Saturday, September 24, 2016

Face Off in the Palace: The Laurels versus Marcos

The Laurels and Ferdinand Marcos were no strangers to each other. It will be recalled that sometime in 1964, Marcos wanted to challenge then-President Diosdado Macapagal in the national convention of the Liberal Party. He realized later that he had no chance of winning in that convention as LP’s presidential standard-bearer, and so Marcos approached Speaker Jose “Pepito” Laurel, eldest son of the wartime president, to discuss his predicament. Right off, Speaker Laurel, along with a group of NPs that included Puyat, Roy, and Almendras, worked for Marcos’ conversion into a Nacionalista. Marcos’ entry in the NP, however, was not well received by the party’s hierarchy. Especially displeased was NP chief Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, who refused to give Marcos his blessing. My god! Pepito is bringing a devil to the party! Amang was quoted saying. But as Fate would have it, Pepito Laurel managed to sneak Marcos in, and from there win the presidency from Diosdado Macapagal in 1965. The rest is history.

Fast forward to 1978. Just about two months before the scheduled interim Batasan Pambansa elections, President Marcos invited his fellow Nacionalistas to a conclave in Malacañang, where the president would attempt to pull off his biggest surprise. Present in that meeting were some NP eminentos: Emmanuel Pelaez, Arturo Tolentino, Jose Roy, Cornelio Villareal, J. Antonio Araneta, and the Laurel brothers, Speaker Jose “Pepito” Laurel, and his younger brother, Salvador “Doy” Laurel. Bereft of the usual pleasantries, President Marcos went straight to the jugular and announced the impending abolition of NP and LP, and in their stead, he proposed the creation of a new political party that would be in accord with the spirit of the “New Society.” Visibly upset by Marcos’ temerity to abolish the party that made him President, Speaker Pepito Laurel swooped on Marcos, and angrily said: “Just a moment, Mr. President. I was not coming here at all. I had sworn I would not come to Malacañang as long as martial law was in force. But I was told by NP Secretary General Constancio Castaneda that today was the burial of the Nacionalista Party. And so I put on my best suit, my funeral suit, and as you can see my tie is black. Because for the sake of the Nacionalista Party, which made us all, I will go anywhere, even to Malacañang.”

Pepito Laurel, reported one account, was so enraged that he virtually pointed his finger at Marcos’ face and went on to lecture the president on what loyalty was all about. The silence, said Doy Laurel, who was beside his elder brother the whole time, was deafening. Of course, the people around Ferdinand Marcos were all taken aback, as was the president. No one reacted but everybody knew what the Speaker meant. Apparently, the Laurels could not accept that the Marcos would absorb the Nacionalista Party, which was a legacy of their father Jose P. Laurel, into his own Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. Then the Speaker made a last-ditch effort to save the NP, and told Marcos, with all the passion at his command, not to kill it. “This is the party that made you president, twice. It should not be recorded that this party born in 1907, was killed by Ferdinand Marcos in 1978. Don’t kill it, Mr. President. Just let it rest, let it sleep for a while.” In an effort to hasten their predicament, Speaker Laurel proposed a win-win solution and suggested to form— instead of a party— a movement that would serve as an “umbrella” for all candidates in the upcoming elections. The President, who held his peace all along, liked Pepito’s “umbrella idea,” and bought it almost immediately. And so it was settled. But before the Laurels could stalk off, the Speaker once again surveyed the people around the president, people he hardly knew, feigned a grin and said: “Mr. President, I noticed a lot of new faces around; when your boat sinks, these new faces will be the first to abandon you.” As it happened, only Vicente “Ting” Paterno, a Marcos official at that time, had the guts and the decency to accompany the Laurels to their car.

The “umbrella idea” worked; NP got a reprieve up to that point. But it was just a matter of time before the final split between the Laurels and Ferdinand Marcos, erstwhile political allies during pre-martial law years, came to the fore. ..

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The Marcos connection

It is safe to conclude that the schism was set out early on. And as one story is oft-told, it was the Old Man Laurel who saved the young Marcos from being clapped in the calaboose for murder. (And, as related above, it was Speaker Laurel who welcomed Marcos into the NP.) No wonder that Marcos showed deferential attitude toward the Laurels from day one and didn’t dare fight them openly, except in politics. In a stirring eulogy on President Jose P. Laurel, delivered before the Senate on February 5, 1960, Ferdinand E. Marcos, then a Senator, regarded the Old Man Laurel in this manner:

Objectivity cannot be mine. My eyes cannot but be closed to his shortcomings and my heart moved by gratitude. For I owe this man my life, not once but thrice. Above all, I owe him my faith in God.

As a young man not yet out of college unjustly haled to court for public trial for a crime I did not commit, I had called our system of justice a travesty and, what was worse, my belief in God a mockery. But I found justice in the hand of a great soul.

Justice Jose P. Laurel of the Supreme Court returned me my faith in my fellow men and in God. I found justice in his sharp mind and trenchant pen. (Emphasis mine)

Given Marcos’ deep admiration, respect and debt of gratitude to Jose P. Laurel, Doy could very well have chosen to feather his own nest under martial rule and played the role of a bootlicker but that wasn’t just his style. Instead, Doy chose struggle over comfort, community over self, which to his way of thinking Filipino patriotism best exemplified. Whatever the case, Doy Laurel seemed to have played his cards rather well and took advantage of this so-called “debt of gratitude,” and used it to pound the Marcos dictatorship to the hilt.

Whether the Laurels made a fatal mistake in bringing Marcos into the fold of the NP is a matter of opinion, but certainly Doy’s older brother, Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., had cried mea culpa—“mea maxima culpa” were his precise words, actually— many times since and vowed to get even. Doy, for his part, swore he would restore democracy in the country, that he would blaze the trail fighting Marcos and his forces —Batangas-style—that would leave everybody in awe.

And thus it was that the paths of two political titans, fraternity brothers no less, crossed again.

Excerpts from “UNIDO: The Political Party that Brought Marcos Down