November 18, 2016 will mark the 88th birth anniversary of Salvador “Doy” Laurel—Vice President of the Philippines (1986-1992) and a Filipino statesman of the highest order.
Vice President Laurel was the youngest son of Jose P. Laurel, president of the wartime Republic of the Philippines and a justice of the Supreme Court during the American colonial period. Two of his brothers were political leaders in their time: Jose B. Laurel Jr., who served for three terms as House Speaker, and was a member of the commission which drafted the 1987 Constitution; and Sotero Laurel, who was senator (1987-1992), and a delegate to the constitutional convention which prepared the 1973 charter.
After his admission to the Philippine Bar, and the completion of his masteral and doctoral studies in the United States, Doy Laurel established the Citizens Legal Aid Society of the Philippines, the first organization to provide free legal assistance to indigent Filipinos. He won an international award for this pioneering humanitarian endeavor.
In 1967, at age 68, Laurel was elected senator under the Nacionalista Party (NP). He authored laws which exempt indigent court litigants from paying docket fees, and fees for stenographic notes, and transportation expenses.
President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law in September 1972. When this led to the closure of Congress in January 1973, Laurel identified himself with the political opposition.
In 1978, Laurel won a seat in the interim Batasang Pambansa representing the Southern Tagalog region. He ran under the NP, which formed a coalition with the pro-administration Kilusang Bagong Lipunan.
By 1980, Marcos seemed determined to stay in power indefinitely. This prompted the NP, by then led by the Laurels, to sever its ties with the KBL and to align itself with other opposition groups to form the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO). With Doy Laurel as president, the UNIDO became a nationwide political opposition party against the Marcos administration.
Former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was Laurel’s staunch ally in the UNIDO. Aquino and Laurel are childhood buddies and, like Marcos, they are fraternity brothers in the Upsilon Sigma Phi of the University of the Philippines.
Laurel led the delegation which was to welcome Ninoy Aquino at the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983. That delegation included Ninoy’s mother, Aurora Aquino.
The assassination of Aquino at the airport inevitably made Laurel the top opposition leader in the country. Under Laurel’s leadership, the UNIDO won a third of the contested seats in the election of the first regular Batasang Pambansa in 1984.
Anticipating that Marcos would call a special presidential and vice presidential election to be held in February 1986, the UNIDO held a general assembly at the Araneta Coliseum in 1985—the biggest in the country’s history—and drafted Laurel as its presidential candidate.
To Laurel’s surprise, Ninoy’s widow, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, announced that she was going to run for president. Sensing that two opposition candidates for president will ruin the prospects for a victory against Marcos, Laurel agreed to Aquino’s insistence that she run for president, with him as the vice presidential candidate. This was on the understanding that Aquino was to stay in office for about two years, after which she is to transfer the reins of government to Laurel. Laurel’s UNIDO was to manage their campaign.
As anticipated, the special election pushed through. Marcos ran under the KBL, with Assemblyman Arturo Tolentino as his running mate.
Although the Batasang Pambansa proclaimed Marcos and Tolentino the victors, a civilian-backed military uprising in Metropolitan Manila pressured President Marcos to leave Malacañang and installed Mrs. Aquino to power in February 1986.
Mrs. Aquino ruled by decree for a year. During that period, relations between Aquino and Laurel deteriorated because Aquino refused to keep her bargain with Laurel on the flimsy excuse that the February 1986 Revolution erased all her political pledges. When Aquino began embarrassing Laurel in public, Laurel joined the opposition to the Aquino regime.
In the 1992 presidential election, Mrs. Aquino supported ex-General Fidel Ramos, a relative of Marcos and the jailer of her husband Ninoy during the martial law regime. Laurel ran for president but with inadequate funds to wage a viable campaign, his bid to become president was unsuccessful.
In 1998, Laurel served his country one last time, as chairman of the Philippine Centennial Commission. Bum raps were subsequently filed against him and some of his colleagues in the commission but those raps were eventually proved groundless in court.
After Laurel passed away in 2004, his name became part of the Philippine political lexicon. To do a “Doy Laurel” is to sacrifice personal ambition for national interest.
The vice presidents who came after Laurel are pale comparisons to this selfless statesman.
Joseph Estrada was ousted from power through extra-constitutional means, and convicted of plunder.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was almost forced to leave office after it was learned that she called up an election commissioner to ensure her victory in the 2004 presidential elections. After her presidency, she was put under house arrest.
Teofisto Guingona Jr. was appointed vice president by President Arroyo. Other than his subsequent opposition to Arroyo, his vice presidency is non-descript.
Noli de Castro was essentially a hollow government official. He has returned to his old job as a television news reader.
Jejomar Binay created a well-entrenched family dynasty during his incumbency as vice president. He is currently facing graft raps for anomalies allegedly committed when he was city mayor of Makati.
Incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo’s record of public service is her three-year lackluster stint in Congress. Her “victory” in May 2016 remains contested in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. Despite her inclusion in the cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte, she maintains a clandestine campaign to undermine his presidency and promote her almost unconcealed, ambitious desire to become president in 2022.
Indeed, Laurel may not have been president, but he was certainly the best of the vice presidents this country has had.