It is said that in the history of revolutions, it is always the masses who does the dying and fighting; but it does not necessarily follow that it is their interest that are advanced. The nation’s victory in EDSA would not have been attained had the people opted to stay home during those perilous days instead of offering their bodies as shield against the tanks and guns of Marcos’ loyal henchman, General Fabian Ver. It would then be pointless to speculate who is the real catalyst that propelled the February revolution, whether Ninoy Aquino whose dramatic death inspired Filipinos to rally against Marcos, Cory Aquino the simple housewife turned First Woman President of the Philippines, perhaps Minister Enrile and General Ramos who led a military revolt that restored anew the people’s faith in the Armed Forces. Regardless of their contributions, neither one of them could have done it without the other, let alone the support of the people.
The People Power revolution that finally put an end to the Marcos dictatorship should not be viewed in a vacuum. I’ve written elsewhere that except for the nuns and priests posturing as tank stoppers, the February revolution was far from being miraculous but rather a direct result of a protracted struggle that started years before the death of Ninoy or the fall of President Marcos. As such, more than Cory Aquino, there are a handful of personalities, leaders in their own fashion during the anti-Marcos struggle who are left out from the history books and TV documentaries about EDSA. The EDSA revolt after all is not just about Cory Aquino. It is also about Doy Laurel.
Who really is Doy Laurel?
In our contemporary history, Salvador H. Laurel is neither remembered as an advocate of justice; nor an outstanding senator of the republic; nor an opposition leader who was instrumental in the dismantlement of martial rule. For all his laudable contributions and impeccable record as a public servant, Doy Laurel has been treated unfairly by history. Sadly, all that people could remember about Doy Laurel is that he was ostensibly Cory Aquino’s obscure spare tire. What people seem to forget is Doy Laurel’s pivotal role as the vanguard of a divided Opposition during the senescent years of martial rule. If it were not for Doy Laurel, history could have taken a different course. The February Revolution would surely be an impossible dream had the Opposition, headed by Doy Laurel, cowed down by an oppressive regime that terrorized the nation for a long time. I’m sure no one can dispute the fact that Doy Laurel, like many courageous Filipinos at that time, fearlessly fought and spoke for the people. While most Opposition figures, mainly from the Liberal Party opted for boycott, Doy Laurel and his supporters took a different path by participating in the elections held under the Marcos regime. Soon Doy Laurel shattered the myth that the KBL, the monolithic political machine of the regime, was politically invincible. And when faced with an unprecedented dilemma, Doy Laurel chose for the restoration of freedom over dreams and personal ambition. Ang Bayan Higit sa Lahat, a campaign slogan often seen as chimerical patriotic shout-out had finally become a reality in Philippine politics. Doy Laurel by setting-aside his dreams to give way to Corazon Aquino as the Opposition’s presidential candidate exemplified the marks of a true statesman. Unfortunately, historical firebrands downplayed and even spurned at his role and participation, first as an Opposition leader and later as Vice-President under the Cory administration. Who is Salvador “Doy” Laurel really, and what significance does his name have in our contemporary history? It is for this reason that I would like to revisit the legacy of a man whom I personally consider among the political titans of Philippine politics.
Salvador Hidalgo Laurel undoubtedly served his country with honour and distinction. For decades, Doy spent almost half of his life in public service. As a tenacious public servant, he occupied top-echelon positions in government that tested his resolve as a leader one way or another. He became Vice president (1986-1992), Senator (1967-1972), Assemblyman (1978-1983), Prime Minister (February-March 1986), Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1987) and Chairman of Philippine Centennial Commission (1996-1999). A product of the University of the Philippines College of Law with a Master of Laws and a Doctorate degree in Juridical Science from Yale, Doy was a brilliant law practitioner before he took plunge in politics. Although ostensibly coming from an affluent political family, Doy is without a doubt a chip of the old block. Like his esteemed father who championed social justice in his days, Doy likewise exhibited a strong sense of compassion for the oppressed. It was for this reason that even as young lawyer, Doy committed himself to help the poor and the needy. He made sure that he would handle pro bono cases for destitute but deserving clients. In a short span of time, the young barrister’s law office was already flooded with cases and he could only do so much to help them. Through his connections in the legal circle, Doy handpicked top-calibre lawyers to aid him in his advocacy. Until finally in 1967, Doy founded the Citizens’ Legal Aid Society of the Philippines or CLASP, a legal aid organization designed to render free legal assistance to indigent litigants. CLASP eventually became the pioneer legal aid organization in the history of the Philippine justice system. For the record, long before the nascent of similar legal aid groups such as Pepe Diokno’s FLAG and Rene Saguisag’s MABINI, it was Salvador H. Laurel who started it all.
Advocacy and the road to politics
Politics beckoned in the late 60s. In his first attempt at politics, Doy Laurel emerged as one of the frontrunners in the 1967 senatorial elections making him the youngest Nacionalista to be elected as senator. It was during his stint in the pre-martial law Senate that Doy Laurel found a more effective platform to push his unrelenting crusade. Because of the wealth of experience he had gained as “Mr Public Defender”, Senator Doy Laurel knew so well that the criminal justice system was inadequate to address the plight of the poor. True to form, the novice Senator burned the midnight oil so to speak to come up with bills that would fulfil the campaign promises he made to the people ─ justice for the poor. Those bills were later passed and signed into law by then President Ferdinand Marcos that would later become known as the five (5) “Justice for the Poor Laws” (a.k.a. Laurel Laws). His efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1976 Doy Laurel gained international recognition when the International Bar Association awarded him as the “Most Outstanding Legal Aid Lawyer of the World,” a feat which to this day remains unsurpassed for any Filipino lawyer.
A ‘tragic’ turning point
On August 21, 1983, Senator Ninoy Aquino, Marcos’ fiercest critic and long-time political nemesis, was finally returning home after three years in exile. The pompous Senator Aquino had two things in mind upon his return: persuade the ailing dictator to step down and to help restore freedom and democracy in the country before it’s too late. Surely Marcos would want his place in history secured, Ninoy Aquino must have thought. The much awaited homecoming turned out to be a tragedy and a turning point in Philippine history. As Ninoy Aquino alighted from the plane, he was gunned down in broad daylight by one of the AVSECOM guards who was supposed to escort him off the plane. Anger swept the land as the nation stood in shock, totally speechless. As the news of Ninoy’s brutal killing spread like wildfire, people from all walks of life trooped to the streets wildly accusing Marcos, his narcissistic wife Imelda, and the praetorian-like general, Fabian Ver as the real culprits. Obviously, the shots fired at Tarmac were heard all over the world illuminating the brutality of martial rule in the Philippines. President Marcos instantly took offense and downplayed the assassination, pointing his fingers to the communists. Sordid attempts were made by the regime to soften the impact of Ninoy’s assassination but to no avail. In what appears to be the longest funeral procession in recorded history, more than 2 million outraged Filipinos lined the streets, an event that would ultimately precipitate the fall of Marcos in the years to come.
The political awakening
Cowards no more! The death of Ninoy Aquino inspired more and more people to demonstrate against the regime. Gone are the days when people would simply remain apathetic and docile in the midst of glaring injustices. This time the nation felt that the militarized regime had really crossed the line. Fed up with President Marcos’ abuse of power, even simple minded Filipinos, the moderates and the middle-class were now active participants of the so-called “parliament of the streets.” This dramatic turn of events, however did not force Marcos to relinquish power easily. Although martial law was officially lifted as early as 1981, Marcos continued to exercise authoritarian powers under the 1973 Constitution. There is, however, one important aspect that began in mid-70s up to the time martial law was lifted. During this period, President Marcos was softening his grip by resuming elections, giving enough room for the opposition to squeeze. Some anti-Marcos politicians welcomed these developments and saw an opportunity to form a united front, others simply remain sceptical. With the 1984 legislative elections fast approaching, it would seem that this is the best time to test the mandate of Marcos’s candidates from KBL, and indirectly that of Marcos himself.
All is not well for the opposition. By and large, anti-Marcos politicians lack unity and decisiveness. Once again, they were divided on the issue of whether to participate in the 1984 legislative elections. The same issue surfaced during the 1981 legislative elections when a faction of the Liberal Party, the traditional pre-martial law opposition, chose to join the communist-led boycott. It is here where Salvador H. Laurel, one of the rising opposition leaders, outshone traditional opposition figures who were bent on supporting the communists as the best, and perhaps the only pragmatic way to remove Marcos from power. Doy Laurel on the other hand was resolute and in fact consistent with his stance even in later years that change can only be attained by constitutional or legal route. He always believed that even in the worse of circumstances, the best way to topple President Marcos is through elections. It is a fact that in 1978 Doy Laurel, a dyed-in-the-wool Nacionalista, ran under the banner of KBL and won a seat in Batasan. This decision to join Marcos’s bandwagon offered a blanket of opportunity for Doy Laurel to criticize Marcos with impunity in the halls of Congress. The position taken by Doy Laurel had certainly reached Malacanang that ultimately ended with a split between erstwhile fair-weathered allies: the Laurels and Marcos.
To unify disgruntled anti-Marcos politicians within the KBL, Doy Laurel spearheaded the formation of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization or UNIDO. Soon the Laurel-led opposition gained its momentum. UNIDO became a formidable political machine representing various opposition parties composed of quondam Nacionalistas and Liberals, Raul Manglapus’ National Union of Christian Democrats and Nene Pimentel’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan. His tremendous and tedious efforts to unify the opposition against the Marcos-controlled Batasan Pambansa proved to be successful when majority of UNIDO candidates won in the 1984 legislative elections. The opposition then seized this victory to challenge the mandate of President Marcos in a presidential election.
Ever conscious of his image as a benevolent dictator in the prying eyes of the international community, President Marcos had no choice but to seek for a fresh mandate from the people. And the only way to this, as the opposition would like to believe, was to call for a snap election. But who could possibly run much less win, against the incumbent President Marcos? To many, Doy Laurel was the logical candidate for the opposition following UNIDO’s victory during the 1984 legislative elections. Some quarters though believed that Cory Aquino, owing to her popularity as the widow of a slain martyr, was the right candidate to defeat President Marcos in the polls. Nonetheless, Cory kept her silence amid the overwhelming clamour pushing her to run for the presidency in the event President Marcos calls a snap election. Meanwhile, Doy Laurel, the driving force of the opposition, wasted no time and moved quickly to unify anti-Marcos camps. Inside UNIDO, the consensus was unanimous; Doy Laurel would be the opposition’s standard bearer. However, before accepting any nomination from UNIDO, Doy wanted to make sure that no other presidential candidate would run outside of UNIDO. He was convinced that, given the peculiar circumstances at that time, the opposition could never risk of having two presidential candidates for the opposition bloc. He feared that with two presidential candidates, the end result would be catastrophic for they would split the vote of the opposition and consequently lose the election. President Marcos, with all government powers and resources at his disposal, could simply outspent and smash them in the polls all too quickly. Clearly, the overriding objective then was for the opposition to have a single candidate backed up by a potent political machine like UNIDO.
Despite rumours that Cory Aquino might consider running for the presidency, Doy wanted a confirmation straight from the horse’s mouth. And he did. To avert any possibility of a divided opposition, Doy cautioned Cory that even with a single opposition candidate the chances of the dominant opposition against the incumbent were tenuous. Cory then assured Doy “more than a dozen times” that she would never seek nor accept any nomination to run for the presidency. Unbeknownst to Senator Doy, that false assurance made by Cory was only the first among the series of reneged promises which will adversely rock his political career years after. In a convention which was widely considered as the most colorful nominating convention in contemporary Philippine political history, Doy Laurel was nominated as UNIDO’s presidential candidate. To prove her point, Cory Aquino even made an appearance and delivered a speech endorsing Doy Laurel’s candidacy. Expectedly, to reassure the American government of domestic political and economic stability, President Marcos with his usual bravado announced on November 3, 1985 via American television that he was conceding to the opposition’s call. He desperately announced that snap elections will be held on February 7, 1986.
Senator Doy’s high hopes to become the opposition’s leading candidate in the 1986 snap election soon waned. Cory had a change of heart. Two days after President Marcos announced the date of the snap election, Cory suddenly heard the voice of God while praying at the Pink Sisters Convent. Out of the blue, Cory announced her divine anointment from above and offered herself for the presidency but on one condition—a million of signatures. The fact of the matter is, after the blatant assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino, the Aquino family and the opposition continued to inflame the hearts and minds of the people by enhancing the martyr’s image. Anti-Marcos rallies were soon everywhere. Most of the time, Cory Aquino would deliver hortatory speeches narrating how her husband suffered in the hands of a repressive dictator. Overnight, from just a plain housewife Cory Aquino became the rallying symbol and catalyst for anti-Marcos demonstrations all over the country. Obviously, it did not take too long for Don Chino Roces to gather the required number of signatures that would convince Cory that she was the duly anointed one.
Meanwhile, Doy Laurel was already on the thick of his campaign as the opposition’s standard bearer under UNIDO. As soon as he heard the news, he immediately went out of his way to meet Cory in her residence at Times Street. Doy sincerely tried to dissuade Cory from running. He told her that she should not run and instead remain as the people’s symbol against the perceived forces of evil. “Let me do the fighting and take the blows for you,” said Doy but Cory said nothing. Fearing the Marcos government would soon collapse with no definite opposition candidate yet, the Church in the person of Cardinal Sin decided to intervene and mediate between Doy and Cory. Initially, Cardinal Sin never asked anyone of them to withdraw from the race. He warned them however, that should both of them run for the presidency the people will be sad because surely, both of them will lose. In a meeting held at Puyat’s residence in Quezon City, Cory finally revealed her true intention. Apparently, she was not really interested in running the government. All she really wanted was to be a mere instrument or symbol to remove the ailing dictator and restore democracy. She then offered Doy the Prime Ministership and promised to step down after two years or so. In addition, Cory offered “thirty percent (30%) of the Cabinet to Doy and the remaining seventy percent to be appointed after prior consultation between them.” Present during this meeting were, Doy’s elder brother Senator Sotero Laurel, Cory’s daughter Ballsy and the late Vicente Puyat. Based on Doy Laurel’s undisputed account, the agreement was reduced in writing and Cory initialled them item by item “on the left margin of the document.” Doy, believing that he had a better right to be the opposition’s presidential bet, simply asked for more time to decide.
Doy’s finest hour
Indeed, it was perhaps the hardest and the most crucial decision that Doy Laurel could ever make during his lifetime as a public servant. Alone in a beach house, Doy wrestled with questions which would eventually determine his decision to step down in favor of Cory: I knew Ninoy well. His word was good. But I did not know Cory well enough. Could I trust her? Would her word be good as Ninoy’s? Or was she a mere instrument of her family interests and her hidden advisers? More importantly, Doy remembered the sacrifices of his esteemed father, the late President Jose P. Laurel, when he stepped aside in favour of the amiable Ramon Magsaysay against President Quirino whose administration had been accused of massive corruption. Doy pondered: what would my father do if he were in my place? How would he resolve this dilemma?
The following morning after his brief sojourn at Matabungkay beach house, Doy went back to Manila to meet Cory. In that meeting, Doy lay down his cards on the table. He told Cory that he had decided to give way to her only if she would run under the dominant opposition party, UNIDO. But proud Cory sensed sinister motives with Doy’s proposal. She declined to run under UNIDO! These turn of events left Doy with no other choice but to run. In his statement before the press, Doy passionately exclaimed, “I can sacrifice myself. I can sacrifice the presidency. But I cannot sacrifice the people who have suffered so much and worked so hard all these years, risking life, liberty, even honor, to put up the political machine that is now capable of toppling the Marcos dictatorship.” On the same day, Doy Laurel was practically mobbed by his supporters as he filed his certificate of candidacy with COMELEC as UNIDO’s standard bearer.
The public euphoria however was ephemeral. Cory, after consulting with her hidden advisers, changed her mind. Now, she would be willing to run under the aegis of UNIDO. She further reinstated her proposal that she will be a mere ceremonial president in the event they will win the elections. In a matter of time, both camps finalized their agreement. In Doy’s definitive account what transpired on that meeting was the following conversation:
“Cory then turned into my two brothers and said, “i-formalize na ninyo and ating pinagkasunduan. But kuya Pito replied, Hindi na kailangan i-formalize pa iyan. Lalong masakit lamang kapag hindi tinupad. I reminded Cory that she already initialed all the items we had agreed upon on a piece of paper at the residence of Teng Puyat. Maliwanag na maliwanag na naman an gating pinagkasunduan. Ang mahala’y and nilalaman ng puso.’”
Later that day before midnight, Cory and Doy went to the COMELEC and filed their respective certificates of candidacy as the official candidates of UNIDO.
After the February revolution, Cory and Doy were catapulted to power as president and vice president respectively. Whether Cory and Doy truly won the snap elections still remains a disputed question to this very day. Truth be told that the 1986 snap elections had been clearly superseded by virtue of the People Power revolution. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that none of Cory’s supposed pre-election promises to Doy were ever implemented. In less than a month after the EDSA People Power revolution, Cory Aquino “unilaterally” abolished the 1973 Constitution and installed a revolutionary government via Proclamation No. 3. From the legal standpoint, although the snap elections were held under the auspices of the 1973 (Marcos) Constitution, Cory and Doy however, finished the electoral race outside of it. Consequently with the abolition of the 1973 Constitution, the Batasan, the Supreme Court and all national (including the Prime Ministership) and local positions were likewise abolished. For a time and prior to the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, Cory Aquino wielded extraordinary powers. Doy Laurel, Cory’s Vice-President maintained that he was never consulted nor made to participate in any of the decision-making process leading to the establishment of a revolutionary government. Vice-President Doy Laurel, despite his brilliance and not to mention, the sacrifices he made for the country, was clearly out shadowed by Cory Aquino’s cordon sanitaire. To make matters even worse, Vice president Laurel had undeservingly earned the sobriquet of being a “wimp” under the Aquino administration. Up to his dying day, Vice president Doy Laurel maintained that Cory Aquino reneged on her promises to share power with him if they win the election. Cory Aquino on the other hand believed that the revolutionary nature of her rise to power had given her direct mandate to rule. “Whatever happened to all those promises you made, Cory?" asked Doy. Cory then gave a halting reply, “I was told…that the EDSA revolution…erased all those promises.”
SOURCES FROM CLARO ENRIQUE D. BONOAN'S MINI LIBRARY:
1.Doy Laurel by Celia Diaz-Laurel
2.Niether Trumpets Nor Drums by Salvador H. Laurel
3.The Anti-Marcos Struggle by Mark Thompson
4.Impossible Dream by Sandra Burton
5.Dictatorship and Revolution by Roberto Tiglao et.al.