Sunday, March 06, 2005

A patriot of our race

A patriot of our race

Posted 01:30am (Mla time) Mar 06, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the March 6, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THIS Wednesday will be the 113th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, who occupies and deserves an honored place in our nation's history. He served with distinction in the three departments of our government, as President of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation, as a member of the Senate before and after World War II, and as a justice of the Supreme Court, where he wielded the most powerful pen, according to Manuel L. Quezon.

In his youth, he enrolled as a pensionado in Yale, where he took special studies in Constitutional Law that was to serve him well as a lawyer, as a law professor, as a magistrate, and in his political career. It was his mastery of this subject that made him the acknowledged authority on the structure and functions of the republican government and set apart many of his decisions as enduring celebrations of individual liberty.

In 1923, as a young secretary of the interior in the cabinet of Governor-General Leonard Wood, Laurel dismissed an American detective for bribery. Wood reversed Laurel and ordered his countryman's reinstatement. Laurel complied but at the same time resigned. So did the Filipino members of the cabinet, as well as the Council of State. The feisty Wood, a former wartime general, knew he had been beaten and soon retired.

One of Laurel's best decisions as a jurist is Angara v. Electoral Commission, 63 Phil. 139, where he explained the doctrine of separation of powers with such lucidity and brilliance that it has yet to be surpassed by his successors on the Supreme Court. His definition of social justice in the old case of Calalang v. Williams, 70 Phil. 76, decided in 1939, is still studied in our law schools as the classic description of this constitutional concept.

It was out of respect that we all called him the Old Man although he was still young when he passed away at 67. He was especially fond of the Lyceum of the Philippines that he founded and called "the Alexandria of the East." He as president, his son Teroy as the executive secretary, Dean Jose Adeva of the college of arts and sciences, and I as Teroy's assistant, wet-nursed the fledging school. Sen. Pedro Sabido was the treasurer, and Don Claro M. Recto was the dean of our law school, with then solicitor general Ambrosio Padilla as vice dean.

I became a bar reviewer in Political Law because of Dr. Laurel. In one of the classes in the subject, the professor, a well-known "terror," had resigned in disgust over the students' inattention. I reported this problem to Dr. Laurel and said I had taken it upon myself to keep order in the class pending the appointment of the martinet's replacement. The Old Man saw no problem and acted decisively. He appointed me to take over the subject, thus beginning my own specialization of "more and more about less and less," as he put it.

What I remember best about Dr. Laurel was when, as president of our occupied country, he was pressured by the Japanese generals to conscript Filipinos to fight the Allied forces. Laurel refused. Many of us who were of draft age, and our anxious parents as well, were relieved beyond measure when he announced over the radio that not a single Filipino would be compelled to fight for Japan. The kempeitai could have executed him for his defiance but prudently desisted because they knew the whole country was behind him.

It was one of the ironies of Laurel's life that for leading the nation during the travail of the Japanese occupation, he was later accused of collaboration with the enemy. He valiantly defended himself at his trial and would have been acquitted had not President Manuel A. Roxas ended the proceedings with his amnesty proclamation of 1948.

Laurel ran in the 1949 presidential election, which many believe he won but for "the birds and the bees" in Lanao that voted for his opponent, incumbent President Elpidio Quirino. The presumptive winner was vindicated in 1951, when he topped the election for the Senate with an overwhelming majority. During this last term, he authored, over the organized resistance of the Catholics, the law now requiring the study of the works of Rizal in all public and private schools in the country.

Jose P. Laurel Sr. was a striking contrast to some of our present-day leaders who now pay him lip service. He was a true nationalist, not a political lackey of foreign imperialists. He was erudite in law and philosophy unlike the presumptuous ignoramuses and misfits in the Senate today. His unblemished integrity and courage of conviction are an angry indictment of the current immoral and dissolute public service. He was, without question or exaggeration, a patriot of our race.


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