The Legend of the Laurel Family
It is said that many years ago, the eldest son of the Sultan of Brunei decided that court life was not for him. He was a restless young man, a brave warrior with such a fiery temper that he was known as Gat Masungit. Smitten by a wanderlust and yearning for exciting adventure across the seas, he took courage to beg his father to set him free of the responsibility of having to succeed him to the throne. The old man was disappointed he saw many admirable qualities in his son that would have made him a good leader but because he loved him dearly he released him and reluctantly let him have his way. The young prince then prepared for his journey and took sail heading northwards.
He first came upon an island set among a cluster of other islands and settled there for a while naming the town, Batan. But, restless as he was he could not remain in one place and so he continued to sail north exploring every bit of land that he encountered. Finally he came upon a beautiful bay that was fringe by lush green foliage. Exploring further he discovered a placid lake with an island in its midst. He liked what he saw and decided to settle in this new paradise which he named Batangan.
Years after he had settled in his new kingdom he bore a son who was named Gat Leynes who in turn bore a son who was Christianized and was named Miguel de la Cruz.
Miguel was a noble young man who inherited his ancestors’ fiery temper. He was imbued with a keen sense of justice so that he could not tolerate the injustices heaped upon his people by the Spanish conquerors. Reaching a breaking point he took to the hills and became a notorious outlaw who would take up the cudgels of the poor and the abused–who would punish their tormentors as he righted their wrongs.
Endless streams of people would follow him wherever he went to ask him to help them seek justice and he was always ready to champion them. Then as the years passed he decided to live a more peaceful life – to be with his wife and children – away from the conflicts that had become his daily fare. But he could not leave the scene, for as long as there were injustices the people would seek Miguel de la Cruz to save them.
One day, weary of his way of life, he pondered with his wife on how to get away from it all. His wife suggested, “Why not ask the priest, he might be able to help.” “What?” roared the descendant of Gat Masungit. “How can a man in skirts help me?” But his wife gently urged him to try since there seemed no other way out. So one moonless night, Miguel silently went to see the parish priest of Taal. He poured out the tale of his violent past. The priest listened quietly but intently. Miguel was surprised that the priest was not shocked.
After he had finished he asked the priest for a solution. The priest smiled calmly and said, “The people look for a Miguel de la Cruz to champion their cause – but what if Miguel de la Cruz should suddenly disappear? What if he ceases to be?” Miguel was puzzled, “How are we going to do that?” The priest continued, “Why not change your name and move on to another place?” Miguel caught on, “What name shall I take, Padre?” he asked eagerly. The priest paused for a while, then tapping him on the shoulder he said, “Why not Laurel? It means honor – henceforth live a life of honor, Miguel Laurel!”
So that is how the first Laurel came to be. And that was when the legacy of honor was born.
Dr. Jose P. Laurel, A Great Man
Born of notable but humble parents in Tanauan, Batangas on March 9, 1891, Dr. Jose Paciano Laurel y Garcia grew up in the midst of great nationalist struggles–first, the revolution against Spain; then, the war of independence against the United States.
Four provincemates became famous for their roles in the Propaganda Movement and later as diplomats in Emilio Aguinaldo’s First Philippine Republic– Felipe Agoncillo in Europe, Galicano Apacible in Hongkong, Sixto Lopez in America, and Apolinario Mabini in the Philippines. His own father, Sotero Laurel, was a distinguished ilustrado, [and] a lawyer who became delegate to the Malolos [Congress ...]. The Laurel clan in general was in the thick of the Fil-American War where the valor and patriotism of the Batangueños were proven by their famous protracted resistance led by General Miguel Malvar.
Jose P. Laurel’s own nationalism, in his political and professional life, no doubt developed from those early childhood memories of heroism and sacrifice.
The Collaboration/Puppet Government Issue
The presidency of Dr. Jose P. Laurel remains to be one of the most controversial issues in Philippine history.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 8, 1941, Dr. Laurel was ordered to remain in Manila by President Manuel L. Quezon, who fled to Corregidor and then to the United States to establish a Commonwealth government in exile. Dr. Laurel was appointed Secretary of Justice and was replaced by Jose Abad Santos in the Supreme Court.
The Japanese Imperial Forces took over the country on January 2, 1942. Three weeks later, they created the Philippine Executive Commission to govern the Philippines. They chose Jorge B. Vargas, former mayor of Manila and a member of Quezon’s cabinet, to head it. They made Laurel Commissioner of Justice and later Commissioner of the Interior.
His pre-war close relationship with Japanese officials (one of his sons studied at the Imperial Military Academy in Tokyo and Dr. Laurel received an honorary doctorate from Tokyo University), placed him in a good position to interact with the Japanese occupation forces.
On September 25, 1943, the National Assembly made the decision to elect Dr. Laurel president and Benigno Aquino Sr. speaker. A week later, Dr. Laurel flew to Tokyo together with Benigno Aquino Sr. and Jorge Vargas to be awarded by the Emperor of Japan and to be informed by Premier Hideki Tojo of the guidelines of Philippine Independence.
The Japanese wanted Dr. Laurel to declare war against the United States and Great Britain. As the Allied forces led by General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied Powers, came closer to the Philippines in the campaign to liberate our archipelago, the Japanese became more insistent on having Dr. Laurel issue a declaration of war.
Dr. Laurel stood his ground but after the first American air raid on Manila occurred, the Japanese gave Dr. Laurel an ultimatum, threatening to kill as many Filipinos if he did not agree. Dr. Laurel consulted Manuel Roxas and other Filipino leaders before issuing a proclamation that the Philippine Republic was in a state of war against the United States and Great Britain. But he made it very clear in the proclamation that the Japanese government would never conscript Filipinos into the Japanese military.
In October 14, 1943, the Japanese-sponsored Republic was inaugurated and it became an instrument of defense and a mighty fortress in the hands of President Laurel. He had all the Japanese guards and Japanese advisers ousted from Malacañang and asserted his right to the custody of Manuel Roxas, saying that they must first dispose of him before they could lay their hands on Roxas.
As the end of Japanese rule in the Philippines came near, the Japanese ordered Dr. Laurel and other Filipino high government officials to leave Manila for Baguio with their families. They were then brought to Japan as hostages. Dr. Laurel and other top officials of the Second Republic were in Nara when Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on August 15, 1945.
Two days later, Dr. Laurel dissolved the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic so that the government in Manila could be recognized. On September 14, he cabled General MacArthur and told him his whereabouts. The next day, officers were sent to arrest Dr. Laurel, ex-Speaker Aquino and Jose B. Laurel III.
On September 15, 1945, Dr. Laurel was imprisoned in Japan. He was not allowed to have any reading material except The World in 2030 A.D., a book by the Earl of Birkenhead given to him as a gift by his son, Salvador. Deprived of writing instruments, Dr. Laurel used this book to surreptitiously write his War Memoirs.
In Manila, Dr. Laurel, charged with collaboration, had to face the People’s Court. His trial and those of the other accused Filipinos dragged on. When Manuel Roxas was elected president of the Third Philippine Republic, he issued a proclamation on January 28, 1948 granting amnesty to political and economic collaborationists. Hence, Dr. Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Camilo Osias, Jorge B. Vargas and many others regained their freedom.
In the years after his release Dr. Laurel was still suspected of being a collaborationist. Those who disliked him, including Americans displeased by his stand against the parity-amendment in the Philippine Constitution (granting Americans the same economic rights as Filipinos), used the media to calumniate him.
Most likely the result of the anti-Laurel campaign as well as of massive cheating, Dr. Laurel lost when he ran for presidency under the Nacionalista Party against Elpidio Quirino of the Liberal Party in the 1949 elections.
Dr. Laurel continued being a senator until 1957 when he retired from political life and concentrated on being an educator.
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.
About the Death of Dr. JPL
In the afternoon of November 5, 1959, Dr. Laurel fainted at around 1:30 p.m., on this date as he had just come out of the Philippine Banking Corporation Building at Escolta, Manila. He was then rushed to the Lourdes Hospital in Mandaluyong where he eventually died due to cerebral hemorrhage at around 1:00 in the morning of November 6, 1959. On a Sunday, November 9, 1959, simple ceremonies marked the funeral of Dr. Jose P. Laurel at the family lot in the cemetery of his native town of Tanauan, Batangas.