, 1953, Philippines Free Press. Among awards and distinctions from abroad conferred him are: Medallion, Instituto de Cultura Hispanica, Miembro de Honor; Medallion, A La Lealtad Agrisolada, Isabela La Catolica; Medallion, King Frederic IX of Denmark; 2 Medallions, First Class Order of the Rising Sun.

– Adapted from the article “Jose Paciano Laurel: Philosopher of Democracy and Nationalism” by Dean Jose A. Lansang and Prof. Franklin A. Morales.