November 18, 2017 marked the 89th birth anniversary of the late Vice President Salvador “Doy” Laurel. The Laurel family celebrated the occasion with a Mass at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and a small gathering of relatives and friends at the residence of Laurel’s widow, Mrs. Celia Diaz-Laurel.
Family friends extolled Doy Laurel’s selfless service to the nation, in a career parallel to that of his famous contemporaries in the Senate like Arturo Tolentino, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Gerardo “Gerry” Roxas, and Eva Estrada Kalaw. Laurel’s career also mirrored that of his illustrious father Jose P. Laurel of Batangas—senator, justice of the Supreme Court and President of the Japanese-sponsored Republic of the Philippines (1943-1945).
Doy Laurel finished Law at the University of the Philippines in 1952 and passed the bar examinations administered that year. As a young lawyer, Laurel allotted most of his time as the lawyer of indigent and defenseless Filipinos who needed legal representation in court. Thus, Laurel began his career in public service not as a government official but as a lawyer for the needy and the oppressed.
When Laurel realized that many more indigent Filipinos badly needed legal aid, he created a legal aid committee under the Philippine Bar Association. Thereafter, Laurel established the Citizens Legal Aid Society of the Philippines (CLASP)—the original legal aid organization in the country. CLASP pre-dated all other similar legal aid groups in the Philippines by almost a decade. Even the Public Attorneys Office of today did not exist back then.
Topnotch lawyers whom Laurel recruited to join CLASP represented many destitute litigants oppressed by powerful personalities. Through CLASP, the imbalance in the justice system which favored the wealthy and the well-connected was addressed even in a limited way. For his trailblazing efforts in this field, the international lawyers association recognized him as one of the leading legal aid lawyers of the world.
In November 1967, Laurel was elected to the Senate under the pro-administration Nacionalista Party (NP). At 38, Laurel was the youngest post-war senator under the NP banner.
As a senator, Laurel authored several laws which reduced the financial burden of indigent litigants. These laws, which were eventually called the Laurel laws, exempted poor litigants from paying certain court fees, including fees for transcripts of hearings. Those laws are still in effect today.
Senator Laurel promoted CLASP in key areas of the archipelago. Before the end of the 1970s, CLASP had chapters nationwide.
Doy Laurel was Ninoy Aquino’s best friend. Their friendship dates back to the pre-war years when their parents were members of the cabinet of Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon. That friendship was sealed forever during the post-war years when people they thought were their friends during the war began avoiding them like the plague.
By early 1968, then President Ferdinand Marcos realized that Aquino was the top critic of his administration. Although Laurel was Marcos’ partymate, Laurel’s sentiments often led him to side with Aquino —something Marcos resented.
The tolerance Marcos had for Laurel was understandable because Marcos owed the Laurel family so many debts of gratitude.
Back in 1939, Marcos was charged with the murder of Julio Nalundasan, a political rival of his father, Mariano Marcos. After Marcos was convicted by the trial court, he appealed to the Supreme Court. In October 1940, Justice Jose P. Laurel wrote the decision of the Supreme Court which acquitted Marcos.
During the Japanese Occupation, President Laurel saved Marcos, who was with the resistance, from enemy capture. Marcos was recuperating at the Philippine General Hospital for injuries sustained as a guerilla, and the Japanese planned to arrest him there. When Laurel learned about the plan, he secretly sent a rescue team to spirit Marcos out of the hospital before the Japanese got there.
In 1961, then Senator Marcos (who was a member of the LP) had his eyes on the presidency. However, LP stalwart and incumbent Vice President Diosdado Macapagal promised to support Marcos’ run for president in 1965, if Marcos agreed to support Macapagal’s presidential campaign in 1961. To preserve party unity, Marcos agreed and delivered the votes of northern Luzon to Macapagal, which led to the latter’s victory in 1961.
When Macapagal reneged on his word to Marcos and decided to seek reelection in 1965, Marcos resigned from the LP and sought admission to the NP. He also wanted to be the NP candidate for president.
Marcos got what he wanted from Doy’s elder brother, House Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., who was the virtual bossman of the NP. Speaker Laurel convinced the NP to accept Marcos as member of the party, and to anoint Marcos its standard bearer in the 1965 polls.
That was not the first time a high-profile politician switched party affiliations. In November 1963, Ninoy Aquino was elected governor of Tarlac under the NP. The next year, Aquino shifted to the LP after President Macapagal refused to release funds for Tarlac unless Ninoy joined the LP.
Anyway, what Speaker Laurel did for Marcos in 1965 was no mean feat, considering that Marcos’ rivals for the presidential bid were incumbent Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, and Senators Arturo Tolentino, Gil Puyat, and Fernando Lopez, himself a former vice president.
Marcos won the presidency in 1965, aware that he would not have succeeded were it not for the help of Speaker Laurel.
Parenthetically, Doy Laurel was not able to support Marcos in the 1965 NP convention because months before Marcos expressed his wish to run for president under the NP, Doy had already pledged to support the presidential bid of the incumbent vice president, Emmanuel Pelaez. Doy said he could not back out of a promise.
Marcos eventually learned that Doy Laurel was not on his side in 1965. If Marcos resented it, he did not make it obvious to Doy, or to the Laurel family. The First Lady, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, however, was quite unhappy about it. To be continued