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Who remembers President Jose P. Laurel?

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 11/6/2019 Mauro Gia Samonte

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

YESTERDAY was the 60th anniversary of the death of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, the president of the Second Philippine Republic that was inaugurated on Oct. 14, 1943 during the Japanese occupation period.

But did we hear of any commemorative event of a national character mounted for the occasion? Nothing that we know of, we might say, or at least this author doesn’t know of any.

Dr. Laurel would not wish it that way anyway. On the occasion of his death on Nov. 6, 1959, President Carlos P. Garcia would have wished to have him interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, but the Laurel family, respecting the deceased’s wish to be buried beside his Nanay Ubay (Jacoba Garcia Laurel), had Dr. Laurel entombed beside his mother in a niche in the public cemetery of Tanauan, Batangas, sans much ceremony. This, again, according to the wish of Dr. Laurel: no eulogies, no prolonged wake. He was buried the day after his death.

Seeing how grandiose the commemorations of the death of other departed presidents of the country can be, one cannot help feeling a deep pinch in the heart that no such recollection was accorded one who had served the country under the most trying circumstances — World War 2.

A question of irony

Who is Dr. Jose P. Laurel anyway?

It is a question of irony, which on this occasion I endeavor to address by quoting at length a pertinent portion of the epilogue of my forthcoming book, Dr. Jose P. Laurel Nation Above Self A Biography:

“Try to go around now and ask people who Jose P. Laurel is, chances are not even one out of 100 would know him. For the next 100, one might say, ‘Isn’t he who was president?’ And come the next 100, one would be categorical with, ‘He was president,’ but would not say at what point in Philippine history he was president.

“Except for informed intellectuals and highly select sector of scholars such as researchers and students of history — who aggregately consist of but a speck in the spectrum of Philippine population — Dr. Laurel has been consigned to limbo. Jose P. Laurel wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Manila Times Publishing Corp.

“Such is one great tragedy of the Filipino nation. Dr. Laurel had not only gone. He had been forgotten. While the Rizals, the Quezons and the Magsaysays have been consistently held aloft in the esteem of Filipinos, Dr. Laurel seems eternally restricted outside of people’s memorial. At best, he lives in highly exceptional citations in speeches on special occasions and in routine commemorative events.

“And yet, if Dr. Jose Rizal, one whole century and a half from his birth in 1861, continues to live in the minds of even the Filipino young today, he must owe it largely to Dr. Laurel. It was Dr. Laurel who in 1956 co-authored in the Philippine Senate together with Claro M. Recto Republic Act 1425, the ‘Rizal Law,’ whose full title reads: ‘An Act to include in the curricula of all public and private schools, colleges and universities courses on the life, works and writings of Jose Rizal, particularly his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, authorizing the printing and distribution thereof, and for other purposes.’

“Dr. Laurel vigorously fought for that Act, braving the wrath of the entire Catholic Church and incurring the intense animosity of his very wife Paciencia.

Letter from a loving wife

“On April 28, 1956, at the height of the controversy on the Rizal bill, the strong-willed lady wrote her husband:

“Dear Senator Laurel:

“I have always followed everyday reading the newspaper regarding the enactment of the bill, making the reading of Rizal’s books, compulsory in both private and public schools. One of the motives according to the newspaper which made you enact the bill, is that you want students to develop the sentiment of ‘nationalism.’ It is indeed very honorable of you to have remembered that, but here is one thing I want to ask you, ‘Why is it you remembered nationalism only these days?’ You ought to have practiced nationalism during the Japanese Occupation days, by not accepting the post as puppet president of the puppet Philippine Republic. You ought to have imitated Honorable Jose Abad Santos, he did practice nationalism till death. Your example in the past cannot justify your stand to advocate nationalism. Your serving as puppet president during the Japanese Occupation was not a sign that you practiced nationalism then. You have no right in any way to preach nationalism, a virtue which you yourself did not practice.

“May I remind you, Honorable Jose P. Laurel, that there were many innocent Filipinos, who shed their blood because of your lack of nationalism.

“Your most loving wife, Paciencia Hidalgo-Laurel

“Clearly the letter smacks of raw emotions. This is to be understood in light of the fact that Mrs. Laurel was a devout Roman Catholic and her emotional outpouring only reflected the sentiments of one standing by the conviction of her faith. The Roman Catholic Church lobbied aggressively against the passage of the Rizal Law.

“Paciencia’s sentiments on the issue are of no moment in this discussion insofar as they seem to evince belligerence between the Laurel couple. No such belligerence was involved in the issue, as indicated by the letter valediction ‘Your most loving wife.’

“The broader ramification of the letter, if there was one, would be better left for deeper inquiry. Could, for instance, Paciencia be flaring up over her not being able to sway Dr. Laurel from his resolve to get the Rizal Law passed? During one forum at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, descendants of Dr. Laurel revealed the information that it was Paciencia who bankrolled the family’s entire upkeep and Dr. Laurel’s professional and political careers — the schooling of the kids, the setting up of the Laurel Law Office, the family’s businesses like the Philippine Banking Corp. and the Lyceum of the Philippines University, and the political campaigns of Dr. Laurel in the elections of 1949 and 1951. In fact, as Doy Laurel informs in his A Child’s Footnote to History, it was Paciencia who advanced to Dr. Laurel the money for establishing the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo.

“In other words, this is all that the letter could be all about: a wife’s hurting at not being rewarded by her husband — for all the great care she did to him and the family — of the small favor that the Catholic Church must have implored her to ask from him regarding the Rizal Law. But then, all this is water under the bridge. As indicated by daughter Rosenda’s dedication in Days of Courage, ‘To dearest Mama who was Papa’s constant inspiration and for whom he had shown singular, worshipful devotion,’ nothing had changed, despite that unfortunate interlude, in the love relationship between Dr. Laurel and Paciencia.

“What was of moment with the letter at the time of its writing was Dr. Laurel, for the umpteenth time, again manifesting a willingness to sacrifice self in upholding what he believed to be good for the nation.

Giant footprints

“And again Dr. Laurel succeeded in that effort. Until today and for all the generations to come — that is, so long as there is no detractor getting needed power to execute his obsession to redo Rizal — Dr. Laurel’s namesake enjoys the distinction of being the National Hero of the Philippines.”

The epilogue cites how Quezon’s heroism had been conditioned on the sacrifices of Dr. Laurel, who agreed to stay behind and face up to the Japanese invaders when Quezon went on exile to the United States together with then Vice President Sergio Osmeña and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In the case of Magsaysay, Dr. Laurel worked for the Guy’s transfer from the much-maligned Liberal Party to be the standard bearer of the Nacionalista Party in the 1949 presidential election; Magsaysay won.

For ending that epilogue, I had this allegory to a famous Christian episode, “Footprints In The Sand”:

“Lord, you said you’d always walk by my side.”

“Yes, I did,” said the Lord.

“But I only see my footprints on the sand,” insisted the child.

“Child,” said the Lord, “those are my footprints. I’m carrying you on my shoulders.”

On the sands of Philippine history, two unmatched giant footprints are marked but no longer known. The footprints are those of Dr. Jose P. Laurel — bearing the nation on his shoulders.

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