The hero the Philippines has forgotten



I do not set a framework or an outline for my intended full-scale manuscript. I feel constricted by this method. I used to do it in the beginning, but later I realized that once I started writing, my ideas always tended to digress from such a framework and instead take a course quite distinct from the originally intended flow. This was a phenomenon that for a long period would only intrigue me. And then as I began getting used to start writing once my mind got fixed on a theme, I realized writing is a kind of a living organism that grows even as it follows its own dynamic flow, which dynamism is, in fact, what determines where the writing will go, grow and end. Hence such aspects of writing as story flow, character development, and structure do not bother me as concerns which I need to determine before starting to write. The rule I learned to follow, and adhered to, to this day: Just write.

That’s what I have done in the case of this book.

What determined that beginning? It was not at all a product of a deliberate framework of narrative. Rather, it came about as an inevitable consequence of a mindset for projecting Dr. Laurel in the right context – World War 2.

In one forum conducted by the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, some grandchildren of Dr. Laurel were on hand to narrate what I had expected to be intimate, unknown facets of Dr. Laurel’s life, but I did not hear anything that I had not heard before. Did this indicate that everything that could be known about Dr. Laurel had already been made known? If so, then what was there still left for me to write about?

The challenge, therefore, that I found myself up against when I finally settled down to writing this book was, to make a difference. And to be different is to get out of those aspects about Dr. Laurel that are already well-known and seek out aspects about him that are not yet known.

That’s the tall order I had to scale in writing this book. Dr. Laurel had been so extensively covered in writings by so many authors that articles about him tend to be mere repetitions of one another. One more in this genre would sound like, to use a cliché, a broken record.

I don’t suppose any other biography of Dr. Laurel can pretend to surpass “in depth and breadth and height” Days of Courage. For factual information needed for this undertaking of mine, I can find no better source than that book by Dr. Laurel’s seventh child. Therefore, if I attempted to write another chronology of the events undergone by the life of Dr. Laurel, I would end up just doing a duplicate of his daughter’s book, and a poor copy at that. As in any duplication, nothing beats the original.

But my being no product of the academe turned out to be my ultimate advantage in writing this book. Shunning constrictions of rigmarole, I began writing – just begin, with no thought of what, who, how, where, with what to begin. And as always in all my writings, the beginning just led to developments in the narrative that though not thought out previously, effloresced like spring water that gushes forth profusely from break of the earth.

Once I figured out exactly what character must be projected of Dr. Laurel, to begin writing was no longer difficult. And the minute I began, there was no stopping. Ideas just kept coming – the story of a man thrown into a most unenviable fate of bearing his nation at a time when no others would.

That was the key to making my work not just one more dry chronology of events. Make it a moving story, a heart-tugging drama, and set story and drama in the romance of the American colonial era, the grim and spectacle of the second world war, and the uncertainties and political turmoil of the post-war period–and what do you get but a book in which people can feel like viewing a true-to-life motion picture even as they are only reading it.

The facts of Dr. Laurel’s life do not come out as mere enumeration of data but as living scenes performed by partakers in each depicted historical episode. Hence, for example, Chapter 1 opens in a mood of quiet, a tranquil Manila slumbering in the night, its colonial architecture that characterizes government buildings bathed in the glow of many-colored Christmas lights, while in his study Dr. Laurel, reviewing documents of a case he is handling as justice of the Supreme Court, decides to call it a night and repairs to bed to join his already sleeping wife, Paciencia. Out in the street, the Christmas carols sung by a lingering batch of kumbachero segue to the rowdy singing of American flyers, newly arrived from the United States, partying in the Fiesta Pavilion of the Manila Hotel. Far out in Hawaii that very hour, early beach swimmers are distracted by a bomber plane diving from out of the blue above Oahu island, and the US Pacific Fleet Commander, otherwise in the leisure of a golf game, grows speechless at seeing that trailing the single bomber plane was a horrendous swarm of Japanese bombers that proceed to blast the men and facilities of the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. In the Pacific Theater, World War 2 begins.

It is this treatment, chapter after chapter, that should make the book quite delectable to the palates of a people continuously given to romance, spectacles and epic exploits of heroes to whose ranks Dr. Laurel must belong. From start to finish, every chapter aspires to tell a story all its own, independent in itself, and yet always forming part of the entire saga of Dr. Jose P. Laurel.

If the final chapter turns out to be the book’s effective valedictory, it is for no other reason than that in the course of the writing it took on a deliberateness of design so as to deliver the final telling blow: that Dr. Laurel had all his life been sacrificing self and family for the welfare of the nation. Only in Dr. Laurel’s death does wife Paciencia feel she really ever gets to own him.

So cry your heart out, the scene is really meant to make your heart bleed. Every tear you shed testifies to the author’s success at his obsession to write a Dr. Jose P. Laurel biography like no other.


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