IN the current tension over the South China Sea, President Duterte appears clear on the fact that China’s belligerence is not toward the Philippines but toward the United States. It behooves him, therefore, to steer the country clear of the confrontation once the South China Sea tension heightens ultimately to an open clash. In such eventuality, President Duterte shall have done exactly what Dr. Laurel did during the period of the independent wartime Philippine Republic, thereby making Duterte’s act in this regard one more occasion for demonstrating the heroism of Dr. Jose P. Laurel.
After being elected by the National Assembly as President of the Second Philippine Republic, Dr. Laurel took his oath of office, in ceremonies that also served as the inauguration of that Republic on October 14, 1943. That same day in Europe, General Pietro Badoglio, Italy’s former Chief of Staff who had deposed the II Duce Benito Mussolini in September and subsequently formed an anti-fascist government that sided with the Allies, declared war on erstwhile ally Germany. The day of Dr. Laurel’s inaugural was therefore the same day Italy’s declaration of war against Germany finally augured the ultimate defeat of the Axis camp; and in the Pacific theater, of Japan, including its occupation of the Philippines. Dr. Laurel, in accepting the presidency of the Second Philippine Republic at that late period of the Pacific War, was up against the inevitable terrible tide of eventual Allied victory – which did happen – and this should make his wartime administration far more greatly heroic than that of any other heroes before or after him.
Imagine the amount of courage and bravery entailed in the policy Dr. Laurel imposed right in the midst of actual physical military Japanese occupation of the Philippines: no Japanese, high or low in status allowed inside Malacañang; an all-Filipino troops composed the Palace presidential guard detail.
Most Filipinos don’t seem to realize that the Second Philippine Republic was an independent government, exercising sovereignty over the archipelago; a puppet government would not serve the imperatives of the Japanese concept of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a grouping of East Asian nations which must all be independent in order for the Sphere to be credible. Only about military matters, specifically national defense, did the Japanese intervene in the Laurel administration, precisely because the country did not have the capacity to do it. In any case, that’s just the way all military conquests go: subjugated peoples strike up temporary allegiance to the conquerors in exchange for temporary protection.
When soon after the inauguration of the Second Philippine Republic, Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo demanded that Dr. Laurel declare war on the United States and Great Britain, he stated candidly that he could not make such declaration of war because the Filipino people would not approve of it. For one year, Dr. Laurel was able to hold off that Japanese demand, but in 1944, when the returning allies began dropping bombs on Philippine territory, Dr. Laurel felt utterly pushed against the wall and, pressured by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, two days after declaring martial law on September 22, 1944, he finally issued a declaration of a war against the US and Britain. But Dr. Laurel prohibited any conscription of Filipinos into the Japanese army. In his War Memoirs, he writes that with that prohibition, he did not give Japan anything that it did not already have.
In the maelstrom of China and US over the South China Sea, President Duterte can surely be in a quandary.
Which way to go? Will he go the US way? In which case, he must take a more assertive stance as regards the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague declaring, for one thing, that Scarborough Shoal is within the UNCLOS-recognized Philippine exclusive economic zone. Or will he go the China way? In which case, he will have to set aside the PCA ruling in return for various forms of economic assistance, as has begun pouring in with the recent visit of Chinese Vice Premier Yang.
Dr. Laurel’s brilliant defense on charges of collaboration leveled against him at the People’s Court in 1946 can come in handy for Duterte. To cheers of supporters that packed the court the day the case opened, Dr. Laurel declared: “I am neither pro-Japanese nor pro-American. I am pro-Filipino.”
Drawing lessons from the struggles surmounted by Dr. Laurel, President Duterte can have the means by which to overcome his current difficulties, most particularly those having to do with the brewing US-China open confrontation. But there is just one area in which he can’t expect any help from his wartime predecessor: the unbridled extra-judicial killings in the continuing illegal drugs war. Dr. Laurel personally took charge of drafting the Bill of Rights that was one of the most important components of the 1935 Constitution and repeated en toto in the 1987 Constitution. The very first Section of the Bill of Rights states: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law.”
On the question of extrajudicial killings which has enraged the international community and prompted protests from institutions like the United Nations and the European Union, not to mention the US, China has not taken any posture, neither for nor against. China appears complacent in its primary agenda of helping the Philippines achieve prosperity.
Needless to say, such prosperity is not the exclusive domain of President Duterte. It is the concern of every Filipino genuinely aspiring for a better Philippines. And a better Philippines is best without any Filipino having to daily worry about the prospect of losing the little that is left of his life, his joys and his freedoms.
Under no circumstances can that prosperity be had at the expense of civil liberties and human rights. The protection of those liberties and rights and their preservation for the enjoyment of all generations to come can be the greatest legacy bequeathed by Dr. Jose P. Laurel to the nation he loved so dearly and so well.