Doy Laurel’s maiden speech before the Senate, delivered on March 6, 1968, a full four years preceding martial law, set the tone for his upcoming political battles that gave his audience glimmerings of the future leader he could be. His historic fight, however, took off many years later when he led the active Opposition at the tail-end of the Marcos regime. Titled “Crisis of Confidence,” the greenhorn senator charged all government officials, including the top man in the Palace, to “change or be changed” or else reap “the gathering whirlwind of a nation’s wrath.” That searing indictment was best captured in the concluding lines of Doy Laurel’s political prose:
If we love our country, Mr. President, we will act now. Our margin of time for substantive and efficient reforms– for an “amendment” of our lives– is fast narrowing with every strike of History’s pauseless clock, with every tick off each “unforgiving minute,” I repeat– the hour is late, and much needs to be done. Let us make haste, lest we reap, from our own indifference, the gathering whirlwind of a nation’s wrath…
The reaction was swift in the Malacañang Palace. The President was upset by the speech, but it was the First Lady who bore the brunt of the Batangueño knives thrown at the Malacañang. Apparently, Doy’s idealistic peroration, according to inside sources, threw the First Lady into a tantrum. “I told you so,” she bluntly told the president. “I warned you that fellow would be troublesome.” But Doy Laurel would have none of it — partisan politics ends where national interest begins. That was his politics. “Let me follow Lincoln, whose advice was to stand with anyone when he is right and to part from him when he is wrong,” Doy sniffed, shortly after Senate President Gil Puyat informed him that the President was not particularly pleased with his jabs in the podium.
By quirk of circumstance, when President Marcos formally took the draconian step on September 21, 1972, Senator Laurel was 10,000 miles away renegotiating the Laurel-Langley Agreement in Washington. When he learned that President Marcos imposed martial rule, padlocked Congress and imprisoned his childhood buddy Ninoy Aquino, Senator Laurel was deeply perturbed. But the legal scholar that he was, Doy begged off and stayed in the United States for a while hoping to do something useful – perhaps, write a book on martial law, Philippine-style, he thought. In a matter of days, he found himself scurrying into the office of his old Yale mentor, Professor Myres S. McDougal, to consult about martial rule, then an esoteric legal concept in Philippine law and jurisprudence. Professor McDougal readily obliged and introduced him to Professor Joe Bishop, the foremost authority on martial law in Yale. The professor gave him a list of tomes to read on the subject. “I started reading those books, taking down notes,” Doy Laurel recalled in his interview with writer Nick Joaquin, “I wanted to clarify what martial law was all about, its fundamental purpose, concept, and application. What Marcos could legally do– and not do under martial law.”
But somehow, aside from the brilliant streaks of patriotism rooted from his forefathers, Doy was a proud Batangueño whose culture is largely a switchblade culture with balled fist and the balisong. Certainly, Doy would never run away from a fight, and he would rather die fighting than cowed into submission– especially so when the enemy was a tyrant. “I have to go home. The fight is not here, the fight is there,” Doy reasoned, amid endless appeals from his paisanos prodding him to lead the opposition against the Marcos dictatorship in the States. But Doy Laurel had made up his mind; he knew that his place was in the frontiers of the political battlefield, and not elsewhere. “My place is where the fight is,” Doy concluded with tears welling in his eyes. At that very moment, his paisanos understood what he meant, and knew that it was impossible to stop him. And so despite rumors going around that he was on the list of biggies to be arrested, Doy began his journey home.
Crossing the Rubicon
Senator Doy Laurel, along with his beautiful wife Celia, finally set foot in Manila on December 10, 1972. Thinking to set things right, Doy prepared for the worst and put everything he needed on his briefcase should he be arrested and detained in Fort Bonifacio that day. But things didn’t turn out that way. Undersecretary Manny Salientes, quondam aide-de-camp of his father, met them at the airport and informed Doy that President Marcos would want to see him right away.
There was, of course, a slippery Marcosian brilliance to the move. And so like many Filipinos at that time, including the best and the brightest of their generation who could no longer stand the mindless oligarchic (dis)order under the old society, the rampant criminality and burgeoning insurgency problems, the massive graft and corruption in government, Doy Laurel too gave Marcos the benefit of the doubt—but only for the nonce. “I say to you even as I am determined to back up President Marcos in his efforts to uplift our race,” wailed the ex-Senator, in a speech he delivered in the early part of martial rule. “So, too, am I equally resolved to oppose him, with all the vigor and courage that I can summon, the moment I am convinced that these are but the devices of a despot and the delusions of a demagogue,” – a strong declaration he secured by even a stronger oath: “This is a promise I make to you on the bones of my departed father.”
It is safe to conclude that the schism was set out early on. And as one story is oft-told, it was the Old Man Laurel who saved the young Marcos from being clapped in the calaboose for murder. (And, as related above, it was Speaker Laurel who welcomed Marcos into the NP.) Little wonder that Marcos showed deferential attitude toward the Laurels from day one and didn’t dare fight them openly, except in politics. In retrospect, Doy Laurel could have feathered his own nest under martial rule and played the role of a bootlicker but that wasn’t just his style. He was destined to do great things for the country. Whatever the case, Doy Laurel seemed to have played his cards rather well and took advantage of this so-called “debt of gratitude,” and used it to pound the Marcos dictatorship to the hilt.
(Excerpts from UNIDO: The Political Party that Brought Marcos Down)
Burton, Sandra. Impossible Dream: The Marcoses, the Aquinos, and the Unfinished Revolution. New York: Warner Books, 1989
Joaquin, Nick. Doy Laurel in Profile: A Philippine Political Odyssey. Makati: Lahi, 1985 (Reprinted 2012)
Komisar, Lucy. Corazon Aquino: The Story of a Revolution. New York: George Braziller, 1987.
Marcos, Ferdinand E. The Politics of Transition. Manila: 1978
Laurel, Salvador H. Sworn to Serve. Makati: Salvador H. Laurel: 1990
Laurel, Celia Diaz. Doy. Makati: Celia Diaz Laurel: 2007
Thompson, Mark R. The Anti-Marcos Struggle. Quezon City: New Day, 1996
Interviews by the Author:
Adaza, Homobono. Former governor, Misamis Oriental; former assemblyman, Batasan Pambansa; president, Mindanao Alliance. Quezon City, June 2016
Arrieta, Abundio, Marbella, Winston, Monico, Jacob, Jose Oliveros, Jose. Interview by the author, electronic recording, Makati. Philippines. September 2014