Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Doy Laurel: EDSA's unsung hero

02/25/14 As published in Rappler.com

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.