DR. Jose P. Laurel died November 6, 1959; he was buried November 8, just two days after. Only a day, therefore, was devoted to doing the customary pre-burial vigil for the departed. To the faithful of Islam, this is perfectly all right. It is in their tradition to keep the remains of their deceased loved ones uncorrupted until internment, and so no time is allowed for days of necrological ceremonies. But to Catholics, such abbreviation of mourning is a sign of disrespect.
Don’t we in fact practice a year-long wearing of a black patch, or dress in the case of women, as a daily commemoration of the passing of a loved one? In the case of Dr. Laurel, all his life and until his own burial, he wore the black bow tie he had consistently donned in remembrance of his mother Nanay Ubay’s passing.
And Dr. Laurel was a Catholic, a very devout one. So intensely religious was Dr. Laurel that he could perform the Catholic mass, and in Latin at that. In that legendary odyssey that he, together with his family and select members of his War Cabinet, undertook to refuge in Japan in the last year of the World War II, he would officiate the mass for the party on Sundays.
But Dr. Laurel was an extremely self-deprecating man. Before his death, he left instructions to his family that he be spared from eulogies as is the wont for departed dignitaries. For this reason, his burial was devoid of any trace of pomp and pageantry, except for the thousands who marched in the funeral procession that brought him to his final resting place in the public cemetery of Tanauan, Batangas. And although President Carlos P. Garcia wanted Dr. Laurel to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani— an honor that only recently, after more than two decades of painstaking wait, had been accorded the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos—the Laurel family respected their patriarch’s wish to be interred beside his Nanay Ubay.
No matter the mammoth crowd that sent off Dr. Laurel on his final journey back to his creator, nothing indicated that the man departing had been the greatest President the Philippines ever had.
But no plaudits for him on the occasion. No oratories intoning just what was it that had made him great. And at the incessant sweeps of historical winds, the memory of Dr. Laurel has been rather cruelly blown away.
You go randomly asking around: Who is Dr. Jose P. Laurel? Chances are not one of the first 100 you throw the question at would know him. Come the next 100, and one out of this next batch would ask in turn, “Wasn’t he the one who was President?” Only in the third group of 100 would there be one who would clearly recognize him as a former Philippine President but would not be able to pinpoint the exact period in Philippine history that he presided.
Following are observations I have expressed in a recent piece I wrote regarding this issue. I have observed that except to serious researchers and students of Philippine history, which comprise if but a speck in the now 100-million spectrum of Philippine population, Dr. Jose P. Laurel has not only gone. He has been completely 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 memorials. 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, Dona Paciencia Hidalgo-Laurel.
On April 28, 1956, at the height of the controversy on the Rizal bill, the strong-willed lady wrote her husband.
Honorable Jose P. Laurel
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,
Clearly the letter smacks of raw emotion. 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 valediction, “Your 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 putting up 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 of him and of 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, published in 1980, “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.
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 the needed power to execute his obsession to redo Rizal—Dr. Laurel’s namesake enjoys the distinction of being the National Hero of the Philippines.
All the above are evocations I inevitably felt myself immersed in during the 126th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Laurel the other day, March 9. The City of Manila commemorated the event with a floral offering before the late President’s monument on a spot fronting the Jose P. Laurel Foundation building on Roxas Boulevard.
Wreaths were laid by representatives from the City of Manila, the Department of Education, the National Historical Commission, and the Jose P. Laurel Foundation. There were military honors provided by troops of the Philippine Navy, capped by a gun salute.
Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada failed to attend due to medical reasons— which Manila City Administrator Jojo Alcovendas, who read his speech, clarified was a mere check-up for dental surgery, allaying fears of any serious ailment.
A simple skit staged by the Tanghalang Batingaw of the Lyceum of the Philippines University swept through the development of Dr. Jose P. Laurel from a truant boy to an accomplished intellectual, highlighted nonetheless by the naughty teenager Jose who dares steal a kiss from a girl who was his crush before ending up in marriage to Paciencia. It looked as though the greatness of Dr. Jose P. Laurel stemmed from the bravado of a man in stealing that kiss at a time when, as City Administrator Alcovendas pointed out, just touching the finger of a girl would make a boy be obligated to marry her.
Nothing in the skit spoke of the truly great accomplishments Dr. Laurel made, unmatched by any other President the Philippines has ever had.
It was a good thing that Atty. Roberto Laurel, grandson of Dr. Laurel and President of Lyceum of the Philippines University, in responding to the speech by Mayor Estrada, touched on the abrogation of the Bell Trade Act, which had rammed down the throat of the Filipino nation the Parity Amendment in the Philippine Constitution. In 1954, Dr. Laurel headed the Philippine Economic Mission to the United States and successfully worked for the conclusion of the Laurel-Langley Agreement which corrected the inequities inherent in the Bell Trade Act. On the issue of parity, what the Americans had long enjoyed in the Philippines, Filipinos now also enjoyed in the United States; under the Bell Trade Act, only Americans enjoyed the privilege in the Philippines, no reciprocal privilege for the Filipinos in the United States.
(To be continued tomorrow)