His Excellency Carlos P. Garcia
President of the Philippines
At the Dinner in Honor of the memory of the late Senator Jose P. Laurel
[Delivered at the Manila Hotel, March 14, 1960]
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
LET me greet you tonight in behalf of the memory of a great Filipino, a noble soul and exemplary patriot, comrade, colleague, and friend who .left us with unexpected suddenness some four months ago today: Dr. JOSE P. LAUREL. The rich and eventful career of Dr. Laurel, spanning more than two generations, an entire, half century of which was dedicated to the most outstanding and fruitful public service, radiated such an inspiration and impact upon the life of our people and nation that I doubt if there is a fellow Filipino here tonight who had riot at one time or another felt the powerful stir of that inspiration or the challenge of that impact.
I for one feel in all candor and humble gratitude that this is indeed a most appropriate occasion for me to say and to acknowledge, that from the days of my eager and idealistic youth as a student of law I drank deeply from the fountain of knowledge and wisdom in the famous works of Laurel on Constitutional Law. And down through the care-laden and eventful years of my humble political career I remained his admiring and loyal colleague and fought side by side with that illustrious champion in the nationalistic and libertarian struggles of the Nacionalista Party. I often thrilled in response to the patriotic advocacies or the bold moves of the devoted leader. I have experienced the impact of his sublime courage and of his ardent Filipinism and love of truth and righteousness.
The life and works of a great man of any nation ennobles the history and traditions of that nation; they enhance the dignity and good name of that nation. The Philippines is a young nation. We have much to build and to accomplish in the way of firmness of patriotic purpose, in the way of solidarity and oneness of concern over the national well-being, in the way of self-reliance and self-dependence, and, in the favorite phrase of his whom we are honoring tonight, in the capacity to “think for ourselves.” It is, therefore, a soul-uplifting duty of ours to treasure and emulate, to cherish and to perpetuate the exemplary lives, deeds, and labors of our great men. One such, indubitably, amongst us, alas now gone, was Dr. JOSE P. LAUREL.
Tonight we are gathered not merely to reader honor and fitting tribute to his memory, his. life, labors, and sacrifices for the national welfare. We are also launching the establishment of a Memorial Foundation to be financed from contributions, donations, bequests of members of the Laurel Family, other relatives, associates, friends, and admirers. from public solicitation. I have the pleasure to take this occasion to announce here that I have given instructions to the Social Welfare Administration to give the necessary government permit for such public solicitation; in behalf of the Jose P. Laurel Memorial Foundation for a period of one year, lasting from today, March 9, 1960, to March 9, 1961. March 9, as you may all know, is the birthday anniversary of Dr. Laurel.
The Foundation, I understand, will implement certain projects, planned or started by Dr, Laurel before he died, which are all of considerable value and importance to our continuing task of nation-building, especially in the spheres of education, cultural regeneration, national unity, and economic and cultural development. Additionally, the Foundation proposes to establish a suitable Laurel Memorial Hall to house in a systematic manner-his relics, works in the field of culture, and personal collections which he had accumulated during a long and busy life in the public service and in endeavors at education and law. This Hall would also serve as a proper and convenient place for public (discussion of national and international problems and for cultural exhibits and presentations. I also understand, the Foundation intends to finance several scholarships in Philippine and other Asian universities in the various fields of endeavor to which Dr. Laurel, in life, dedicated himself.
These are all laudable projects. There are so few of such institutions in our young nation, that the Foundation’s undertaking them today in honor of Dr. Laurel, not only would add to our country’s institutions of this kind but also would provide an example worth emulating. Moreover, in readily and properly honoring outstanding; Filipinos we would show the greatness of soul of the: nation, that we are a grateful people; and we would enhance the incentive and inspiration for those of our nation who are still in their prime and make them feel that devoted and extraordinary services to the national good shall never among us as a people go unremembered, unhonored, and unsung.
As a fitting tribute to the great friend and exemplary patriot, permit me on this occasion to reminisce with you various facets of the extremely rich and titanic personality of Dr. Laurel. When I first knew him as a law student in the Philippine Law School, the impression he immediately gave was that of a very virile man, a man of strong convictions, and one of vast learning and prodigious memory.
Then, when he entered national politics he became a popular figure and gained a reputation almost overnight in our region of the Visayas, as a scholarly nationalist, and one who identified himself with the ideal of national discipline and “progressive conservatism.” Somehow this was the most prevalent way of thinking among the middle and propertied classes of our country in the decades of the 1920’s and early 1930’s while the stirrings of social discontent were beginning to be felt in many areas of the world.
With the well-known Conley case in which Dr. Laurel played a central role, most of you are no doubt familiar. I may recall here that the bold act of dignity of Dr. Laurel in defying Governor-General Wood on the basis of the fundamental principle of departmental responsibility, electrified the entire Filipino nation, and we in the Visayas, in particular in Bohol, with our deathless memories of Dagohoy’s historic defiance against Spanish tyranny, were thrilled to the depth by the performance of Dr. Laurel in the Conley case. We hailed him that early as a true hero of the national issue of independence.
I will now touch upon the usually controversial, albeit the really supreme soul-testing event in the crowded career of Dr. Laurel: His role during the Japanese occupation of our country in the last World War. The government of our Republic, through no less than the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has set down in an imperishable record the sober official view on the occupation role of Dr. Laurel when he was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor, degree of Chief Commander, last March 1959, and with the President of the Philippines himself pinning the decoration on him. But before I cite the official view, I would like to reminisce a little about the dramatic change of intelligence reports of the Visayas and Mindanao guerillas to General MacArthur’s headquarters, about the role of President Laurel in Manila, a significant change that took place in August and September of 1944. I believe this is the best occasion to recollect a significant episode of our struggle for survival as a people.
I remember vividly—and I will speak frankly on this occasion that throughout 1942 and 1943, we in the Visayas and Mindanao, especially those who were already active in the underground and were continuing the resistance against the Japanese, felt sad and bitter over the assumption of responsibility, first in the Department of the Interior and later in the Presidency itself of Dr. Laurel. When the leader of our military intelligence service, however, now Congressman Cabangbang, who was then known among us and in the MacArthur Headquarters in Australia as “Cabrera” went to Luzon about August of 1944, after a long stay in Australia, he began reporting, that President Laurel should be viewed in a new and different light. Cabangbang emphatically assured that Laurel was not a Quisling, nor an opportunist who had just wanted to exercise power even at the expense his countrymen. Colonel Cabangbang reported for instance that President-Laurel had been instrumental in the speedy release of many prisoners of war that he personally interceded in behalf of many prominent Filipinos who otherwise would have been the victims of Japanese brutality, and that the Japanese threatened to shoot him if he did not declare war on the United States and conscripted Filipino manpower for the Japanese soldiery, but that President Laurel courageously stood his ground and refused to permit the conscription of Filipinos. From that time on, we came to regard President Laurel in a different light, and our admiration for his sagacity, patriotism, courage, and wisdom rose to new heights.
I should like to quote a part of the citation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines when it awarded, by order of the President of: the Philippines as constitutionally the Commander-in-Chief of all defense forces, the Legion of Honor, Chief Commander, to Dr. Laurel in March 1959. Here is what the citation said: “During the darkest period of the history of our country, when the very existence and security of the Filipino people were at stake, it was Dr. Laurel who in a supreme Act of patriotism and sacrifice, dared accept the highest magistracy of the land, acting in compliance with the late President Quezon’s instructions to do whatever was necessary to cushion the impact of enemy invasion short; of taking an oath of allegiance. Thus, risking his life and those of his family and close associates and daring countless perils in order to mitigate the sufferings of the people and to reduce to a minimum the merciless rigors and exacting demands of a belligerent military occupation, he courageously and wisely guided the ship of state, and unflinchingly and vigorously objected to the insistent demands of the Japanese authorities that the Filipinos should take the path of allegiance to Japan. Immediately after the fall of Bataan, Dr. Laurel, as Minister of the Department of Interior, was instrumental in the release of thousands of Filipino prisoners of war who were concentrated in Capas, Tarlac, and elsewhere. And when men of weaker moral fiber would have been cowed under continuing pressure, Dr. Laurel courageously issued the declaration of state of war against the allies, short, however, of conscription, saving thus the lives of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen. Few men subjected to such pressures could offer the undaunted resistance he made. A true leader, caring only for the welfare and security of his people, Dr, Laurel at great personal risk, saved many prominent Filipinos. . .”
As a footnote to this citation may I place on record the testimony of former President Osmeña: That in the last meeting of Quezon’s Cabinet held in Marikina, President Quezon announced that the Commonwealth Government was going to Corregidor; that Quezon ordered him to stay behind; that Laurel announced that if Manila fell to the enemy he was going to the mountains of Batangas in order not to submit to the enemy; that Quezon directed him that in the event Manila fell, he should not abandon the Filipino people but should lead them under the occupation government to national survival. This difficult task assigned to him by President Quezon he tried to his utmost to carry out and now History has set down the verdict: Well done, good and faithful servant of the people—Dr. Jose P. Laurel.
There, is no better summation, I believe, of what we as a nation owed Dr. Laurel during that particular period of our struggle for survival which we remember as the Japanese Occupation, there are many more occasions when Dr, Laurel, as jurist, or as a legislator, as an educator, or, as a constant student of our national problems, rendered invaluable guidance, inspiration, and other forms of distinguished service to our country and people.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I have the deep and abiding conviction that we honor ourselves, we enhance the dignity of our nation, we make our people worthy of the great destiny that is rightfully theirs, as we render our need of tribute to this great countryman of ours, who dies but four months ago, Dr. JOSE PACIANO LAUREL of Tanauan, Batangas. By his sublime patriotism, devotion to duty, selfless; tireless, and ceaseless work for the welfare and dignity of his country and people, his brilliant leadership particularly in times of grave crisis, his signal achievements, his wisdom and statesmanship, Dr. Laurel, has deservingly gained a place among the immortals of the race.
May this solemn tribute that we are rendering to his memory be the expression of a profound and lasting appreciation and gratitude that will remain eternally aglow hi determination to carry out successfully this move that you the sanctuary of our affections, constantly rekindling our have initiated.
Garcia, C. P. (1960). President Garcia’s speech at the dinner held Wednesday evening at the Manila Hotel in honor of the memory of the late Senator Jose P. Laurel. Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, 56(11), 2362-2366.