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Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 20:21:26 -1000
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From: Vincent K Pollard <pollard@HAWAII.EDU>
Subject: PH: Jovito Salonga on Jose P. Laurel (fwd)

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Subject: Kilosbayan: The President's Page

A tribute to Dr. Jose P. Laurel

By Jovito R. Salonga. Excerpts from a speech at the Awards Convocation, Lyceum of the Philippines, 8 March 2000

Jose P. Laurel Award you have so generously conferred upon me and, at the same time, congratulate my fellow awardees.

Permit me to recall the recent past, so we can have an idea of the man who founded this Institution, and thereby see what Lyceum stands for, in our collective quest for Truth and Fortitude—the two forces that give the individual and the nation the courage and the strength to face any adversity. For your education here in Lyceum is not just to enable you to earn a living but, in a deeper sense, to teach you how to live a life of purpose and meaning, long after your graduation. Never allow your schooling, as Mark Twain used to say, to interrupt your education.

More than 48 years ago, your president, Dr. Sotero H. Laurel and I, who had been law partners since early 1949, used to come to this place to see how the construction of this building was progressing from day to day. The old man, Dr. Jose P. Laurel, who, according to Malacanang and the Comelec, lost in the 1949 presidential elections, had been prevailed upon by his party leaders to run for the Senate. He did not have to campaign as hard as before. As expected by many people, he copped first place in the 1951 elections. It was a magnificent vindication for both the nation and the man who richly deserved it.

In some places in Mindanao in the presidential elections of 1949, the birds and the bees voted and even the dead had apparently been resurrected so they could vote. In some places in the Visayas, the elections had been marred by incredible fraud and terrorism. But in the 1951 elections, thanks to the new Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay, who did not allow the agents of violence to rig the elections, the nation gave the highest honor to a man who might have been president.

But, in point of fact, Dr. Jose P. Laurel was the president of this country during the Japanese occupation. I vividly recall the antecedent circumstances.

I was arrested and tortured in Pasig during the first days of April 1942, due to my underground activities against the Japanese; I was hauled to Fort Santiago, then transferred to the San Marcelino jail, and confined in the Old Bilibid Prisons on Azcarraga, now Claro M. Recto street. In June 1942, I was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Muntinglupa. But on February 11, 1943, I was suddenly released from imprisonment on the occasion of the Foundation Day of Japan, known as Kigen Setsu. Home for me was no longer in Pasig. I found our family on Carriedo street in Manila and after a few days, I was able to visit my very sick mother in the Philippine General Hospital.

Almost four months later, in the afternoon of June 5, 1943, Jose P. Laurel, the Commissioner of Interior, was shot in Wack-Wack while playing golf. He was rushed to the Philippine General Hospital, and it was not known whether he would survive or not. A number of my friends and relatives rejoiced in silence, believing that Dr. Laurel was a Japanese collaborator.

Not knowing him personally at that time, I was torn between my deep admiration for him as a jurist and my revulsion over the abuses and the atrocities of the Japanese military. Laurel was probably the most respected member of the Supreme Court before the war, having been described by President Manuel L. Quezon as the Supreme Court justice with the most powerful pen. In 1941, I was a senior law student in the U.P and in our review classes in Political Law, I was impressed again and again by the clarity of his thinking, the majesty and power of his language and the wisdom of his opinions. How, I had asked myself, how could such a man be a traitor to his people? As I said years later, the bullet wounds that he sustained could not have hurt him more than the sheer anguish of being cursed and misunderstood by the people he had loved so passionately and served so well—as the youngest Cabinet member, a graduate of U.P and Yale, who dared an American Governor General on a point of honor; then as a professor of law who graced the halls of the Senate at a time when only those who had superior intellect, experience and a track record of genuine service to the people could qualify for the people's mandate—wala pang mga movie actors at basketball stars na naglakas-loob na pumasok sa Senado noon; then as the shining light of the 1934 Constitutional Convention, where he drafted the Bill of Rights; and as the justice of the Supreme Court whose opinions generations of lawyers and law students would love to memorize.

It was a miracle from heaven that despite his serious injuries, Dr. Laurel survived the assassination attempt. It must have led many people, including the Japanese, to believe that Laurel had been chosen by destiny to be the president of a nation under Japanese military occupation.

And so, the wounded Jose P. Laurel—not Benigno Aquino, Sr. the father of Ninoy and the head of Kalibapi, nor Jorge Vargas, the head of the Executive Commission—was fated to be the president of the Japanese-sponsored Republic. On September 25, 1943, the National Assembly made the decision: Laurel was elected president, and Benigno Aquino Sr., was elected Speaker. A week later, Laurel of Batangas, Aquino of Tarlac and Jorge Vargas of Manila—the three most prominent figures trusted by the Japanese—were flown to Tokyo to be decorated by the Emperor of Japan and to be informed by Premier Hideki Tojo on the guidelines of Philippine Independence. But the Emperor's decoration was merely a softener. It turned out that Premier Tojo wanted the new Philippine Government, under Laurel, to declare war on the United States and Great Britain. Dr. Laurel said he was sorry he must say No—Filipinos back home would not approve of it, he was not the most popular leader in the Philippines and if he were to do it, he would be a leader without any following. The fearless leader from Batangas, the leader with a moral sense and the firmness of conviction made of the finest steel, got away with his refusal and the three returned to Manila.

On October 14, 1943, the Japanese-sponsored Republic was inaugurated. The Republic, which was supposed to be a farce 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 Malacanang, after a showdown with the Japanese command, on the irrefutable argument that having given independence to the Philippines and liberated our people, the Japanese would do well to make good their claim. As President of the Republic, he asserted his right to the custody of Manuel Roxas, and told the Japanese that for as long as he was president, they must first dispose of him before they could lay hands on Roxas, the most popular Filipino leader Quezon had left behind, but who was supposed to be sick due to a heart problem.

In the meantime, guerilla organizations sprouted throughout the Philippines. We had them in Rizal, but when they were not fighting the Japanese, they often fought each other. In Pampanga, the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, otherwise known as the Hukbalahap, under Luis Taruc, was more united and disciplined—and they were feared throughout Central Luzon.

Around the end of 1943, I prepared for the bar examinations scheduled to be held in August 1944. Senior law students at the outbreak of the war were allowed to take this only bar examination during the Japanese occupation—a one-month ordeal. Our bar examiners were respected personalities before the war. After the bar exams, our family evacuated to Taytay, Rizal. In October 1944, the radio and the only English newspaper daily, the Tribune, announced the results. I rode a bicycle from Taytay to Penafrancia, Manila, the residence of Chief Justice Jose Yulo, and obtained my bar examination grades. But coming home was difficult. American planes raided military installations around Manila. In a few days, the Americans landed in Leyte. We knew that the day of reckoning had come.

In December 1944, pro-Japanese elements among Filipinos, led by Benigno Ramos, Pio Duran and General Artemio Ricarte, were given arms. Apparently, they resented President Laurel's refusal to draft even one Filipino soldier to fight on the side of Japan. Ramos had organized the Makapili (Makabayang Pilipino) so they could take over the helm of Government, preempt or liquidate President Laurel and deliver the youth of the nation to the Japanese. During its inauguration in front of the Legislative Building, which in pre-war days had been the arena of debates among such political giants as Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Claro M. Recto and Jose P. Laurel, the wartime president stood in the imperious presence of General Yamashita and delivered a stinging speech, first, to the Japanese high command who must have thought that every Filipino could be intimidated or terrorized, and second but more importantly, to the pro-Japanese Filipinos who must have been blinded by ignorance or tainted by sheer opportunism.

There is only one Republic, of which I am the President, pointedly declared Dr. Laurel, and as long as I am the head of government, I cannot consent or permit any political organization of Filipinos to exist unless that organization is subject to the authority and control of that Republic.

Posterity, he continued by way of rebuke to the pro-Japanese Filipinos in his audience, posterity will judge us not so much by what we say as by what we do. It is not enough for us to say that we love our country, that for it we will die to the bitter end... Not by words but by deeds must we show our determination, our readiness to defend to the last drop of our blood the honor and integrity of our land. Let us live both as a nation and as individuals in the way our foremost hero lived. To his country, Rizal devoted and consecrated everything, life included. As his countrymen and followers, we can do no less.

It is easy in these days of relative freedom to talk of love of country and heroism. But Dr. Laurel, the professor of law, taught his people, less by classroom instruction than by a lifetime of quiet example, the meaning of self-sacrifice and devotion to the public good—in the most critical, unforgettable period of our nation's history. He was president of a country that had been defeated in the battles of Bataan and Corregidor.

What distinguishes him from our present crop of leaders is that President Jose P. Laurel had (1) a sense of purpose and direction and (2) he had a moral ascendancy precisely because he had a moral foundation—the source of his inner strength and moral fortitude, in the face of all conceivable risks and adversities. Come to think of it, he was blessed with good friends, but he had no cronies; he had his share of relatives, but he had no in-laws and outlaws. And he had no ill-gotten wealth.

In the second week of January 1945, American troops landed in Lingayen, Pangasinan and in the evening of February 3, a squadron of the U.S. First Cavalry, aided by Filipino guerrillas, crashed through the gates of the UST and freed 4,000 Americans and other aliens who had been interned there. Around midnight, they took possession of Malacanang Palace. The population north of Pasig welcomed the American GIs with great rejoicing until the next day.

How about the Laurels and his government? We learned, a little later, that from Northern Luzon, President Laurel, his wife and some of the members of his own family, were flown by the Japanese to Tokyo. The Japanese surrendered to the Americans in August 1945, and a month later, Dr. Laurel and his family were arrested by U.S. authorities and flown to Manila on July 23, 1946. Upon arrival here, he was immediately imprisoned like a common criminal in Muntinglupa, to face the charges of treasonable collaboration against the United States. Meantime, the man whose life he had saved, Manuel A. Roxas, was elected President of the Philippines in the elections of April 23, 1946.

On September 2, 1946, Dr. Laurel, appeared before the People's Court to plead not guilty and argue his motion for bail in a courtroom full of lawyers and judges, many of whom had sat at his feet as the great teacher of law. Dr. Laurel argued that it was the unpreparedness of the U.S. which caused the military occupation of the Philippines by Japan, and led to the creation of the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic. If all Filipino officials, as stated in the MacArthur Proclamation of October 23, 1944, were acting under duress, how could they be held responsible for their acts? It was impossible to dispute what he said so eloquently.

And in the most stirring part of his plea, Dr. Laurel said what could not be said by many Filipino public officials, then and now:

I am neither pro-Japanese nor pro-American, I am pro-Filipino... There is no law that can condemn me for having placed the welfare of my people over and above that of America.

I am not expecting a decoration. I do not claim to be a hero... Although human justice may err, what matters is that I am innocent before my conscience and my God... I shall face my Creator in full confidence that I had dedicated my powers, my talents and energies to the service of my country at a time when she needed me most.

For God and country—this is what President Laurel stood for, ever conscious of the role of Divine Providence in history and the meaning of unselfish service. Which is why we in Lyceum, whether student or faculty member, must seek the truth, for in the language of the Gospel , only the truth shall set us free. And only the truth can give us the inner strength and the fortitude to face every human being—whether friend or foe. Veritas et fortitudo, the motto of Lyceum, was not a mere slogan for Dr. Jose P. Laurel; it was the guiding principle of his life.

On September 14, 1946, Dr. Laurel's petition for bail was granted and the trial was scheduled for July 1947.

Around February 1947, I arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to take graduate studies in law. I met for the first time, Dr. Jose P. Laurel's son, Sotero H. Laurel. He had finished his master's degree at Harvard in 1942, and was then pursuing his doctoral degree in law, after a very difficult time in Washington, D.C. where he had worked as a taxi driver during the early days of the war, after which he became Secretary to Vice President, later President Sergio Osmena, Sr. Teroy introduced me to his wife, Lorna, a lady of grace and beauty and refinement. In the meantime, the new Government under President Roxas realized that the charge of collaboration was a big mistake. It declared an amnesty and quickly withdrew the charge against Dr. Laurel and his co-accused.

After my return to the Philippines in February 1949, Dr. Sotero Laurel and I practised law together and taught law in the evenings. During the 1949 election campaign, I was drawn into the presidential campaign and had the chance to know Dr. Jose P. Laurel at close range. A little later, Teroy and I appeared with Senator Claro M. Recto in the famous Politburo case; I began to know Senator Recto better. I recall that the old man Laurel had always wanted to build a University for the masses, believing that the only hope of the nation in the long run was the education of the youth of the land. I was asked to draft the Articles of Incorporation. I taught International Law and Corporation Law here in the Lyceum beginning 1952 and enjoyed teaching here chiefly because the old man Laurel was the president and Senator Claro M. Recto was the dean of the law school—two political rivals in the 1930s who had served and worked together in the Constitutional Convention of 1934 and in the Philippine Republic during the wartime years. They became close to each other. Looking back, Recto as Minister of Foreign Affrairs, and Laurel, as President during the Japanese occupation had outwitted the Japanese in the only battle where the two could hope to prevail—the battle of wits. But without any disrespect for Don Claro, it was the lot of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, more than Recto, to confront the Japanese with nothing but a clear mind and a pure heart and place himself as a shield between the might of their guns and the helplessness of his own people. The erudite and witty Recto once described Jose P. Laurel as great and good, in the attempt to capture the virtues of the latter with the clumsy language of humanity.

Drawn apart since we dissolved our law partnership in 1954, Dr. Sotero H. Laurel and I were drawn together again when we were elected to the Senate in 1987—the first election after Edsa. He was chosen by our peers President pro tempore. In September 1991, we were confronted by a gut-wrenching choice: to follow the overwhelming desire of our people for us in the Senate to ratify the RP-US Bases Treaty by allowing the U.S. Military Bases to continue for at least ten more years in exchange for $203 million—or follow our own judgment by rejecting the Treaty. This, despite the sufferings of our people, particularly the many thousands who had become homeless and jobless, due to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo which had turned most of Central Luzon into a wasteland.

Following the example of Dr. Jose Laurel, his equally distinguished son, Senator Sotero H. Laurel, established his own niche in our nation's history when he voted NO on September 16, 1991 and by the collective vote of the Magnificent Twelve, ended more than 400 years of foreign military presence in the Philippines.

Many do not know that your president had been approached by the Japanese ambassador and by many dear friends and close relatives to vote for the Bases Treaty. But when he stood on the floor of the Senate on that historic date when the whole country was literally watching and listening to our speeches, he declared: Fairness, justice, independence, self-determination, self-respect and equality are values that cannot be measured in terms of money... We are told that majority of our people want the Treaty to be ratified... But the times call for moral courage, the courage to differ... It is now time for inspired and well-informed leadership, and it is time for leaders to lead.

In this period of apparent chaos and darkness, you in Lyceum, whether professors or students, are expected to lead—not as masters but as servants. For God and country—these are the words of joyful service we honor here in this institution—not service to ourselves, first and foremost, but service to God and our people, above all. As one writer would have us know:

Life is like a game of tennis. He who serves well seldom loses. And if you ask me how, my answer is for all of us, in every situation, to seek the truth according to our best lights, so we may have the courage to act, and the fortitude to face and surmount the problems and challenges of a nation now in deep crisis.

Allow me, then, to paraphrase the prayer of Rheinold Niebuhr, a great philosoper and theologian: Lord, give us the serenity of mind to accept the things we can no longer change, the courage to change the things we can and must change, and the wisdom to know the difference.