Thursday, October 15, 2015

Salvador H. Laurel—“Mr. Public Defender” (Part 2)

Sworn to serve the poor

The trial by publicity surrounding the celebrated Laurel-Silva case must have turned the tide of Atty. Laurel’s promising and blissful career. His lifelong advocacy began with a phone call from Bulacan Represenative Teodulo Natividad who—mired in congressional inquiry of police brutalities—was torn one morning by the plight of a young couple who were mauled by Parañaque policemen. “Please,” he implored Atty. Laurel, “take the case for the prosecution.” Feeling that every word was exiting in crutches, Atty. Laurel accepted the case for free. By sheer happenstance, however, word leaked out to a newspaperman, who used the item for his staid column.

The same morning that the story came out, Atty. Laurel received another phone call— this time from Justice Roman Ozaeta, president of the Philippine Bar Association (PBA). “Allow us to help you,” said Justice Ozaeta to the young barrister. “Let the prosecution of erring policemen be a public service of our group.” By some extraordinary act of fate, Atty. Laurel once again, said yes.

As Atty. Laurel’s popularity began to soar, he later found himself swamped with a dozen of similar cases referred by the PBA involving pauper litigants. At times, penniless clients went directly to him, begging for free legal assistance. Suddenly, he was very much involved with legal aid. And the more he plunged himself into the plight of the poor the sooner he realized that many people suffered in silence because they could not afford the services of a lawyer. He promised to do something about it. But he needed all the help he could get. Atty. Laurel then visited Justice Ozaeta to raise his concerns. There he suggested the formation of a legal aid committee composed of lawyers who must not only be brilliant, but one with guts, and must be non-political. From thence, the Citizens Legal Assistance Committee (CLAC) was born.

In accepting the chairmanship of the PBA anti-crime body, Atty. Laurel said thusly, “I shall do my best.” Early on, one could already predict that the young Laurel had the imprint of an exceptional leader just like his idol, the illustrious wartime president and former (acting) chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Jose P. Laurel. He also showed social conscience, quite rare for a man of his stature and prestige. But no matter how resolute he was at that time, he needed still a helping hand from his fellow civic-minded compañeros in order to push his advocacy: “It is high time that we in the legal profession should stand up as a man and fight criminality in all forms, especially crimes committed on helpless citizens by those in the police forces,” Atty. Laurel seethed.

In a matter of weeks after the nascent of CLAC, the Laurel Law Office in Intramuros had been inundated with hundreds of request for free legal assistance. There is, however, one remarkable case among the pile of cases referred to CLAC that had societal implications even to this day: the case of Parisio Tayag. This case, by all accounts, had truly put CLAC on the map at a time when the bogey of police brutality was very much in the saddle. Again, our protagonist Atty. Laurel personally handled the case from womb to tomb.

Murder in Dinalupihan

Parisio Tayag was a destitute man working as a bus driver in Dinalupihan, Bataan. One day, as he was driving along barrio Luacan of said town, his bus bumped into a passenger jeepney, causing a small dent on in its rear fender. The town policeman, no less than Dinalupihan’s chief of police who also happens to be a close friend of the jeepney owner, came to investigate the incident. After a cursory look at the jeepney’s railing, he demanded a paltry sum of three hundred pesos from Tayag, allegedly for the repair of his friend’s vehicle. Tayag, unmoved, told the policeman that he was not at fault and that the jeepney driver did not even have a license to start with. He then instead offered everything he had in his pocket: ten pesos. One word led to another and in a heated exchange that seemed unending for a time, the policeman finally relented and returned his license without cost —or so he thought.

Two days later, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, Tayag was seen running for his life as he raced away from the municipal building towards the town plaza. Apparently, earlier that day, Tayag went to Dinalupihan municipal hall to find out for sure whether his case was really settled. Due to something only those present inside the hall could fully attest, Tayag was then seen drawing his “balisong” against the police chief who also aimed his gun back at him. Moments later, hot in pursuit were six policemen. Then, a volley of shots rang out. When the arsenal smoke finally settled, Tayag was seen lifeless: two bullets from police guns pierced his legs; another two bullets entered his back, traversed his lungs and the heart, and exited from the middle portion of Tayag’s breast.

Strangely enough, the drama did not end there. Lucila, the victim’s widow, had to endure everything she witnessed on that fateful day. In one snap of grief, Lucila, the young mother of six, lost her mind and the baby she was carrying in her womb. She was eventually admitted to a mental hospital leaving her children under the care of their grandparents.

Atty. Salvador Laurel, representing CLAC, took up the cudgels for Tayag’s orphaned children and rendered his services as a private prosecutor. He went all the way to Balanga, Bataan to personally handle the case from preliminary investigation up to the trial. Atty. Laurel vividly recounted the highlights of this case:

I was counsel for the offended party; the Tayag children, orphaned when their father was killed, and the mother went mad. I argued that there was no need to gun Tayag down. Six policemen could have easily cornered one man. The trial was news because CLAC had come to the aid of five orphans who would otherwise have been helpless in securing justice. I appeared personally at the trial; the six policemen were convicted. The case was given prominence in the Free Press Magazine and more people heard of CLAC.

As it was, the court convicted the six policemen—‘sworn guardians of the law’—for murder.


The Parisio Tayag case gained prominence through the media, and more people took notice what CLAC had been doing through the years. Soon CLAC saw the imperative of organizing a bigger legal aid team as more cases poured in that needed free legal assistance. CLAC originally started with only ten lawyers: Crispin Baizas, Jose Y. Feria, Juan T. David, Gonzalo W. Gonzalez, Juan Luces Luna, J. Antonio Araneta Alberto M. K. Jamir, Francisco Ortigas Jr., Angel C. Cruz and Salvador H. Laurel. Albeit they were among the brightest and courageous breed of lawyers in the legal profession, CLAC did not simply have the wherewithal to handle hundreds of cases piled up on its table. Nor could they have possibly foreseen the impact of their advocacy in the Philippine justice system. Atty. Salvador H. Laurel recalled:

I found out that 94% of the cases filed by poor people in the fiscal’s office were dismissed because the complainants could not afford a lawyer. Imagine, 94%! The complaints of the poor against criminal abuse were mostly thrown out for lack of counsel. That was an explosive situation! It affected me a lot. I was appalled!

Finally, owing to the gravity of the problem, Atty. Laurel saw the need to expand CLAC into a nationwide network of legal aid lawyers. I Informed Justice Ozaeta that what we were accomplishing in the CLAC was just a tiny trickle compared to the magnitude of the problem. What we saw was just the tip of the iceberg. It was a huge problem because it was nationwide. I urge Justice Ozaeta to let me organize CLAC to make it nationwide, and he consented.

The result was the 1967 rebirth of the country’s premiere legal aid organization; from CLAC, the group metamorphosed into a non-stock, non-profit corporation known as Citizens’ Legal Aid Society of the Philippines or CLASP. Inspired by Atty. Laurel’s deep-seated commitment with free legal aid, more volunteer lawyers throughout the country joined CLASP in its quest for justice for the poor. By the end of the first year (1966-1967), CLASP had 52 chapters with 750 lawyers under its wing; marking a prodigious output in the history of the organization. Consequently, other legal aid organizations in the country surfaced after CLASP, especially during the dark days of martial rule, but for the record, CLASP was the first. “If every lawyer in the country would only handle one case for an aggrieved litigant, “lamented Doy Laurel in one of his speeches, “that would go a long way in restoring the faith of the poor in the administration of justice.”

Soon there was a nationwide clamor urging Atty. Laurel to bring the cause of justice to the halls of Congress. Indeed, new laws were needed to provide free legal aid to the poor. Atty. Laurel got elected to the Senate under CLASP’s platform—justice for the poor and the oppressed— garnering the third highest number of votes in the 1967 senatorial elections. A decade later, his efforts were greatly rewarded when the International Legal Aid Association (ILLA) capped him as the Most Outstanding Legal Aid Lawyer of the World for 1976. Cited was his pioneering work in legal aid as Chairman of CLASP and his having authored five (5) “Justice for the Poor Laws” or simply, the Laurel Laws, while in the Senate.

And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.


Joaquin, Nick. Doy Laurel In Profile. Lahi, Inc. 2012

Berbano, Teodoro. “The CLAC in Action”. Graphic. June 14, 1967

“CLAC Winds Up Inquiry Into Driver’s Slaying”. The Manila Chronicle. June 1, 1967

Asa, Leon L., “Remembering the Late Former Vice President Dr. Salvador “Doy” H. Laurel”. The Lawyer’s Review. March 31, 2004


Arrieta, Abundio, Marbella, Winston, Monico, Jacob, Oliveros, Jose. Interview by the author, electronic recording, Makati. Philippines. September 2014

Photo credit: Salvador H. Laurel archive

Friday, October 9, 2015

Salvador H. Laurel— "Mr.Public Defender" (1)

In a litigious culture such as ours, lawyers are often seen as the repository of wit and intellect. But in most cases, this notion appears to be false. Today, courtrooms are plagued with a good number of half-witted tawdry attorneys lurking around the halls of justice, preying on clients for alms. What is so frustrating is the fact that most of these grammatically unsound lawyers belong to the public defender’s office of the government. Yes, they are tasked to handle cases of non-paying clients, or what we call “pauper litigants.” Most of these cases involve criminal abuses that are eventually thrown out either for lack of counsel or in a situation where the indigent is the accused─ imprisoned because of ineffective counsel. But there are exceptions of course: dedicated public servants who committed themselves early on to help the poor, those who could not afford the services of a lawyer.

Atty. Salvador H. Laurel —highly educated with a law degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) and a doctoral degree from Yale University —was no ordinary lawyer in the sixties. He had already an established reputation as a trial lawyer before he was fished out of his lucrative corporate practice. Over time Atty. Laurel had lived up to his lawyer’s oath and become the leading public defender of his day. Not too long, renowned columnist Emil P. Jurado hailed him as “Mr. Public Defender,” a moniker he earned for his undying advocacy to help poor litigants in their fight for justice.

Implicit in the due process clause of the Bill of Rights─ the right to be heard─ is “the right to counsel.” In hindsight, Atty. Salvador H. Laurel’s quiescent legacy best exemplifies what the Constitution really means when it elevated “the right to counsel” in the hierarchy of constitutional rights─ zealous legal protection sans pecuniary considerations.

The Banjo Laurel case

His first taste of the limelight as a lawyer came during the celebrated “Laurel-Silva” trial in the mid-60s. It was said that this celebrated case held the public and the print media in captivity for nineteen (19) consecutive days. The uproar of the vicious throng inflamed by the media then could be attributed to the fact that this was no ordinary crime for it involved the scion of one of most respectable political clan in the country— the Laurels of Batangas.

On trial was Atty. Laurel’s nephew, Jaime “Banjo” Laurel, son of Speaker Jose B. Laurel. The case stemmed from a woman named Erlinda Gallegos-Laurel whose lifeless body was found in her apartment riddled with gunshot wounds. Slumped over her was Amado Silva─ her lover─ also with a gunshot wound on his temple. Initially, the findings of the police investigation ruled that it was a clear case of a “murder-suicide”: the victim Erlinda Laurel was shot to death by Amando Silva, who in turn fired the gun on himself. Case closed? Not quite, because a month later, another team of police investigators took over the case and submitted a different report. This time, the crime had morphed into a case of “murder-parricide” and the alleged perpetrator of the crime was no other than victim’s estranged husband, Banjo Laurel.

Atty. Laurel handled the case through and through; from the preliminary investigation up to the trial. When the case was brought to court, it landed on the lap of Judge Jesus P. Morfe of the Court of First Instance (now Regional Trial Court) Manila—a well-known stern magistrate and a true man of law. At the courtroom, a crowd of spectators and news reporters gathered to witness the big event during the first stages of the trial. Though the case dragged on for almost two years, the public remained fascinated until its end.

The Star Brightens

It can be said that the limelight accorded to the “Laurel-Silva”case was largely because of the sterling performance of defense’s lead counsel. The impeccably dressed barrister who consistently won the room was unquestionably, a rising star in the legal profession. Armed with his innate articulate audacity, Atty. Laurel shattered the prosecution’s case that accused Banjo Laurel was behind the crime. Piece by piece, Atty. Laurel pointed out the glaring contradictions of the prosecution’s witnesses. His preparation for the case was astounding. Determined to prove that the prosecution’s evidence were fabricated, he meticulously poured over voluminous pages of documentary evidence along with the testimonies of 28 witnesses and 66 exhibits. Finally, the chicken has come home to roost. After a detailed examination of the expert witness (from the National Bureau of Investigation) by the defense, it was later revealed that the blood-stained bullet imbedded in the ceiling of the crime scene was consistent with the trajectory found in the head of Amando Silva. Simply stated, the physical evidence also proved that based on the relative positions of the bodies of the victims, it would be contrary to evidence to rule out murder-suicide as the nature of the crime.

The incontrovertible physical evidence alone showing a clear case of murder-suicide could have already won plaudit for the young inquisitor. Certainly, physical evidence is regarded as conclusive and the strongest evidence in a criminal trial because for one─ it simply cannot lie. But the lead defense counsel went further. During one of the grueling cross-examinations, Atty. Laurel proceeded to attack the testimonial confession of the prosecution’s principal witness. In what could be considered as the denouement of the trial was Atty. Laurel’s probing questions to the prosecution’s principal witness. It was a feat when the young barrister shook the perplexed witness on the stand, forcing him to retract his confession in open court. Worse, the witness even admitted in “sickening detail” how he was coerced and tortured by police investigators; how he was forced to lie.

With the prosecution’s case dashed to pieces, Atty. Laurel’s legal prowess had ultimately sealed the case in favor of the accused. The trial court eventually acquitted Banjo Laurel and his co-defendant.

To be continued...