LOYALIST, as a Marcos loyalist can be, and good and decent a citizen, as any good and decent citizen can be. To some people, the word “loyalist” connotes an irrational mind that cannot transcend personal biases, doggedly loyal to an entity, no questions asked.
This is the common perception held by people of so-called “loyalists.” On one hand they could be Marcosian “retardates,” derided by people who see in former President Ferdinand Marcos the personification of a ruthless dictator. On the other side are people who are also similarly derided as “yellowtards” or “dutertards” by those who belong to other camps.
It’s a battle of name calling, and the victims and victimizers are the well-meaning and faithful people of kindred or opposing political faiths.
On second thought, we have not proclaimed such distinguished names like Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, CecilleLicad, Nora Aunor, among other names, as “National Artist”. Take note, the National Artist award itself, is a Marcos cultural legacy. Could these greats not be unjust victims of the loss of objectivity?
Manuel “Lolong” Lazaro is a Marcos loyalist. His loyalty to President Marcos is legendary.
Known popularly as Justice Lolong, the lawyer confided to Sunday Times Magazine that loyalty is one of the values he learned from his father, the former Ilocos Norte Governor Primo Lazaro.
Loyalty is one of the guiding life principles he had instilled in his five children who are now full-fledged professionals themselves.
“Papang never squealed the secrets of the guerilla movement, despite Japanese torture. That’s how (my father) valued loyalty,” Lazaro told Sunday Times Magazine.
“Loyalty is patriotism to a country; commitment to a cause, a principle unto an association; fidelity or constancy between lovers and spouses; and abiding trust between friends,” he explained in marked legalese cadence.
He was well-known then as one of the trusted men of former President Ferdinand Marcos. He served as government corporate counsel for ten years with the rank of presiding justice of the Court of Appeals.
He was the legal counsel for 79 government-owned and controlled corporations which included, among others, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Metropolitan Water Sewerage System (MWSS), Philippine Airlines (PAL), the Philippine National Bank (PNB), the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), and Manila Hotel Corporation.
Marcos appointed him as the presidential assistant for legal affairs (PALA) with the rank of minister. In this post, he was the counsel of the Office of the President, helping screen the appointees of Marcos in the judiciary and executive departments, and in the drafting or polishing of presidential decrees, letters of instructions, executive orders and proclamations.
There is therefore a Lolong Lazaro in contemporary Philippine jurisprudence considering that many of those presidential decrees are still applied, and cited as legal standards.
But if anything, he is a stark contrast to politicians who change colors when opportunism calls for a shift in loyalties. He stood firmly loyal to Marcos even during the trying post-EDSA revolution times, after the Marcoses fled the country on February of 1986.
He said that an official of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), offered to lift the hold-departure order issued against him if only he would execute an affidavit attesting that President Marcos had acquired ill-gotten wealth in his term as president. He did not name the commissioner.
“The offer and deal shocked me. I had nothing to do with the personal transactions of the late president,” he said.
According to Lazaro, he was assured that general testimonial statements were enough, but he firmly refused to cooperate.
“If I acceded to what he wanted me to do, no person would trust me anymore. I cannot betray President Marcos by fabricating a lie. (But) I am loyal to the people I have served for so long, and I know that what we had done together was legally correct and morally right,” hesaid.
Now Lazaro is convinced that he has been vindicated in terms of the trust reposed in him by fellow lawyers, as a founding partner of Manuel M. Lazaro & Associates, and as the chairman and CEO of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa).
The young Lolong
Lazaro has been in the active practice of law for over 50 years starting from the age of 22.
His father had instilled in his heart and mind the dream to be a good lawyer. The interest developed each instance when he would barge into his father’s “bufete” or desk to listen closely to the counseling he gave his clients.
“As a young child, I witnessed how my father explored cases with witnesses.”
The early exposure sparked in young Lazaro the dream to be a lawyer himself, and it was serendipitous that his father also wanted to have a lawyer for a son.
In his elementary years, Lazaro faced trials that he had considered “the miracles” of his young life.
“I recall distinctly when I was in Grade IV at the Holy Ghost Academy (now the Holy Spirit Academy) that I could hardly read,” he reminisced with a bit of remorse.
“The teachers would give me passing marks only because I was the governor’s son. This did upset Papang who frowned on my inability to read,” he narrated.
“I was so distraught with my difficulty at reading that led me to pray to the big statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary twice a day,” he added.
After a month or so, he said he finally learned how to read without much difficulty,” he recalled. This feat changed his attitude on prayer, which became a powerful tool of his life.
Much to the surprise of his Papang, Lazaro graduated third among the honor students of Holy Ghost Academy elementary school.
His father could not believe it at first and suspected that the teachers had given the honors in deference to his position as governor. His teachers however, confirmed to the Governor that he deserved the honors ranking.
“But when he was finally convinced, he was so proud of me, and for me that was all that mattered,” he said.
From high school to college, Lazaro consistently had been an honor student. Again, he landed third spot in his high school class and was given the recognition of “Class Historian.”
When he took his pre-law at the Ateneo University, he would always be on the Honor Roll.
Armed with good grades from pre-law studies, he was admitted to the Ateneo College of Law and eventually became a scholar.
He finished his Bachelor of Laws in 1957 and again, ranked third among the graduates. It was becoming a mark that he would be the third in the Top 3. From then on, he considered the number three as his lucky number, after having consistently graduated third highest, in all of elementary, high school, and college years.
After graduation, the next challenge for him was how to pass the bar exams. He did not, however, bother to take review lectures as he was confident he would pass them.
His bad handwriting was a handicap when he took the 1974 bar exams. Though he passed the bar, he had a low grade which he attributed to his almost unreadable penmanship.
Colorful legal career
While waiting for the result of the bar examination, Lazaro met Justice Simeon Gopengco who became his first boss and mentor at the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel that handled the legal cases of around 70 government-owned and controlled corporations in all jurisdictions : from the lowest court up to the Supreme Court.
Though he worked as a casual laborer for the then minimum pay of P2.00 a day, he was so happy to be exposed to the workings of a law office that the low pay did not matter at all.
After two months, he was promoted as Budget Aide with a monthly salary of P1,200.00. His job included working as a librarian and doing legal research.
“Each time senior lawyers would be assigned to draft legal opinions, they would invariably ask me to make the initial draft for them or research on pertinent laws and applicable decisions. I became useful to the senior lawyers who were not industrious,” he remembered.
When the result of the bar exam was issued, he was embarrassed by his low grade. This was because his peers and professors looked up to him as a possible contender for the Top 10. He decided to resign but Justice Gopengco inspired him, saying that he was himself a valedictorian who did not top the bar, which was the same case with Claro M. Recto who took the bar twice.
After taking his oath as a lawyer, he was appointed as Research Attorney and rose from the ranks until he became the 11th Government Corporate Counsel (GCC) of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, where he served for ten years.
Historical positions and events
Aside from his post as Government Corporate Counsel, Lazaro eventually became the EVP and general counsel of the GSIS, and Executive Vice President, director and general counsel of The Manila Hotel Corporation, on top of his other appointments as director in many corporations.
Sometime In 1981, President Marcos called him up to ask if he would take an appointment as Tanodbayan (now called the Ombudsman under the 1987 Constitution). He accepted the assignment, and the President advised that he was to take his oath the next day.
But the call from President Marcos unsettled him. What would happen to his multiple positions?
The next day, he reported to the Palace as instructed. He was ushered to the Study Room, where the president worked and received visitors.
Was he ready to take his oath, President Marcos asked.
“Sir, is the appointment an addition to my other positions?”
Lazaro saw that his polite query visibly surprised the President, who replied that the Tanodbayan is a constitutional office.
“And therefore you cannot hold other offices. I think you are not that interested,” he quoted Marcos as saying. After a week or so, Justice Bernardo Fernandez was appointed Tanodbayan.
After the aborted appointment of Lazaro as Tanodbayan, he would have no reason to expect that the president would call him up again after a year. But a call came, he was asked to report to the Palace once more.
The day after, Fe Jimenez, the private secretary of President Marcos, in ushering him to the private bedroom of President Marcos, asked him to take off his shoe.
Lazaro vividly remembered: “The president was with Ambassador Roberto Benedicto, P.O. Domingo, president of the Philippine National Bank, and Rolando Gapud. I could not believe what I saw. The bed of the president was a papag, books and chairs around it. The president was a voracious reader and with the knack for speed reading.”
He distinctly recalled that the president gave him an intent penetrating though friendly look. The President wanted him to be his assistant for legal affairs, to act as the President’s counsel, and to attend to all legal matters of the Office of the President.
President Marcos was all smiles as he confirmed the offer, with the added assurance that the assignment was on top of his other appointments.
Lazaro took his oath of office on July 1, 1982.
In those four years of service to Marcos, Lazaro witnessed closely how the Ilocano president worked as president, and as a legal mind. “He was a great Ilocano president, a great legal mind,” he said.
He recited from heart those lines he had written in his book, Vintage of Values, A Compendium of Timeless or Timely Essays: “At time’s healing hands, Ferdinand Marcos will be vindicated. FM is a great man—unjustly judged at the wrong time by the wrong minds. Time and history will vindicate his vision and foresight, especially in lawmaking as a vehicle of governance… ”
Inspiration and moving forces
Justice Lolong said that everything in his life has a purpose, and that God is the author of his life.
“The center of my life is God, and my family is the most important blessing of God,” Lazaro said.
Justice Lolong is married to Rose Marie Balmaceda, the daughter of former Secretary of Commerce and Industry Cornelio Balmaceda. They have five children: Melinda, Matthew,Melanio, Maybelle, and Michelle.
“I considered them blessings from God and the reason for my being,” he affirmed.
As for his job, he said: “Work is my adrenaline, success is my aim.”
After retiring from government, he founded the M. M. Lazaro & Associates with his lawyer daughter, Michelle Lazaro, as Managing Partner, with several banks, including the BangkoSentralngPilipinas, as clients, insurance companies, real estate development, stock brokerages, investment houses and other businesses.
Lazaro was the president and now chairman of Philippine Constitution Association, director of Philippine Airlines, Manila Hotel Corporation, Manila Golf and Country Club, Tiger Resorts and Leisure Entertainment, Philja Development Center, Marc Ventures Holdings, Bright Kindle Resources and Investments and AG Finance. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors, Ateneo Law School.
Lazaro attributed his achievements in life and in the field of law to the blessings of the Almighty and to the three mothers—the guiding hand of Our Lady, the Mother of Christ, the inspiration and encouragement of his wife Rose, and the memory of his late mother Juliana.