Friday, January 29, 2010
A day at the Laurels
Last Saturday something extraordinary happened in my life. I believe it was destiny that brought me there. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but that specific occasion is certainly one for the books. It may not be that of a big deal to some, but for a probisyano who takes interest in Philippine politics by heart, it was definitely a dream come true.
Late last year, I have written a piece about the late Salvador H. Laurel. I offered his side of the story because I felt that this man deserves a fair treatment before the bar of history. With the death of former President Cory Aquino and the consequent decision of Senator Noy Aquino to run for the presidency, the timing was just perfect. People would surely be talking about the legacy of the former president and again, the role of the obscure Vice-President Laurel could be reexamined for the younger readers. I got frustrated when my article did not generate any comment. I thought, maybe most people don’t seem to care who Doy Laurel was, and more importantly, what he did for the country. I don’t get it, how could anyone possibly think that EDSA is Cory and Cory is EDSA? She was the symbol alright, but without the moving forces that stood behind her amidst this political strife, she was just that…a symbol. Consequently, the February revolution to me, was a direct result of a long arduous process rather than a miracle from heaven. It could not have been possible had the opposition, led by Doy Laurel, remained reticent in the heat of the “protracted” political struggle. Practically alone in the wilderness, Doy stirred up the emotions of the people. Doy kept the flame burning so to speak. He valiantly fought dictatorial rule using all possible and “legal” means to help sustain the dissent and anger of the people against the rampant injustices and oppression. Never Again, was his battlecry! Now, could this be a hoax or perhaps an overstatement? I don’t think so. These are facts supported by history writers and scholars. To look the other way around just because you happen to be a devout believer of Ninoy and Cory, is outright preposterous and a narrow minded look at history. And so that article proved to be useless for quite sometime. For the longest time, that article remained unread, untouched and archived until I received an email from a person named Steve Bascos.
Steve works as staff for special projects of Madame Celia Diaz-Laurel, widow of the late Vice-president, for more than ten years now. In his email, he asked permission to re-post my article in the official website of Doy Laurel. At first I didn’t buy it. As a fledgling writer, I highly value exclusivity in all of my writings… for the simple reason that even up to this very moment, I’ve got little confidence on my written rhetoric. However, after a few exchanges, Steve finally told me that Madame Celia liked my article. My eyes suddenly grew bigger as I read the e-mail. All I could mutter was, “Is this for real?” Then a follow up, “By Celia, he meant Celia Diaz-Laurel?” My initial response was expected because Madame Celia is not only the dutiful wife of Doy but she also happens to be the author of Doy’s coffee table biography. All of a sudden, I suddenly felt edgy. I was worried that I wasn’t able to deliver Doy’s side of the story with utmost accuracy. How could this be? But it appears that Steve was telling the truth. There is indeed an official website under construction in honor of the forgotten statesman. Steve further informed me that I just earned a ticket to visit the Laurel mansion in Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong. I could not believe what I have just read. And so, my slightly filled calendar for the month was all suddenly marked as cancelled, as if always welcoming a new reminder: VISIT TO THE LAURELS. And so, the day did actually came.
“Grand old man from Batangas,” Jose P. Laurel. I was told that some of the most important political decisions, be it affecting the country or Batangas, were made within the confines of the mansion. As we were approaching the main entrance of the compound, I could see an imposing 15-foot tall gate with an arbor inscribed words on top of it which reads, “Villa Paciencia.” Old balete and royal palm trees, bare witnesses to the stories of the past surround the rustic mansion. Steve then escorted me inside the mansion where supporters of Nacionalista presidential candidate were holding a luncheon meeting. At our designated table, I was surrounded by Manny Villar’s high school classmates. These not so old fellows entertained me in so many ways. Their insights on politics, business and life in general made me forget the unfamiliar and not so comfortable moment I had. They rescued me from social vultures. (By the way, I love talking to older people on social gatherings which happens not too often.)
Sitting on the left side of our table was Lorenzo Diaz Laurel, son of Doy Laurel. Larry, as friends would call him, has certainly the looks and the beguiling smile of his old man. After a brief introduction from Steve, Larry whispered to me and said, “Brod, thank you for the kind words you said about my dad.” To which I replied almost stuttering, “Oh no Larry, the Filipino people should thank your dad. We owe him a lot.” Larry nodded with a smile. Honestly, I was about to really get emotional by then. I felt Doy was the one talking to me in the person of Larry. That specific moment, I would like to believe that it was destiny taking its course. And after getting a signal from Steve, telling me it is time to go, I know it was the moment I have been waiting all day. I took no time to bid goodbye to my new found friends and let go of my brewed coffee.
Doy Laurel’s house is not far from “Villa Pacencia.” Unmindful of the endless chitchat of Larry, Steve and Miriam, this stranger was busy savoring the every little step towards what I really came for that day. And it was not too long till I found myself standing in front of the house…in flesh and bone. As soon as I stepped on the footsteps of the door, I began to imagine the faces of key political players who were Doy’s frequent visitors in this mansion. The moment I touched the door knob, I wondered if Ferdinand Marcos too touched it. My mind was really in a full circle. All these and more running in my head, I wasted no time and asked Steve to take me to Doy’s study room, as in now na! Steve, like an obedient soldier, immediately complied. Believe me, the crisp study room is far more beautiful than what you see in Doy’s official website. The pictures and paintings accentuate the wide collection of Doy. There, his book collection. I was nailed for a while. I could still not believe all of these are happening. As a book enthusiast myself, I was practically overwhelmed by his collection. His wide variety of interest undoubtedly depicts the legal scholar that he was. I saw a handful of hard-to-find Filipiniana books in his collection like Mijares’ Conjugal Dictatorship, Burton’s Impossible Dream, Ninoy Aquino’s Testament from the Prison Cell and a host of others. As I observed the entire room, it made me remember a remarkable passage from Doy’s book that struck me up to this very day as unbelievable. To all those uninformed, it was in that very room where Doy asked Cory if she intends to run for the presidency for the upcoming snap elections. Cory, as history has recorded, refused to give a definite answer. Days later, Cory eventually announced her decision to challenge President Marcos. Soon negotiations were in progress coming from both camps. Cory would sometimes deploy her emissaries to convince Doy to slide down in order to have a solid opposition. Doy’s study room, far from the prying eyes of the public, has been a living witness to all these events. If only the walls could talk as they say, history would have changed its course. I was practically in the midst of picturing all these events when Larry pulled me back to present. It was easy to pull me back…simple words such as “I saw it all.” Being the unofficial liason officer of his father during those trying times, Larry threshed out answers for the questions which are completely left out by fence sitting scholars of history. Candidly, the scenario is more like a documentary video where I get to play the role of Probe’s Che-che Lazaro, the male version, I suppose. And I would entitle said documentary, EDSA Betrayed!
Overwhelming the stories are, I, out of desperation, uttered, “Sana buhay pa si sir Doy.” Steve suddenly made a gesture pointing to a huge ancestral-type jar displayed near the window. Yes, it was Doy’s final destination…the urn which homes the ashes of the honorable statesman who could have been the 11th President of the Republic. Realizing that I was standing right in front of a great Filipino who brought a new understanding to the words, “Ang Bayan Higit sa Lahat.” Inside that urn, I said to myself, lay the remains of a man who, like his great father, lived his life for the sake of his country and his people.
I left the study room with my spirit overflowing with a new sense of patriotism. Friends have encouraged me to make money out of my writings. Or try to submit my articles in newspapers so that I may be able to gain proper recognition. Now I say to them, is this not a proper recognition? Certainly, I think it is, at least by my standards.
To dear Chris, best wishes…I know Doy will want you to have this book. It was too much, way too much. The experience was already too unbearable for this humble follower of her husband. And so I thought, ok Pey, end of your dream. Go home. But before reality even bit me, I was lured to utopia again when I heard Madame Celia asked Steve to accompany me to the archive. At the end of the day, while going back to my reality, I was embracing a dozen of books mostly authored by no less than Doy Laurel himself. I walked out of Doy's mansion having more pride in myself than ever before. Thank you, Steve, Larry and Madame Celia… till we meet again.