Jose P. Laurel

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To read this article in Filipino, see Jose P. Laurel.

José Paciano Laurel y García (March 9, 1891 - November 6, 1959) was the third president of the Philippines under the Japanese-sponsored Republic that was established during the Japanese occupation. He was an associate justice of the Supreme Court before becoming president and founded the Lyceum of the Philippines after his term.

Early life and education

José Paciano Laurel y García was born on 9 March 1891 in Tanauan, Batangas to Sotero Laurel and Jacoba Garcia. His father, who was the secretary of the interior in Emilio Aguinaldo's Cabinet and a signatory to the Malolos Constitution, was taken prisoner during the Filipino-American War and died in captivity in 1902, when Laurel was only 11 years old.

This led Laurel to work as an altar boy and chorister, later taking on a job as a part-time laborer at the Bureau of Forestry when he turned 18, for the money he needed to continue his studies. He later became a clerk for the Code Committee, where he met Thomas Atkins Street, a future member of the Philippine Supreme Court and who would serve as his mentor.

After graduating from the Manila High School (now Araullo High School) in 1911, he eloped with Paciencia Hidalgo, and enrolled at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where he later earned his doctorate in philosophy. He ranked second in his class of 60 and also had the second highest rating in the 1915 bar examinations.

Laurel later obtained a Licenciado en Jurisprudencia degree from the Escuela de Derecho in Manila while serving as chief of the Executive Bureau's Administration Division. He was later sent to Yale University as a government pensionado in 1919, earning a degree in civil law a year later.

He also took special courses in international law at Oxford University in England and the University of Paris in France, before returning to the Philippines in 1921.

Return to the Philippines and prewar government service

Upon his return to the country in 1921, Laurel was appointed chief of the Executive Bureau on the strength of his academic achievements. A year later, he was promoted to undersecretary of the Interior, and after 10 months was made secretary of the same department by Governor-General Leonard Wood.

Laurel resigned from his post along with the rest of the Filipino members of the Cabinet during the Cabinet Crisis of 1923. It was a sign of protest against Wood's opposition to measures working for Philippine independence by vetoing 16 bills passed by the Philippine Legislature.

After resigning from Wood's cabinet, Laurel opened a law office and taught law in Manila before running for a Senate seat in the 1925 elections. He won but eventually lost to Claro M. Recto in the 1931 elections. He was later elected as the delegate for Batangas in the 1934 Constitutional Convention.

Laurel was considered one of the “Seven Wise Men” of the convention, heading the committee on the Bill of Rights.


Laurel was later appointed by Pres. Manuel L. Quezon as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1935, where he became famous for many landmark decisions, such as on the Nalundasan case in 1940, acquitting future president Ferdinand E. Marcos of murder after finding the prosecution's case contradictory.

Another landmark decision was on the Angara v. Electoral Commission case, where he affirmed the power of the judiciary to interpret the Constitution and to place under judicial review the actions of the other branches of government.

He also authored the decision on the Calalang v. Williams in that same year, which famously defined social justice as the following:

"... neither communism, nor despotism, nor atomism, nor anarchy, but the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces by the State so that justice in its rational and objectively secular conception may at least be approximated. Social justice means the promotion of the welfare of all the people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to ensure economic stability of all the component elements of society, through the maintenance of a proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community, constitutionally, through the exercise of powers underlying the existence of all governments on the time-honored principle of salus populi est supremo lex."

President of the Japanese-sponsored Republic

As World War II broke out in the Pacific on December 8, 1941, Quezon, along with other government officials, fled to Corregidor to establish a Commonwealth government in exile. However, Laurel was ordered to remain in Manila by Quezon because of his close relationship with Japanese officials (even receiving an honorary doctorate from Tokyo University) before the war broke out.

As the Japanese took over the Philippines in January 1942, they created the Philippine Executive Commission to govern the country. First headed by Jorge B. Vargas, former mayor of Manila, the commission included Laurel as commissioner of Justice, and later commissioner of the Interior. Because of this appointment, Laurel was seen as a collaborator with the Japanese.

On June 5, 1943, an assassination attempt was made on Laurel while he was playing golf at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club. He was shot four times with a .45 caliber pistol, the bullets barely missing his heart and liver. His companions at the time, including Far Eastern University founder and president Nicanor Reyes, rushed Laurel to the Philippine General Hospital, where he underwent surgery, which was performed by the chief military surgeon of the Japanese military administration and Filipino doctors. Laurel recovered quickly.

Two suspects were caught and immediately executed by the Kenpeitai, the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army. Japanese authorities presented a third suspect, Feliciano Lizardo, to Laurel, but he said his recollection of the events was not clear. In his 1953 memoir, Laurel said Lizardo, who was by then working as his bodyguard, was indeed among those who attempted to assassinate him. In his book on the Japanese rule in the Philippines, historian Teodoro Agoncillo said a captain with a guerilla unit was among the perpetrators.

Laurel was then elected president of the Japanese-sponsored Republic on September 25, 1943, with Benigno Aquino Sr. as speaker. They were flown to Tokyo along with Vargas, where they were prodded by the Japanese government to declare war on the United States and Great Britain. Laurel refused, saying that the Filipinos would disapprove of it and he would lose his following if he did so. Laurel was sworn into office on October 14, 1943, the same day the Japanese-sponsored Republic was inaugurated. As the Japanese-sponsored government coincided with the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Laurel’s presidency happened at the same time as Quezon’s from 1943 to 1944 and Sergio Osmeña’s from 1944 to 1945.

Laurel instituted a “Filipino first” policy. He had all Japanese guards and advisers removed from Malacañang, saying that if the Japanese were really sincere about independence, they should prove it. He also asserted custody over Manuel Roxas to prevent him from falling into the hands of the Japanese.

However, as the Americans launched the first air raid on Manila and the Japanese threatened to kill more Filipinos if he did not agree, Laurel issued a declaration of war on the United States and Great Britain after consulting with Roxas and other Filipino leaders. There was one condition: no Filipino could be drafted into service under the Japanese military.

Despite this restriction, the pro-Japanese Makabayang Pilipino, or Makapili, was formed by Benigno Ramos, Pio Duran and Gen. Artemio Ricarte in December 1944. During its inauguration at the Legislative Building, Laurel delivered a speech that rebuked its formation.

As the war neared its end, the Japanese ordered Laurel and other government officials to leave for Baguio, from where they were brought to Japan as hostages. After Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers on  August 15, 1945, Laurel dissolved the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic two days later.

He contacted General Douglas MacArthur on September 14, 1945 to inform him of his whereabouts. The next day, Laurel and his family were arrested and imprisoned in Japan by American agents. Without any writing instruments and as the only reading material allowed him was a book called “The World in 2030 AD” given by his son Salvador, Laurel started to write his book “War Memoirs” during his imprisonment.

Return to Manila and post-war politics

Laurel was flown back to Manila by the Americans on July 23, 1946 and was imprisoned in Muntinlupa to face trial for the crime of treasonable collaboration against the United States. Meanwhile, Roxas—whom he had sheltered during the war—was elected president of the Philippines.

Laurel appeared before the People's Court on September 2, 1946, pleading not guilty. His petition for bail was granted on September 14, 1946, and the trial was scheduled for July 1947. This was halted when Roxas issued a proclamation granting amnesty to all political and economic collaborators on January 28, 1947.

Laurel later ran for the presidency under the Nacionalista Party in the elections of 1949, but lost to Elpidio Quirino of the Liberal Party amid charges of massive cheating and fraud.

Despite losing in the presidential race, Laurel won a Senate seat in 1951. During his Senate stint he authored many landmark bills, such as the Rizal bill, which made Jose Rizal's “Noli Me Tangere” and “El filibusterismo” compulsory reading in all universities and colleges. He and Claro M. Recto also authored the bill that established the National Education Board.

He also called for the creation of an economic superbody to formulate and implement the economic and monetary policies of the government, which would later become the forerunner of the present National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

He retired from politics in 1957.

Retirement and death

After retiring from politics, Laurel focused on managing the Lyceum of the Philippines, which he founded on July 7, 1952. During that time, he also served as the president of the Philippine Banking Corporation.

He died on November 6, 1959 at the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Santa Mesa, Manila after suffering a massive heart attack and stroke. He is buried in his hometown of Tanauan, Batangas.

Family life

Several of Laurel’s nine children with his wife, Pacencie,  also entered politics: Jose Bayani “Pepito” II, who was speaker of the House of Representatives and a candidate for vice president in 1957; Salvador “Doy,” who was the Philippines’ vice president from 1986 to 1992; Sotero Cosme “Teroy,” who served in the Senate from 1987 to 1992; and Jose Sotero “Pepe” III, who served as ambassador to Japan from 1966 to 1971. His other children were Mariano Antonio “Maning,” who became president of the Philippine Banking Corporation; Arsenio “Dodjie,” who was the one of the first professional Filipino race car drivers; Natividad “Nene,” Rosenda Pacencia “Rose,” and Potenciana “Nita.”




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