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 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.
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.
From CLAC to CLASP
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