IF I were to be considered a mother for writing a biography of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, then Nation Above Self is a child come into the world after so much pain from delivering my firstborn.
Writing has not been a particularly rewarding field of endeavor for me. My father would have preferred me persevering in the engineering course at the Mapua Institute of Technology in which I had gone as far as fourth year. But sometime in the mid-1960s, I began associating with young intellectuals from the Lyceum of the Philippines University, discussing on the lawn of Fort Santiago philosophical thoughts and literary principles.
True, as a film scriptwriter, I had won two screenplay awards, but in terms of recognition in the formal literary arena, my score was zero. This would give reason for my father when, on learning of my decision to drop engineering in favor of writing, he said. “I could curse you, Mauro, for that.”
It was back in 2017 when Manila Times Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante A. Ang and Manila Times president and Chief Executive Officer Dante Francis “Klink” Ang 2nd brought me to Roberto Laurel, president of Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) for a project I barely had an idea about. It turned out, as we sat for snacks at the restaurant of the Bay Leaf Hotel in Intramuros, that Dr. Ang had an idea of publishing a biography of the late Dr. Jose P. Laurel, the president of the Second Philippine Republic, the country’s government during the Japanese occupation during World War 2. And ever my benefactor in the writing field, Dr. Ang had me in mind for the job – no other.
“I stake my reputation on Mao,” Dr. Ang told Atty. Laurel (who in our subsequent communications I had grown used to calling by his nickname, Bobby, making relations cordial).
The soft-spoken, mild-mannered LPU chief executive took Dr. Ang’s assurances hook, line and sinker, so to speak, and pronto, I was a book writer — something I had never been before. But a great man’s reputation had been made an ante for me to take and there was no way I could fail; I must not fail.
Thus — after going through the nitty gritty of executing a contract for the undertaking — did I start the grand adventure of surfing through oceans of historical documents to get to know better someone who, until Ferdinand Marcos came, was, in my candid view at the time, the most derided president the Philippines has ever had.
I had not read up much on Dr. Laurel until then. But my initial exposure to him was in a lengthy ruling of the Supreme Court that he penned on the Nalundasan murder case. I recall that was in the early 1960s, when I was just starting to get bitten by the writing bug. Already, my favorite newspaper then was the Manila Times, and leafing through its pages one morning, my attention was caught by the report on the Supreme Court ruling, as much for its writing style as for the philosophical depths embarked upon for arriving at an acquittal. I clipped the story, pasted it on a page of my scrapbook, evidently to keep for posterity.
It is ironic that what was a document favorable to Marcos, he must cause to be expunged permanently. In the terror among activists upon the declaration of martial law in 1972, that clipping was among the volumes of documents and books I had to carry away from my home for safekeeping by a Bulacan sympathizer, who accepted them for the purpose but who, eventually himself panicking in the face of feared martial law oppression, burned all of them.
Everything else I had known about Dr. Laurel, I got from accounts highlighting his collaboration with the Japanese during the war. I must admit, I even got swallowed up by the popular perception that collaboration is bad and whoever commits it is a traitor.
The book assignment was a grand occasion for disabusing myself of all ill-gotten notions about Dr. Jose P. Laurel. My sojourns to the Jose P. Laurel Library on Pedro Gil Street corner Roxas Boulevard in Manila were journeys into otherwise undiscovered terrains of the big, vast world that is Jose P. Laurel thought.
On the issue of collaboration, for instance, Dr. Laurel battles it head-on and ends up proclaiming collaboration a virtue not vice.
From his War Memoirs, you gather these brilliant gems of intellect:
“Did we freely and voluntarily collaborate with Japan and if so, is collaboration treasonable upon the facts and under the circumstances of that collaboration?
“Military occupation gives rise to a temporary allegiance of the inhabitants of the occupied territory to the conquering power in return for temporary protection.
“Military occupation was as real as it was fact. The top officials left Manila for Corregidor and later for Australia and the United States — Quezon, Osmeña, MacArthur and others, leaving behind then Secretary Vargas and Associate Justice Laurel at the head of a vast number of officials of the Commonwealth government in Manila to ‘welcome’ the Japanese invading forces. What were the people thus left behind expected to do – the officials and people who could not have had the facilities to go to Corregidor, Australia and the United States? The rule of the international law formulated above gives the answer: “You must owe temporary allegiance to the mightier power in return for temporary protection.
“Collaboration there had to be ex necessitate re and this collaboration is not punishable much less treasonable in light of the accepted legal principle formulated above.’’
When, after months of solitary confinement at Sugamo Prison in Japan, Dr. Laurel faced arraignment proceedings for 132 counts of treasonable collaboration at the specially constituted People’s Court in the Philippines, he elaborated even more brilliantly on the above thoughts to the delight of the crowd that literally filled the courtroom to the rafters to listen to the man who led them as president under the most trying circumstances.
It was just tough luck for Dr. Laurel that even before the trial proper could commence, then President Manuel Roxas issued Proclamation 51, granting amnesty to all those charged with collaboration during the war. Dr. Laurel protested the proclamation. He did not want amnesty. He wanted a trial, and to demolish those ill-notions of treasonable collaboration attributed to him.
All the above are just tiny gleams of the jewel two years of tireless research and writing had crafted the book into.
From Dr. Ricardo Jose, Department of History, University of the Philippines and Director of the UP Institute of Third World Studies: “Laurel’s life story is one that deserves to be better known, and in particular the years when he served as president of the country. This book is timely and should be read by many.”
From Psyche Roxas-Mendoza, managing editor, Philippine Graphic: “…a lesson in history that will perplex, disturb and even anger those among us who grew up accepting and asserting the ‘America is the hero-Japan is the villain’ dichotomy of the Second World War.”
From Diego Cagahastian, news editor, Manila Bulletin: “Samonte’s book presents Laurel’s sterling character, sense of personal and family honor, courage and patriotism through a compelling narrative that is unfettered by chronology.”
From Roland Simbulan, professor, Development Studies and Public Management, University of the Philippines: “Samonte reveals a leader of seeming contradiction, a fallible human being made of flesh and blood who, though much vilified, [was] always a dignified towering figure.”
At long last the book is done. I would have wanted to have it launched today, being the 129th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, it has been a tradition of the Laurel family to commemorate the birthday of their grand ancestor in their own quiet way. (ia/sovereignph.com)
We welcome Mauro Gia Samonte to Sovereignph.com. This accomplished scriptwriter and a celebrated movie director hit what he called “doldrums” as the Philippine movie industry gave way to modern television. Some of his blockbusters were Anak ng Demonyo, Kesong Puti, Ang Katawan ni Sofia and Huwag Mong Buhayin ang Bangkay. He now also writes as a columnist for the Manila Times and has launched his first book.