Thursday, December 4, 2014

I have a dream

I had a dream. Standing before a sharp-eyed audience, I incessantly pound on my case to drive at my point. Clad in my favorite white barong, I was an epitome of excellence in the court room.

Suddenly, I was awakened by the thud of two children, calling me “Dad.”

Yes, I may be too old for those “dreams,” but I still have that dream.

Dreams are useless if they do not come alive. At some point, they have to strike a chord in our system; relate to our own experiences and make them work to finally rouse meaning in our lives.

But behind any enduring dreamer are inspirations and icons with strong vision and courage. Unexplainably, these people drive us to realize our aspirations with meaning and mission. Here are two of my inspirations, “the gods” of my ideals.

Before they became the man that they are,—or long before politics complicated their lives— Messrs. Ferdinand E. Marcos and Salvador H. Laurel are among the best and the brightest barristers in their time.

Ferdinand E. Marcos

It was said that the young Ferdinand Marcos, a practicing attorney in the 50s, was quite a dresser appearing in court in suit and tie. Accompanied by a voice that often nestled on the mountain top, the young lawyer could ferret out the truth from any witness during cross-examination. This prowess was put to test when he himself was put on trial.

Murder at dusk

The year was 1935. Mariano Marcos, Ferdinand’s father, had been twice a congressman. In his third attempt to regain his lost congressional seat, Marcos was bitterly defeated by his perennial rival, Julio Nalundasan. Supporters of Nalundasan, however, celebrated his victory by holding a mock funeral through the cobbled streets of Batac Ilocos Norte; the empty coffin was supposed to symbolize the political demise of the older Marcos. Three nights after, while brushing his teeth at the window, Nalundasan was shot between the eyes. Young Ferdinand was one of the main suspects.

Then a brainy law student at UP, Ferdinand Marcos was subsequently arrested and charged for murder. After the trial, Marcos was convicted by the lower court under purely circumstantial evidence. The case reached the Supreme Court, when he was getting ready for the bar examinations. Clapped in a dark calaboose, the young Marcos crammed for the bar seemingly unperturbed of the uncertainties of his fate. But as it was, he nailed the test, garnering an unprecedented high score on record.

Still and all, Marcos’s plight caught the public imagination. Overnight, he became both an underdog and celebrity — a status which gained added dimension when he was acquitted on appeal by the Supreme Court, because of his own brilliant defense. Although he was not yet a full-pledge lawyer at the time of his acquittal, Philippine Free Press plastered his photograph on its cover with a caption, “Lawyer of the Year.” He was only twenty- three years old.

Many years later, another brilliant lawyer, a dreamer from Batangas, will carve his name in history.

Doy Laurel—Mr. Public Defender

“If every lawyer in the country would only handle one case for an aggrieved litigant that would go a long way in restoring the faith of the poor in the administration of justice,” said Doy Laurel, the dashing dare-devil lawyer who crashed the headlines in the 1960s by defending the poor and the underprivileged against police brutality.

Doy Laurel—highly educated with a law degree from UP and a doctoral degree from Yale— was no ordinary lawyer in his time when he began to do pro bono work. He had already an established reputation as a trial lawyer before he was fished out of his lucrative corporate practice. Readings later revealed that Doy’s advocacy started with the tragic murder of a man named Parisio Tayag.

Murder at high noon

Tayag was a poor jeepney driver. One day he got involved in a minor traffic accident. The traffic policeman tried to shake him down for three hundred pesos. Tayag had only thirty pesos which he offered to the policeman. The cop did not cave in. One word led to another. The policeman drew his gun while Tayag drew a knife but fled when the policeman aimed at him. A chase ensued. The policeman was joined by five other policemen.

They eventually cornered Tayag in the town plaza and shot him dead. It was high noon.

It was tragic enough when their father died in vain. But it became worse when their mother, pregnant with her sixth child, lost her baby and her mind. Orphaned and grief-stricken, Tayag’s children suffered in silence as the prospect of justice seemed far-fetched. But Doy Laurel took the cudgels for them and rendered his services—pro bono— as their private counsel. He went all the way to Bataan to personally handle the case from preliminary investigation up to the trial. He got them all convicted fair and square.

Thus began the swirl of circumstance that would lure him to establish a national organization —The Citizens Legal Aid Society of the Philippines (CLASP)— to give free legal service to the poor, the first in the country, the mother of what we now call the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). And for this, Doy Laurel earned the moniker as “Mr. Public Defender” and gained international recognition as an outstanding lawyer in the field of legal aid.

Doy Laurel had an unparalleled career. Although his name is now part of the political lexicon being one of the colorful eminentos of EDSA, history will nonetheless place him among the great barristers of our time.

Unknowingly, decades later, in a spun of fate, Messrs. Marcos and Laurel’s paths will cross in the same political arena- people now unmindful of their tragic past or their excellent legal recourses. Unfortunately, until now, history’s pendulum continues to sway away from these legal eagles. As a silent observer and dreamer, I won’t. I will continue to fly and dream on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Do you know Cesar C. Climaco?

“Reserba uno de ese para comigo (Reserve one of these for me),” he jokingly said upon seeing the coffins displayed in a funeral home after inspecting the scene of a fire just across the street. For his constituents, there was nothing unusual with his demeanour on that fateful morning as he would always love to crack jokes, playing pranks on people, and guffaw like a clown even on the face of many adversities.

Yet, for all his supposed uncanny ways, he was a spellbinder and an insightful sage who minces no words when corruption in government was in the saddle. In a time where even lowly men in uniform strutted like generals and generals like congressmen, he would relentlessly pounce on them and denounce each abuse openly.

But of all his many endowments, the most admirable and effective was his sense of humour. This gift was all too clearly manifested in his black-on-orange felt paper sign in front of his office desk that reads: “I’m not a dirty old man; I’m a sexy senior citizen.” Thus equipped, this once celebrated clown of the anti-Marcos Opposition would humour anyone -- even the strongman in Malacańang to no exception− on the blatant realities of life under a tyrannical regime.

Murder in broad daylight

At 10:30 a.m. on November 14, 1984, however, that lasting cruel joke as the song goes, was on him. Moments after leaving the funeral home, he boarded his Honda blue motorcycle and slowly waded through the traffic. Unknowingly, lurking behind him was a man in denim pants and blue checked shirt, tasked to stealthily walked up to him, and fire at him in close range. Bang! As quick as the fatal bullet, the lone gunman fled, almost leisurely amongst the milling crowd, leaving the 68-year-old victim not even a hint of life.

As any assassination movie, we suspect, if not assume that his enemies must have thought they had the last laugh, a one big laugh. But I beg to laugh it off too.

Who is Cesar C. Climaco?

Cesar Cortes Climaco is a modern-day hero; I mention this fact not only with pride as a fellow Chavacano but, more importantly, to highlight the dearth of information we know about him. I was barely 4 when Climaco was mayor of Zamboanga City, a position he loved dearly until his death. But my naivety was never a hindrance to appreciate the endearing stories about him, recounted not by politicos of today, but of simple folks –of true Zamboangueños− who were there when it happened. Thus, it is always with great pride that I talk about a valiant man from the South against a history largely muddled by the North.

Starting as a lowly janitor in the Court of Appeals while taking up law at the University of the Philippines, he was to rise by dint of his extraordinary abilities to hold local elective and national appointive positions. He began his political career as city councilor of Zamboanga in 1953 and in the same year, he was designated mayor of the city. From then on, Climaco became the first elected city mayor (1956-1961) for two consecutive terms. His bravery and integrity in public service, however, did not escape the watchful eye of President Diosdado Macapagal. Suddenly, Climaco was fished out of local politics and was made to handle delicate positions in the national government. In no time he was appointed by President Macapagal as commissioner of the Bureau of Customs, Economic Coordinator and head of Presidential Assistance on Community Development Office, among others.

Pillar of the anti-Marcos opposition

But it was his role, as one Filipino statesman put it, as “pillar” of the anti-Marcos opposition that Cesar C. Climaco shone the brightest.

When President Marcos imposed martial law, some opposition figures went scampering and running like rats for fear of incarceration and sought refuge in the US. And though he was initially one of the many who did actually, he grew restive as the sharp nails of the martial law rule continue to pierce his beloved country and countrymen. It was time to come home.

In 1980, Cesar Climaco founded the Concerned Citizens Aggrupation (CCA), a regional political party that was supposed to be a rallying point for those who were opposed to the Marcos regime. Responding to the popular clamor, Climaco once again ran for mayor and won the race handily. Later in 1984, with the opposition in Manila seemingly fragmented over the recurring issue on whether to join or boycott the Batasan elections, Climaco chose the former. Pitted against two formidable candidates closely identified with the Marcos regime, his opponents were no match for Climaco’s charisma. As a sign of protest, however, he refused to serve as member of the farcical Batasan Pambansa until after he served his full term as mayor of Zamboanga much to Mr. Marcos’s chagrin.

Probably however, the most indelible mark left by Climaco- that that irked his fiercest enemies was when he set up in front of the city hall a scoreboard which noted all the kidnappings, holdups, and murders that had taken place during his last stint as mayor. The scoreboard was eventually smeared with red paint by unidentified persons in early October of 1983, but the glaring figures spoke for themselves: 899 residents killed, 95 kidnapped, 817 robbed. Undoubtedly, flaunting these unsolved crimes and human rights violation was Climaco’s strife against the god in Malacanang.

“No, Marcos did not lift martial rule. He only tilted it.”

But Cesar Climaco could not be bullied nor cowed by anyone, not even by a home-grown despot. After all, he was not dubbed as “the Arsenio Lacson of the South” for nothing. While reservations for this moniker is being entertained in my end for the reason that the man deserves to be placed in our popular history as simply the “Cesar Climaco of Zamboanga,” incomparable to no one, this humble recognition is being welcomed whole heartedly. After all, he should not only be remembered for his promise to have his gray hair cut vis a vis the repeal of Marcos’ infamous decree. He, more importantly, must also be accorded the honor to be included in the galaxy of heroes that led to the reclamation of our democracy. In fact when martial law was lifted many years later, Climaco remained apprehensive, brushed the discharge of his promise and instead tossed a repartee: “No, Marcos did not lift martial rule. He only tilted it.”

Indeed, the 45.-caliber bullet that crashed his nape did not ultimately crash his spirit. He knew they were out to get him sooner or later. In fact, he left traces that could untangle the shrouded mystery and myth of his death; he was spot on when he said that those he fought because of abuses, including the military, could one day strike back. And yes, they did. But who’s really laughing now? In less than two years after his ignominious death, the militarized regime of Mr. Marcos collapsed; dictatorship too went inside the casket paving the way for the resurrection of democracy in the country.

Photo credit: LA Zamboanga Times courtesy of Mr. John Shinn III

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lest we forget

Forty-two years ago, Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1081 declaring martial law and proceeded to rule the country without accountability− not even to the Constitution that he had sworn to serve. Today, we remember September 21 not as a “National Thanksgiving Day” but a sad episode in our nation’s history.

Martial law stumbled in our midst like a thief in the night. It’s like suddenly waking up the next day with a strange gut feel that something seemed not right. Nevertheless, you squandered around, hoping to confirm your suspicious thoughts. And there, you discover the systematic looting; your precious human rights, stolen, robbed!

The day the nation stood still

Contrary to popular belief, it was on the night of September 22, 1972 when Proclamation 1081 had gone full steam. It appears that September 21─the official date of commemoration─ refers to the actual signing of the proclamation and it was only on September 23, 1972 when martial law was made known to the public. Later though, Marcos revealed that he really signed the martial law edict on September 17, 1972.

So our story begins on September 23, a Saturday morning when a certain eerie of silence jolted the nation from deep slumber. Everybody woke up without newspapers on their doorsteps. On TV, except in one station where the national anthem was repeatedly played, broadcasting had been stopped. Nothing on TV but ‘snow’ and static on radio. The streets of Metro Manila were said to be virtually uninhabited and abandoned like a lifeless city.

Hours passed, still no newspapers. People grew restive as fear and panic began to set in. Something terrible was certainly in the offing, baffled Filipinos must have thought. By nightfall, news started to circulate that FM would address the nation and everybody was told to stay put. At exactly 7:15 p.m. that day, the cat was finally out of the bag as the President appeared on national television saying that he had just declared Martial Law.

That day was said to be the beginning of one of the darkest eras in Philippine history.

Benefit of the doubt

While many people view martial law today as a metaphor for everything that is corrupt, oppressive and detestable, President Marcos saw things very differently when he issued the proclamation. And for a while, many ordinary Filipinos then, tired of traditional politics and economic instability, also gave Marcos the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, they did not mind exchanging their civil and political freedoms for the material necessities of daily existence like stable a job, regular food on the table, and probably, a secured future for their children. In fact even in the academe, a great number of intelligentsias did think of Marcos’ theory of revolution as offering the possibilities of correcting the ills of society.

Marcos feared history

Of the qualities that made Ferdinand Marcos who he was, his sense of history appeared to be very prominent in his decision points. He used the lessons of the past to hold on to power longer than any Philippine president to date. But he also viewed history prospectively which explains why he left diaries, speeches and wrote a great deal of books to aid scholars, and probably confound history buffs.

As early as 1966, on the day of his first inauguration as President, the lines appear quite clearly drawn for Marcos. Driven by his obsession with national greatness and passion, Marcos had seemingly nothing but deep-seated contempt for the status quo since he occupied the presidency. But it was only in 1971, through his book entitled, “Today’s Revolution: Democracy” when the handwriting on the wall began to appear more legibly: martial law was imminent.

Marcos began with a straightforward diagnosis on the national condition: “Ours tends to be an oligarchic society…the consequence is an oligarchic order or an oligarchic democracy.” A year later, this time on “Notes on the New Society of the Philippines,” (1972) Marcos finally launched his creative vision, one that has no parallel in Philippine history in terms of boldness and conception, he said: “the fundamental task of drastic political reform is to democratize the entire political system.” Although a product of the old system of politics, Marcos saw the need to turn against it and embarked on a journey that would radicalize the social order controlled by the political elite. Sensing the situation had reached a point of crisis, Marcos seized his moment in history and waged a ‘democratic revolution,’ one that was often bruited by martial law ideologues as peaceful, legal and constitutional.

Revolutionary president or despot?

It is said that Marcos had planned all along to perpetuate himself in power. One obstacle, however, could have prevented him from doing so − the 1935 Constitution. But Marcos knew his constitution forward and backward, and understood its potential thoroughly. Being a brilliant lawyer, Marcos dared to stretch the limits of the fundamental law, studied the cracks in the constitutional structure and experimented them to the bitter end. That he did, and got away with handily.

I have no memories of martial law. I was born exactly the same year when martial law was nominally lifted. And I dare not challenge the facts. They are here to stay. But facts can’t be selective. Neither should we. Martial law years is the martial rule not only with its infamous human rights violation or curtailment of basic freedoms, but it is also about a national vision, a dream which unfortunately was not realized. If at all, every September 21 can be and is also a day to celebrate our gratefulness for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Ferdinand E. Marcos− the "dictator"− is dead but his revolutionary ideology will be remembered long in history by different people in different ways.–

Photo credit: Pres. Ferdinand Emmanuele E. Marcos Facebook Page/Claro Enrique Bonoan Mini-Library

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ninoy Aquino: The unforgotten martyr?

China Airlines Flight 811 was no ordinary flight.

At about 11:15 am on August 21, 1983, China Airlines Boeing 767 bound for Manila, carrying over a hundred passengers, cleared the Taipei runway.

Of the passengers on board, the traveller in seat 14-C on the aisle, second section coach, seemed to enjoy considerable attention from the international press. A few passengers also kept him busy throughout the flight with handshakes and requests for autographs; young Filipino women kissed him, giggling as they wiped away the lipstick smudge on his rosy cheeks. Instantly, he was the dazzling politician again.

The traveller was obviously carrying a sham passport which bore the name of “Marcial Bonifacio,” a name that stood for martial law and his old dungeon, Fort Bonifacio. But the bold initials “BSA” etched on the breast patch of his cream safari suit gave him away all too quickly.

Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, the erstwhile undisputed leader of the opposition, was finally returning home after 3 years in exile.

As the plane winged to Manila, Ninoy prayed to himself, his fingers sliding along the beads of his rosary. Then he stood up and went to the restroom and donned his bullet proof vest. As the plane touched down, his brother-in-law turned to him and said, “Noy, we’re home.”

Ninoy looked up and gave the mysterious Mona Lisa smile as a response. This is it! I can only imagine Ninoy’s growing sense of anxiety as he sat there waiting for the events to unfold – the final act of the tragedy that he himself had predicted moments earlier.

Meanwhile, thousands had come to the airport eager to welcome Ninoy. The streets heading to the airport were filled with people coming from different parts of Metro Manila. Yellow ribbons were draped over buses and jeeps and even around trees symbolizing the return of a freed prisoner.

At the airport’s VIP Lounge, another crowd was in place. Family and close friends, including Ninoy’s 73-year-old mother Doña Aurora, as well as some of the grand old names in the opposition headed by Ninoy’s childhood buddy, Doy Laurel, converged in one piece.

At about 1:00 pm the welcoming group decided to move out of the lounge as Ninoy’s plane taxied smoothly toward Gate 8. But as the group approached the doors leading to the tube, they were in for a surprise – all doors were locked. They simply could not move out of the room. What was left was a tiny glass opening and so one of them had to peep through and motioned the guards to open the door. The guards, although visibly shaken, simply ignored them. And so they tried to force the door open, but to no avail. When queried why the doors were locked, all the military officers could say was: “We are only following orders!”

Suddenly, one of the glass doors opened. But it was too late. Passengers started to come out in droves, their faces looking scared and grim. In a split of second, news broke out that Ninoy had arrived. He had come home for the last time.

Almost 50 seconds since he stood up from seat 14-C, a single shot coming from the back of his head sent Ninoy Aquino straight to immortality…and to martyrdom.

Exile years

Almost 3 years before his fateful homecoming, Ninoy Aquino spent 7 years and 7 months in solitary confinement at Fort Bonifacio only to be released on May 8, 1980. Ninoy then was stricken with severe chest pains while in detention and had to undergo a delicate form of triple-pass heart surgery. By stroke of humanitarianism (and people may argue…let them), President Ferdinand Marcos allowed his arch political rival to travel to the United States on condition that he would not speak out against the Marcos regime while abroad.

The operation was successful and Ninoy recovered. For the next 3 years, Ninoy Aquino had seemingly no reason to return home. Not only did he live a happy life with his friends and family in Boston, he was also offered and accepted fellowships at the prestigious Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But Ninoy Aquino became increasingly restive as news from home grew worse. Although one of the conditions of his “temporary release” was to refrain from making any derogatory statements against the Marcos regime, Ninoy finally decided to break the pact: “A pact with the devil is no pact at all.”

From then on, Ninoy Aquino was back to his old self again. He lectured from one forum to another, travelled to many countries of the world, armed with a single message – democracy must be restored in the Philippines and he is willing to pay the price.

It seemed for Ninoy Aquino, no amount of rational options could darken the lure of a lifelong ambition – the highest office. Many of his friends, prominent figures in politics, tried to dissuade him from returning to the Philippines as a death sentence awaited him in Manila. They knew he would be killed in no time.

But Ninoy Aquino understood history very well. He intimated that the Spaniards made a big mistake when they recalled and shot Rizal when they could have simply ended his life via a mere exile. In other words, Ninoy Aquino did not fear death as much as he feared obscurity. He knew the perils of his homecoming, and he was all for it.

Of the many accounts in the granary of Ninoy’s homecoming, Doy Laurel’s memoirs “Neither Trumpets Nor Drums,” published in 1992, deserves a fair hearing and is quoted below:


I looked at my watch. It was 9:40 am. As we were nearing the airport, my last visit to Ninoy in Boston crossed my mind. Cory was cooking in the kitchen. Using the hot weather as alibi, Ninoy suggested that we go outside the house to see his Akita pet dog. Once outside, he confided to me that he had only two more years to live. Since his heart bypass operation, he said his days had been numbered. Instead of dying in bed or being run-over by a Boston taxicab, he told me he would rather die in his own country, meaningfully and with a big splash. And so he was willing to face all risks attending his homecoming.

Martyrdom in hindsight

It would seem that Ninoy’s ambition, or obsession, so to speak, did not reach reality. But no, reality bit us hard that it actually did. We celebrate his martyrdom today. His widow, Cory became the very first woman President. His youngest, Kris continuously awes the public with her mediocrities and notoriety. His second child, Noynoy, is our incumbent president, as if governing a country runs in genes or worst, as if governance (not even good governance) is a right transferrable to heirs.

Undoubtedly, he knew what he wanted and he knows how to get it. He died in vain and so he was never forgotten. This is not to malign the dead especially on the day the nation celebrates the death anniversary of one of its beloved heroes, but seriously, apart from his death what else can we remember about Ninoy Aquino?

From statutes, peso bills, airports, banners, T-shirts to streets, books and all, why has Ninoy acquired "the force of symbols" more than any other Filipino mythical figure like Claro M. Recto or Jose P. Laurel? Again, he knew what he wanted and he knows how to get it: “the big splash.” The big splash! –

Photo credits: History Channel/Celia-Diaz Laurel

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Featured Article: “Her Story”: Loving, leaving and living the laurels

Personal experience undoubtedly remains the paramount repository of any narrative. While other writers can still spin off reality from an entirely fictitious recount, the natural sensitivity and sincerity of a narrative can only come from one’s life trove.

If the above statement is the gauge, then "The Colors of My Life: Celia Diaz-Laurel – Painter,” the first of a book trilogy series is indubitably an exemplar. While it is an easy read, its short yet fluid recollection of experiences repaints not only the past relevant to her, but also the past germane to all us. Coiled in her own reminiscence of the 86 years that had gone by, the widow of the late Vice President Salvador H. Laurel incidentally was able to relay significant points of our history too.

Written without a single trace of being an octogenarian, the first book consists mainly of Celia Diaz Laurel’s journey from her native town of Talisay, Negros Occidental until her later years in UP Diliman as a budding Fine Arts student. However, aside from her theatrical and oratorical triumphs which raised her from college anonymity, memorable are her personal anecdotes about her esteemed professors like Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino, both of whom became national artists in their respective fields.

Also noteworthy is her recount of the first Oblation, its association with Rizal and his Mi Ultimo Adios, its journey from the Padre Faura campus to its “new” Diliman campus in Quezon City and its trite censorship in the form of a fig leaf. A personal favorite though is the story about the Maria Makiling sculpture, of the mountain “nymph” which freaked out her mother-in-law – yes, by mother-in-law, we refer to the wife of the Second President of our Republic, Dr. Jose P. Laurel.

The generous revelation of truly private stories like these, details that even history books, do not divulge or cannot divulge for lack of reference, make people like Dr. Jose P. Laurel, human.

Without a doubt, by sharing “her story,” not only through words but also widely through her art works; she too imparts a part of our history. Timed during the post Japanese occupation, the interesting stories of the earliest UP, and the rise of arts and theatre with the likes of Amorsolo and Tolentino leading the hurdle are the humble yet worthy “asides” of this coffeetable book. Ultimately though, it is the magnificent masterpieces of Madame Celia Diaz Laurel, her narratives in paints, which is the heart of this publication.

Loving a Laurel

And of course, “her story” would not be complete without “his story.” Since the first book shares her unforgettable collegiate hay years in the UP College of Fine Arts, a no mention of Doy Laurel is highly improbable. In fact, the mere reference of Doy Laurel and their sweet friendship and courtship through poetry, every now and then in the book, is sure to give the readers a reason to smile. Needless to say, this college loving has accorded her the “better half” of Doy Laurel title –a moniker she has full heartedly accepted and assumed until this very day.

Leaving her laurels

Now at 86, Celia Diaz-Laurel remains to be primarily known as the widow of Doy Laurel –a detail she seems to discount. In fact, according to the colophon of a book she has authored, she is “the constant wife” of the late VP Doy Laurel.

Unknown however to many, Celia Diaz-Laurel, away from the shadows of her husband, is an established writer, painter and thespian. And like the late VP, Celia Diaz-Laurel belongs to a gallant lineage too, being the granddaughter of Domingo Franco, one of the 13 Martyrs of Bagumbayan – the unsung heroes of the Philippine revolution. She also has an impeccable educational pedigree with a Yale University degree to add up to her laurels.

At any rate, she is incomparable with other widows of famous local politicos who attempted or forced attention to be drawn in their favor, she did not try to level, compete with or ride on the popularity of her late husband. This even if she can. She held her guns and she held them tight. Truly a woman of class and candor, Celia Diaz Laurel dared not steal the show from Doy, that, even after his death. If at all loving a Laurel means leaving her own laurels behind, it was a fate she seemed to have proudly conceded to.

Living with the Laurels and their laurels

Following his death, there was a conscious and collective effort to preserve the memories of the former Vice President. Thus, despite the laborious transport of the late Vice President’s whole library and his other effects from their Shaw mansion to their 4-hectate Holiday Hills property in San Pedro, Laguna, the Laurel matriarch dedicatedly heeded to the duty. Now, the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Gardens houses, preserves and celebrates the beginning and glorious days of the late statesman. Alongside, Celia Diaz Laurel, being the writer that she is, has also immortalized many times over in her books her beloved Doy, livening his aspirations and love for the Philippines.

Arranged in a meticulously laden ensemble, Doy’s personal and political effects in the Laurel Museum are too inviting for a fastidious scrutiny. Strangely though, a visit to the Laurel Museum will not only touch one’s historical penchants. In fact, more than its admirable grandeur, that hilltop haven will forever imprint on me as a wife’s undying love and loyalty for her beloved husband. Without a doubt, the Laurel Museum displays an aura of a well kept “home” with an evident personal touch of the lady of the house. It also exudes a kind of love that is both selfless and timeless. In fact, except for a Fernando Amorsolo oil painting portrait of her and a single framed picture in the library, the museum is entirely dedicated to Doy and his Laurel lineage – a proof of Celia Diaz Laurel’s full embrace of being and living with the Laurels and their laurels.

Indubitably, Madame Celia Diaz Laurel has been, for decades, raconteur to Doy Laurel’s story but the time has come for the light to shine on her.

"The Colors of My Life: Celia Diaz Laurel – Painter," the first of a trilogy of books was launched yesterday, June 18, 2014 at the Executive House, Maramag St. corner Tavera St., Area 14, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. Graced by no less than UP President Alfredo Pascual and other influential people like Teddy Locsin Jr., Manny Villar, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, Sen. Joker Arroyo, former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, Sen. Jun Magsaysay, Philippine Star columnist Babes Romualdez, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Willie Nepomuceno among others, the event also exhibited some of Madame Celia's impressive works as a painter.

Congratulations to Madame Celia Diaz Laurel and the rest of her family and staff for the successful and well-attended book launch.

Editors Note: The author, Donna Dimaano-Bonoan, teaches at the University of the Philippines Los Banos.

Photo credits belong to Cocoy Laurel and to my perpetual photographer...the author herself, my wife Donna.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Of books, bolo and Bonifacio

Rappler 6/12/14

We have a fascination for the extraordinary

My personal library alone is stacked with entrancing biographies about extraordinary figures, great men who, for a moment in time, have set the world on fire and changed the course of history.

From Churchill, Jefferson, and Ghandi to Rizal, Recto, Laurel, and Marcos, these men appeared to have been endowed with wisdom and erudition that would distinguish them from the genius of the ordinary.

I have often wondered if there is any room for ordinary men to shine in history. But I have long since answered this question. Quite honestly, one need not look any farther because the leader of the “bolo movement,” Gat Andres Bonifacio perfectly fits the bill.


True, he hardly had a formal education. He did not seem to possess any special talent unlike his professional paisanos in the propaganda movement. In many respects, the simple Andres Bonifacio was no match to the oratorical prowess of Graciano Lopez Jaena nor did he write with the flair of Jose Rizal. Even in terms of military acumen he was no way within the range of Emilio Aguinaldo; and as evidenced later in the Tejeros Convention of 1897, he was definitely not a good politician either.

But cutting through the surface and superficialities, Bonifacio’s supposed “ordinariness” says something about his indubitable conviction and strength of character that would ultimately foster the birth of a secret society known as the Katipunan.

Among the handful illustrious figures in the pantheon of national heroes, Andres Bonifacio towers above everybody else because he came from the common people of his day, the unlettered indios who formed the womb of the revolutionary movement in 1896. But that is not the end of story. My admiration for the Supremo goes beyond personal abhorrence on elitism and rooted empathy for the underdogs; my own personal struggle against the fripperies of life─ striving for recognition in my chosen field─ accounts for my choice of hero.

Indio origins

Born of lowly parents in Tondo, Manila, it is said that Bonifacio had died as he had lived, a poor man. Orphaned at a very young age, Bonifacio abandoned schooling and had to work all his life to support his siblings. He peddled canes and paper fans, dabbled in zarzuelas, and did some clerk work for an English firm. Yet, despite all the restrictions that poverty has to offer, Bonifacio was not exactly the classic indio that we pictured him to be. He was, by and large, a self-taught man─ a wide reader in his own right.

Setting the record straight

Contrary to popular belief, he was in fact a home-schooled fellow, having learned to read and do simple math under the care of a private tutor. As he grew older, and as life becomes more and more pressing, Bonifacio struggled to improve himself by sharpening his mind through books. As the story goes, while working as a bodeguero in a brick factory, the young Bonifacio was often seen with a book propped open in front of him even while he was eating his lunch. And before the night ends, armed with a flickering lamplight, Bonifacio would once again pore over his tomes, one of which was a book on the history of the French Revolution.

From this, chroniclers and scholars are one in saying that Andres Bonifacio could at least speak some English (having worked as a messenger-clerk in an English firm), and could read Spanish too for almost all the books in his collection were either written or translated into Spanish.

The making of a revolutionist

Of the books found in his small library in the warehouse, mostly in Spanish translations, these were his favourite titles: History of the French Revolution, Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew, Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Ruins of Palmyra, the Bible, Hugo’s Les Miserables, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, the Penal and Civil Codes and International Law.

Of course, we could not say with optimum certainty that Bonifacio read all those books from cover to cover, much less understood every word in them. But by all accounts, it is reasonable to say that this progressive literature vividly explains why Bonifacio’s passion for revolution turned out to be infectious; that he was able to sway others, cultured or not, to follow him even unto death. Undoubtedly, the sufferings of the people of his class and the circumstances of his life could have been enough reason to raise his bolo and challenge the power of Spain─ but Bonifacio walked the extra mile.

His selective readings, I believe, did appear fruitful for it gave him the idea of revolution.

Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog, a call-to-arms manifesto against Spanish tyranny, showcased Bonifacio’s bent as the emerging revolutionist of the people. The amount of time he spent devouring the philosophy of the French Revolution had indeed showed him that it can be done.

It was a rare yet poignant combination of ‘feelings’ and ‘thought,’ of personal injustice and native intellect that moulded him; that ultimately ushered his people into the glorious period of Philippine history and the Revolution.

And so while the ilustrados, the perceived extraordinary men of his day, cried for gradual reforms, for Bonifacio, it’s all or nothing. No fuss, no frills: death or independencia!


It is a fact that the middle-class, the intellectual segment looked down on Bonifacio on account of his uncultured ways and intellectual shortcomings. Yet, in a blink of an eye, the ruling class captured the “revolution” from the masses and coloured it as its own. In a larger sense, one could only imagine what he went through as he tried to forge a united front against a common enemy, Spain. On his side, however, another war was brewing headed by the ilustrados themselves, this time, he was the target.

But Bonifacio was not to be distracted by innuendos. With a wave of hand, maybe he simply dismissed “regionalism” and “elitism” as mere frivolities. Instead, in his naiveté, he focused his energy on the mission to liberate the Filipino people not knowing the pitfalls of power.

History records that Andres Bonifacio did not live to see the glorious day of our redemption. At the age of thirty-three, he was summarily executed on the hills of Maragondon for wanting to destroy the revolution that he himself had started.

But this seemingly ordinary folk hero still haunts the victors or traitors like the pursuing “tabak” that allegedly butchered him to death. Very Bonifacio, his life and death, remains a silent call for the rise of the ordinary under extraordinary circumstances.

Mabuhay ang mga Anak ng Bayan!-Rappler

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Confessions of a bibliophile

I have an inordinate fear of splurging my money up to the last cent when I am on my own in a bookshop. This is my malady. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to call my love of books a malady, much less an affliction or a disorder. But for want of a more accurate, scientific description of my condition, I’ll risk of admitting it: I am afflicted with a seemingly incurable malaise called bibliophilia.

I was in my 20s when I discovered that I have bibliophilia; and gladly, I welcomed it. But you see, my affliction comes in blurry stages marked by a long hiatus during college.

As a child, I was pampered with books; toys then were a rarity in our house. It had to be so because my mother, a stern history teacher reminiscent of Miss Minchin, called the shots. My affable father had to take the back seat when it comes to spending. My mother would always bewail that toys were a waste of money and education must be given top priority even at an early age.

I did not grow up reading Dickens’ classics though. It was always about Bible stories. Old Testament characters like Abraham, Moses, David, and Joseph to the New Testament stalwarts like Jesus and his disciples were the meat of my biographical readings at 5 years old.

Devouring books

Soon, I studied the technique of fast reading. I devoured one book after another in successive order. My appetite for learning seemed insatiable, and my memory was like a sponge absorbing every granular detail of the Bible.

Then came the “Daily Vacation Bible School” or DVBS. It was a one-week affair, a fun religious activity held every summer for evangelical kids. For me, this event was a feast. While most of the kids did not take this summer camp seriously, I always saw this as an opportunity to test my comprehension from what I had been reading over the years. And so I grabbed this opportunity by the forelock.

One of the highlights of DVBS was the bible quiz competition. This was sort of “The Battle of the Brains” show we watched on television. One kid gets to represent his class for this competition. And so naturally I was the chosen one in our class. Obviously, my early readings proved useful. I boned ever question, ransacked all the ribbons, and brought home the bacon.

In hindsight, I came to the realization that it really pays to read. I never pictured it as some kind of a task just to please my mother. After all, like my G.I. Joes and toy soldiers, books could be fun too.

90s band explosion

But as I grew older though, my fascination for biblical characters plummeted and it even took a steeper dive in high school. And so was my interest for books.

The 90s band explosion took me by surprise. I was in my second-year high school when the Pinoy rock icons known as the “Eraserheads” released its critically acclaimed album, “Circus.” Suddenly, their hit song “Magasin” was all over the radio.

By this time, my interest for books shifted dramatically to guitars. Then out of nowhere, I was already in a rowdy rock band desperately imitating a bunch of inebriated rock heroes of our time. This went on until the early years of my college life.

Band life was to become my proverbial lull - the calm before the big storm brewing ahead.

As the surge for Pinoy rock music died down, I could hardly recognize who I was. I was left with no ambition whatsoever. My life was in a total wreck. Along with my passion for books, my academic standing too was gravely affected. My mother, in utter frustration, nearly gave up on me. But still she wanted me to finish college in a prestigious school. I begged off. I really felt sorry for her because she raised me to become an educated person that she was and yet I disappointed her to no end.

Rekindling lost passion

To compensate for my lost years, I’ve decided to take the road less taken. I enrolled myself in a local college whose only claim to fame is its low passing percentage in board exams. This decision proved to be my catharsis and a turning point in my life.

My experience was jaw-dropping. Most teachers, who dubbed themselves professors, are square pegs in round holes, in other words - misfits. Once, a political science professor pleaded with me not to attend any of his class because I ask too many questions. And alas, I got the highest mark for not attending his classes.

For almost 2 years I’ve spent in that institution, I hardly attended classes. But I refused to bury myself in the graveyard of lost opportunities. Not again, I said to myself. Instead, I saved all my allowances to buy Filipiniana books in Manila then shipped them all the way to Basilan.

The very first book I read during my “sabbatical leave” in college was the voluminous “The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines” by Ferdinand E. Marcos. In no time, I rekindled my long lost passion for reading. With fiery vengeance, I recaptured the wonder of my childhood dreams.

I finished my bachelor’s degree in absentia and with flying colors even, so to say. That’s when I decided to take up law in Manila.

Law school proved to be toxic but a nest for bibliophiles. A few years later, I am proud to have my own library – a seal of my undying love for books, a proof of my affliction, or my addiction. But now is not the time to historicize because I have two young kids under my close ward - two kids whom I will gladly share my affliction with.

My eldest is showing signs of early inclination to writing. I am doubtful whether I am or we are doing the right thing. It’s actually a red flag to encourage her to read and love books more. Reading and writing are, of course, an unbeatable team to beat.

This is my confession. -

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Law school jitters

Tempus fugit. Almost 6 months ago, jittery law graduates trooped to the University of Santo Tomas (UST) on España Boulevard to take the final test to become lawyers.

Today, the long wait is finally over. The “Gods of Faura” have released the much awaited verdict for this year, the final lap of the long obstacle course of legal education – the bar examination results.

Passing the bar exams – or flunking them, for that matter – may just be a facet of a law student’s journey to the portals of the legal profession.

The real adventure begins on the first day of class.

Ask any law student, and you’ll probably get a similar answer. For one, it is an entirely different academic arena, far from the usual classroom routine.

Society has its own way of showing its high regard for law students and I take pride in being one of them. The respect and courtesy that society has bestowed upon people in the legal profession, you must realize, is earned not from the time they pass the bar and become full fledged lawyers, but from the time they become students of the law.

Surviving law school

As a mere law student now, I have my own share of stories about struggling to keep such respect. Surviving it is one.
To survive law school you have to have a one-track mind – read, read and read.
Sometimes there seems to be no escape from this book-driven life.

In my case, I have to set aside my social life if any, even religious activities, just to devote more time reading voluminous cases being assigned to us by our professors.

But the more dangerous and fearful path for each law student is class recitation. Law students, even most established lawyers I know, have their own story of recitation mishaps to tell. I am happy to tell mine.

First mishap

It was Monday evening, first meeting for my environmental law class. The silence was deafening as I stood valiantly after my name was called. It was the start of a long night for class recitation.

The case dealt with the constitutionality of the IPRA law, a novel legislation that protects the ancestral land rights of indigenous peoples.

As I was about to discuss the court ruling, my mini-eccentric professor suddenly interrupted me and started to fire questions indiscriminately.

While still armored and battling, I seemed a helpless victim for a while. The adrenalin kept rushing as I searched for more answers in my head. Most of the questions were really tough and he was posturing, like he wrote the dissenting opinion of that case.

After his unwritten dissenting opinion, he out of the blue muttered, “Mr. Bonoan are you reading the book of Zaide?” I stood my ground and proudly said yes to the question. I had no choice but to defend my argument about the benefits of the Spanish inquisition, otherwise I would be in limbo.

I must not quiver at this point, I told myself over and over again.

Obviously, he was aghast at my answers. He ordered me to simply sit down and called on another student. I was totally devastated because I studied the case from all possible angles, or so I thought.

It was only later that I came to know that my professor was a fiery advocate of indigenous peoples' rights. Incidentally, he was among the lawyers who argued before the Supreme Court in the IPRA case. What was I thinking?

On second thought, I felt vindicated because I engaged him in a sword fight, although I ended up being slaughtered to death.

From then on, I bowed not to limit my readings simply to law books, and expand them to include history and other disciplines.

Second mishap

My next terrible experience was when I was taking up Tort law under a Jesuit-educated professor.
Tort law is a very interesting subject because it deals with mostly accidents and mishaps, and the facts of every case are fascinating and fun to read.

One such case was Picart v. Smith, a very old yet landmark case in tort law.

While it seemed an easy read at the start, the intertwined facts and colloquial language made it trivial.
When my professor shuffled the class cards, I suddenly found myself mumblng all over again, “Oh God, not me. Not me, please.”

But alas! I was the first one to be called! His next words were defeaning. “Chris Bonoan, where are you? Oh there you are! Please recite Picart v. Smith.”

In utter fear or confusion, in whatever order, I muttered to myself, “Oh God, Lord why have you forsaken me!” And like any good soldier, I kept the faith and kept trying to explain the case until my esteemed law professor asked me to visualize on the board what transpired in this popular pony accident case.

Unfortunately, I just could not hit the mark. He suddenly became impatient. But who would not be?

I was literally consuming more than the time allowed for each case. No wonder his expression turned sour as my voice trembled.
Finally, he said, “Sit down Sir, sit down!” in a tone that almost buried me alive.

My classmates definitely had a good laugh with my shocking and unforgettable experience that night.
Good thing for me, they had worse encounters.

As I said, there will always be a next time. But not too many next times. We have to earn the respect right now and not next time. We can always have room for that one time, and maybe another.

And this is the time! Congratulations to those who passed the 2013 Philippine Bar Exams. Indeed, you guys have been tested and found not wanting!


Article courtesy of RAPPLER (3/17/14)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dear Nards: A quick recourse on Doy and Macoy

Dear fellow Filipino,

Hi Nards, sorry for the late reply. Point well taken, but I assure you that there are no inconsistencies here. My admiration for Salvador H. Laurel on one hand and Ferdinand E. Marcos on the other is in fact a reflection of my own idea of what “nationalism” should be, and my objectivism in relation to history.

With your permission, allow me to repost your enlightening comments here in toto:

I only learned about your blog not so long ago upon stumbling with your article on Marcos. I must say it's great and it's enlightening. I'm not into politics but I am so much interested about Marcos, the EDSA and its aftermath and what is really the truth. By continuously knowing the person, Marcos, through and by his works, writings, philosophies, ideologies, speeches and stature in life, you wouldn't believe he was capable of doing those atrocities that the people have been throwing at him since. The fact that those accusers cannot present a single evidence to finally convict him or her family is likewise a mystery...

I was enjoying your entries until i came across your write ups on Doy Laurel, hence this comment of mine. There seems to be a contrasting idea between your belief or earlier admiration on Marcos from your Marcos entry and on how you pictured the Marcos regime in this article of Doy, especially when you wrote on a conclusive note "oppressive regime that terrorized the nation for a long time". I hope this is not your personal opinion but was stated on the perspective of the Aquinos and their allies or Doy for that matter. I never find any reasonable justification of the EDSA other than politics and power struggle. I see EDSA as a great deception, self-serving and the culmination of great betrayals. Doy was one of them and while he had genuine intention, "karma" got the best of him when Cory betrayed him as well. EDSA was never for the people, but left the common tao to pick up the pieces wondering when it will be whole again. Marcos vision was a lost opportunity for me. He was setting the stage for a greater purpose, but we took that stage and rebel against him because of what they "said so".

This is just my piece and would be happy to be refuted/corrected.

Thanks for sharing your great mind and knowledge to everybody.

Before plunging into the gist of your comment, let me state briefly the political backdrop of Doy and Marcos, a principled political relationship that is barely touched on by yellow historians.

The special political relationship of the Laurels and Marcos is no secret. They had always been fair-weather political allies for as long as I can remember. Marcos admired wartime Philippine President Jose P. Laurel for his intellectual prowess juxtaposed with the courage he displayed during the Japanese Occupation. (Not to mention the ponecia of Justice Laurel in the Nalundasan Murder Case, acquitting the young Ferdinand Marcos on appeal.) The Laurels were also responsible for Marcos’ entry in the NP that ultimately made him president in 1965. And when Marcos sought re-election against the weakling Serging Osmena (LP) in 1969, the old guards of NP (the Laurels) rallied behind him. Marcos won a second term.

Prelude to a fallout

Eventually, Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and at the outset, the Laurels opposed it─ privately. Nonetheless, the Laurels gave Marcos the benefit of the doubt but only under the assumption that martial law was just a temporary measure to bring order to the country.

Upon his return from the United States, Senator Doy received word that Marcos wanted to see him in the Palace. As the outspoken opponent of Marcos within the NP, he braced himself for the usual rhetoric. But Marcos went straight to the jugular. Without missing a beat, Marcos told Doy not to “rock the boat” because he had already burned his bridges; there’s no way he could turn back. Doy tossed up a repartee, cautioning Marcos that “martial law” is a double edge sword: it can be used to cut for good or evil. If Marcos used it to cut for good, then Doy (now a jobless senator) assured the President that he has nothing to worry about.

Divide and rule

Years later, sensing the ship of state was drifting off course, cracks began to surface in their political relationship. History has recorded what happened. The first confrontation between the Laurels and Marcos took place in Malacañang─ the year was 1978.

As a precursor to his so-called “politics of transition,” President Marcos saw the need to abolish existing political parties and tried to form a new political party of his own; initially he called it, “Lapian ng Bagong Lipunan” or the “New Society Party.” Surely, the Laurels opposed this move, believing that this was just one of Marcos' Napoleonic ploys to disintegrate the political opposition─divide et impera. The Laurels, speaking through former Speaker Pepito Laurel, reminded Marcos that it was the Nacionalista that made him president twice. And so Speaker Laurel came up with an idea; a win-win solution that would merely place the NP (and other opposition groups) in suspended animation. “Don’t kill it (Nacionalista), Mr. President. Just let it rest, let it sleep for a while” said Pepito Laurel. “The same with the Liberal Party, let it rest and sleep for a while…until political normalcy is back, it’s pointless anyway to have political parties. There can be no real politics, when all politics is controlled.” Marcos, after some thought, bought the Speaker's 'umbrella' idea.

Soon afterward, a movement, not a political party, was born in the form of Kilusan bagong Lipunan or KBL.

The ghost of KBL

On his end, Doy Laurel felt uncomfortable with the whole setup. But since most of the leading traditional oppositionists (e.g., Tanada, Roxas, Salonga, and Macapagal) supported the seminal boycott movement, Doy was compelled to run as a Nacionalista candidate under the KBL umbrella. Doy believed that that the interim Batasan elections would speed up the return to normalcy; that was his primary reason why he chose to go along with Marcos. When asked candidly by President Marcos why he was hitting him during sorties, Doy Laurel quipped: "I will support you when you are right Mr. President but I will criticize and oppose you when you are wrong.”

Doy won a seat in the 1978 Batasan elections. For this, Doy was severely criticized many years later when he led the active Opposition in the 80s; and to this day only a handful of people know the real score about his stolid affiliation with KBL.

Untying the political knot with Marcos

A year later, however, President Marcos changed his position. Unbeknownst to Doy, KBL was now a political party. This development forced Assemblyman Doy to confront Marcos face-to-face for the last time. The KBL members present during the Imelda-for Deputy caucus in Malacanang gobbled up on Doy until President Marcos came to the fore. After going over every detail of Doy's legal arguments, Marcos finally muttered," “If the Nacionalista Party does not wish to become part of the KBL, then let it play the role of the opposition!” To which Doy replied so poignantly, “So let it be Mr. President…so let it be!” Then he politely walked out.

Doy Laurel regards that confrontation as his final split with Marcos. From thence, Doy Laurel spearheaded the active Opposition, and formed Unido.

I understand, as you have pointed out, that there seems to be a contrasting view for my admiration of Marcos vis a vis the way I described the “Marcos regime” when I wrote the article, “The Honorable Doy Laurel.” Now let me state categorically that indeed the “regime” of President Marcos at that time was a far cry from the hopes and dreams he envisioned under the “New Society.” In the waning years of martial rule, the regime became oppressive, abusive and oblivious to the democratic principles that Marcos stood for in “Mandate for Greatness.” Ironically, for Doy Laurel, he came into the picture at a time when President Marcos was already losing his hold or control on the levers of power. It was his twilight years, and personally, I believe that the phrase “oppressive regime” is an apt description of the situation.

Like what I always use to say in my write-ups, I’m not a blind follower nor a loyalist; I subscribed more on “ideology” or “philosophy” rather than personalities. (Notice that my article on Marcos is titled “Marcosian Ideology,” emphasis is made on his political thought.)

In my RAPPLER article (published on 2/25/14) titled, “Doy Laurel: EDSA’s unsung hero,” note how I viewed EDSA revolution (if at all you can regard it as a “revolution”) from the vantage point of someone who never witnessed EDSA first hand: “Today marks the EDSA Revolution’s 28th year yet our vision is still blurred, if not myopic. I state with no intention to undermine the church, EDSA was far from being miraculous. It was bloodless not because of divinity but of overflowing patriotism with the AILING MARCOS TO NO EXCEPTION.” (Here's the link:

I hope I was able to clarify things with you Nards.

Again, thank you for visiting my blogs and for posting your intriguing comments as well. (Re Doy’s letter to Cory, I’ve already read it many years ago, it was also highlighted in Doy’s book of revelation titled “Neither Trumpets Nor Drums: Summing Up the Cory Government.”)

With utmost sincerity,

C.D Bonoan

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Doy Laurel: EDSA's unsung hero

02/25/14 As published in

Much has been said about the 1986 EDSA Revolution that ended the 20-year Marcos dictatorship. Yet there a good number of stories left unsaid, stories of unsung heroes that were systematically suppressed by the victors of history. While many people tend to associate that popular revolt with Cory, I chose to go the other way around. Thus, when I hear the song Impossible Dream, I can’t help but recall a quintessential statesman long forgotten by history. No, I don’t mean the perceived martyr Ninoy, but the distinguished Batangueño whose dream to selflessly serve our country as president (and probably could have been one of the best Philippine presidents in our history) was made impossible by an unfortunate string of historical events.

Today marks the EDSA Revolution’s 28th year yet our vision is still blurred, if not myopic. I state with no intention to undermine the church, EDSA was far from being miraculous. It was bloodless not because of divinity but of overflowing patriotism with the ailing Marcos to no exception. EDSA therefore is not singly the Aquinos, nor the church but also the other unsung heroes who marshalled the people into this noble fray - one of whom is Salvador “Doy” Laurel.


Flashback to the ‘80s. Because most of the opposition cowed in fear, Doy et. al. had no choice but to continue the fight even on dangerous grounds. Some even went to the extent of supporting the red armed struggle. Doy of course disagreed. His unfettered optimism, devotion to constitutional principles and faith in the Filipino people inspired him to do what he was destined to do; and so came the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO).

The genesis of this organization was to foster the marriage of convenience between two erstwhile formidable opposition parties: Liberal and Nacionalista, under the joint leadership of Senator Gerry Roxas (Liberal) and Speaker Pepe Laurel (Nacionalista), older brother of Doy. But with the untimely death of Senator Roxas, the party, disregarded the previous dual leadership arrangement and ended with Doy’s election as the new sole president. UNIDO was to become the opposition’s potent umbrella organization in the ‘80s under Doy’s audacious tutelage; cobbling together disparate opposition groups seeking to remove Marcos from power through peaceful means.

UNIDO despite its limited resources, managed to win the elections entirely dominated by KBL candidates. From makeshift stages, rallies in Plaza Miranda to noise barrage, UNIDO under his leadership became the people’s sounding board against the repressive regime. Finally in 1983, UNIDO came out of its cocoon and became a full grown opposition party with capabilities of destroying the manacles of dictatorship.

The turning point

The nation was stunned when Ninoy Aquino was shot dead in broad daylight. Naturally, Anti-Marcos protests soon reached its peak. In utter disgust, Doy Laurel resigned immediately from the farcical parliament of Marcos. A few days later, as he was about to deliver his valedictory speech in the halls of Batasan, lights were shut off but Doy refused to be silenced. In front of local and foreign media, Doy Laurel stepped outside of the building and right there and then delivered his fiery speech in honour of his fallen comrade.

Cory and Doy

Fast forward to the days following President Marcos’ call for a snap election. Undoubtedly, Doy was the logical candidate to represent the Opposition for no other person had the balls to stand up squarely against Marcos except him. At this juncture, rumours had been going around that Ninoy’s widow intends to run as president. Of course, Doy, ever the gentleman that he is, went out of his way to sort it out with Cory. This was denied a number of times over by her and if I may so, has denied it even up to her very last breath. Much to Doy’s surprise, Cory endorsed his candidacy on June 12, 1985 at the unprecedented UNIDO national convention attended by 25,000 delegates from all over the country.

Later however, it was Cory who became the opposition’s banner holder. Doy peacefully acceded and slided to the vice presidency. And the rest, as they say is history. Living what his father reared him to be, it was not surprising that Doy faithfully followed, “Ang bayan, higit sa lahat.”

Opposition united?

To my end, it is not about if Doy could indeed beat Marcos in the 1986 snap election. In fact, given Marcos’ unbounded powers, resources and machinery, Doy surely would have been defeated. But the decisive question is who led the opposition when everyone else was silenced by fear? Who inflamed the hearts and minds of Filipinos at a critical time when they needed someone to look up to? EDSA Revolution therefore is the culmination of that long arduous anti-Marcos struggle led by Doy and other opposition figures who were with him one way or another.

The events that happened from 1980 to 1983 are the “missing links” in Philippine history. Those crucial moments were deliberately expunged from the collective memory of Filipinos. Surely, these are the times when Doy was at his best! On my end, more than his accomplishments as a senator during the pre-martial law years, not even his magnanimous decision to step aside as a presidential contender in favour of Cory would equal his role as a freedom fighter and opposition leader at the onset of the ‘80s.

When the mists of partisan passion gradually lift with time, the full extent of Doy’s service to his nation will be revealed. In his acceptance speech at the UNIDO convention dubbed as “The Final Battle,” Doy, the champion orator, delivered an impassionate plea: “Democracy cannot take root amidst violence. Bloody revolution is not the only path to freedom. All confrontation must end in reconciliation.” He could not have said it better because these very same words had served as pattern for the rest of his political life.

The 1986 People Power Revolution now belongs to the entire nation, and not just a few personalities who claim to be its posthumous heroes. No political clan can therefore rightfully claim notoriety to it. EDSA is also about the forlorn heroes and heroines, Doy being one of them, a first-rate Filipino leader with a masterful grasp of our nation's destiny.

Ultimately though, EDSA belongs to the people, as its name verily suggests. I bet to this, Doy Laurel would agree no less.

PS: The author would like to thank RAPPLER.COM for publishing this article.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Concerning Nukes and International Law

Sovereignty has long been defined as the supreme, uncontrollable power inherent in a state by which that state is governed. To be precise, it is the supreme power of the state to command and enforce obedience, the power to which, legally speaking, all interest are practically subject and all wills subordinate. Under international law, sovereignty or independence has two aspects, namely, internal and external sovereignty. The latter signifies the freedom of state to control its own foreign affairs while the former refers to the power of the state to direct its domestic affairs. Obviously, domestic independence enable states to organize its form of government, enact its own constitution and laws suitable to its needs, and adopt national policies consistent with its national interest. In the same vein, the second aspect of independence concerns the right of the State to conduct its foreign relations with other States without interference by other States. Charles G. Fenwick, one of the noted authorities in the field of international law, offers one vital qualification to the word ‘independence’; he said: “Independence only means freedom from control by any other state and not freedom from the restrictions that are binding on all states forming the family of nations.” Thus, as a rule, sovereignty is absolute and all-encompassing on the domestic level but subject to restrictions and limitations voluntarily agreed by States expressly or impliedly, as a member of the family of nations.

It is undeniable fact that State practice for some fifty (50) years clearly demonstrates the idea that possession of nuclear weapon per se is not illegal under international law. It is for this reason that most States consented and even supported the possession of nuclear weapons by the “Big Five” pursuant to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The perceived acquiescence by the international community of NPT has created the impression that these nuclear powers are legally entitled not only to possess, but also to use nuclear weapons under certain circumstances and to threaten their use. Vice-President Stephen Schwebel of the International Court of Justice opined:
This nuclear practice is not a practice of a lone and secondary persistent objector. This is not a practice of a pariah Government crying out in the wilderness of otherwise adverse international opinion. This is the practice five of the world’s major powers, of the permanent members of the Security Council, significantly supported for almost 50 years by their allies and other States sheltering under their nuclear umbrellas.

From the foregoing observation, it is crystal clear that this practice has been recognized, accommodated and to some extent, accepted by the majority of States forming part of the international community. The arguments posed by nuclear-weapons States are mainly based on the fundamental principle of independence and respect in the conduct of their foreign relations. It is precisely for this reason that they adopted the so- called, “policy of deterrence” to justify their position. Under this policy, in order to lessen or eliminate the risk of unlawful attack, states signal that they possess certain weapons to use in self-defense against any State violating their territorial integrity or political independence.

Under Article 2, par. 4 of the UN Charter, members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. This provision must be read in conjunction with Article 51 of the same charter recognizing every state’s inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed conflict occurs. Clearly, the provisions cited do not refer to specific weapons. They apply to any use of force, regardless of the type of weapon employed. In the advisory opinion rendered by the World Court concerning the legality of nuclear weapons, it noted that the UN Charter neither expressly prohibits nor permits the use of any specific weapon. Accordingly, whatever the means of forced used in self-defense, the dual customary condition of necessity and proportionality and the law applicable to armed conflict apply, including such further considerations as to the very nature of nuclear weapons and the profound risk associated with their use. This pronouncement by the International Court of Justice implicitly affirms the right to use nuclear weapons under extreme circumstances in the exercise of legitimate self-defense. But as vividly pointed out by the court, the invocation of self-defense must comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality. As held in case of Nicaragua v. United States of America,” there is a specific rule whereby self-defense would only warrant measures which are proportional to the armed attack and necessary to respond to it, a rule well established in customary law.” Verily, the Proportionality principle thus not in itself excludes the use of nuclear weapons in all circumstances so long it complies with the principles and rules of humanitarian law. It must be stressed that in the said advisory opinion the court pointed out that mere possession of nuclear weapons would not constitute unlawful “threat” to use force contrary to Article 2 (4), unless the particular use of force envisaged would be directed against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state; or in any event that it were intended as a means of defense; such envisaged use of force would violate the principles of necessity and proportionality. Settled is the rule under international law that opinions rendered by the International Court of Justice are highly persuasive and entitled to great respect in resolving issues pertaining to international law. Likewise, decisions and opinions of the World Court offer direct evidence of the existence of a rule of international law.

One of the recognized primary sources of international law is customary law. In many occasions, international tribunals have been using international customs in resolving controversies involving questions and application of international law. In accordance with Article 38, par.1 (b), the International Court of Justice is directed to apply international custom in deciding disputes involving interpretation of international law. In addition, even national courts of most States when confronted with issues pertaining to general principles of international law, the most decisive and effective way in deciding the case is to rely on international customary law.

In legal parlance, international customary law is defined as the "general and consistent practice of states followed by them a sense of legal obligation.” From this definition, the elements of customary law are the following: duration, consistency, generality of practice and the belief that such practice is obligatory. The most important element to consider in determining whether a practice has been transformed into customary law is the existence of opinio juris or the belief that a certain form of behavior is obligatory. Sans this element, practice is not law. As the Nicaragua case puts it: “for a new customary rule to be formed, not only must the acts concerned amount to a settled practice, but they must be accompanied by the opinio juris sive necessitates.” Corollary, a very important question needs to be answered: does prohibition against the use of nuclear weapons amount to international customary law? In answering this question, the General Assembly of the United Nations attempted to forge a consensus in the form of Resolution 1653, aptly titled, “Declaration on the Prohibition of Use of Nuclear and Thermonuclear Weapons.” To support its claim, Resolution 1653 painstakingly enumerated several age-old international declarations and treaties from the Declaration of St. Petersburg of 1868 to the Geneva Protocol of 1925. It only goes to show, however, that there has been no specific rule under customary international law that expressly prohibits the use of nuclear weapons; otherwise if such a rule existed, the General Assembly could simply have referred to it and would not have needed to undertake such an exercise of legal qualification.

Declarations of legal principles and resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly are generally considered “recommendatory” in nature. As a rule, the General Assembly has no authority to enact international law; but if these resolutions are supported by all states they are an expression of opinio juris communis─ thus it becomes part of customary law. Clearly then, did Resolution 1653 gain overwhelming support from member-states? The response leaves much to be desired; for not only did it fail to gather support from all member-states, it likewise failed to secure the approval of all nuclear-weapon States.

It is therefore the view of this writer that a contrary opinion prevails. To support this contention, one need not look further; the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons provides us with an answer. The fact that said treaty allows possession of nuclear weapons by the five nuclear-weapon States highlights a startling recognition that such dangerous weapons may be used under highly extreme circumstances. It is imperative to note that in so far as customary law is concerned, there appears to be no hard-and-fast rule authorizing the threat or use of nuclear weapon or any other weapon in general. But if the situation calls for it, international customary law impliedly sanctions its ‘use’ on two compelling grounds: in the exercise of legitimate self-defense and if the dual customary conditions of “proportionality” and “necessity” are complied.

In sum, there can be no doubt that nuclear weapons may be used under the most looming circumstances signalling a major conflict─ when the very survival of a state is at stake. International law therefore must strike a balance between two compelling interests: state's inherent right to existence and self-defense vis a vis right to life.

NB: This is a recycled material. I've written this piece way back in 2002, one year before I entered law school.