Jose P. Laurel
Eminent jurist, legislator, administrator, writer, statesman and educator – that was Jose P. Laurel, installed President of the Philippines by the Japanese who occupied the country in 1942.
Jose P. Laurel was born on March 9, 1894 in Tanuan, Batangas to Sotero Laurel and Jacoba Garica. He finished elementary education in Tanauan, his high school in the Manila High School, and his law course at the University of the Philippines.
He was brilliant student and cropped many prizes for outstanding work in school. He even won a set of law books for writing the best thesis. He was one of the topnotchers of the bar examinations. In 1918, he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Jurisprudence, a rare honor conferred in those times.
His Government Career
Dr. Laurel started his government career when he was eighteen, as a part-time labourer. He soon rose to become clerk in the Code Committee, In 1925, he beat Antero Soriano of Cavite, a powerful politician, in the senatorial elections.
As a legislator, Dr. Laurel distinguished himself for his advocacy of woman suffrage, the acceptance of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act, and his sponsorship of the Bill of Rights in the Philippine Constitution.
Other positions which he held in government were: Delegate to the Constitutional Convention; Secretary of Justice, Supreme Court; and of course President of the Philippines. He was a professional lecturer in many universities of Manila. He was chancellor emeritus of the National Teachers College. He founded and was the first president of the Lyceum of the Philippines.
Jose P. Laurel was Secretary of Justice when the Pacific War broke out on December 8, 1941.
On orders of President Quezon, he continued as Commissioner of Justice under the Japanese-sponsored Executive Commission. He wanted to flee to the mountains with other cabinet members but quezon had definitely ordered him to stay and protect and serve the people.
Like all Filipinos who witnessed the Death March from Bataan and the soldiers’ interment as prisoners of war in Capaz, Tarlac, Laurel was shocked by the cruelty of the victors.
President Laurel’s Installation to Power
On October 14, 1943, Laurel was installed President. Forced by the Japanese, he declared war on the United States and its allies. But when was told to rally the Filipinos to fight alongside the Japanese against the Americans, Laurel balked. He was able to convince the Japanese that it might be disastrous since the greater mass of the Filipinos were still loyal to the United States.
Laurel stood his ground on still other occasions. It is said that when Colonel Nagahama, chief of the military of police demanded permission from him to arrest Brigadier General Manuel A. Roxas for some “controversial” activities, Laurel refused. He had earlier named Roxas as a commissioner without portfolio to protect him.
When President Laurel was told that Kempeitais, Japanese police, were about to raid Malacanang, he ordered Col. Jesus Vargas of the Presidential guards to arm all his men and repel Japanese.
He was not collaborators but Patriots.
It should be noted that Vargas, Laurel, Aquino, Recto and other Filipino leaders who were compelled to serve in the puppet civil government established by the Japanese conquerors were not collaborators as many postwar writers erroneously and unfairly called them. These writers particularly Americans, had not witnessed or experienced the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese during their occupation of the Philippines and thus did not know actually that these Filipino leaders risked their lives to protect the helpless Filipino people from enemy movement against Japan.
Also it should be recalled that president Quezon before leaving Manila for Corregidor of December 24, 1941, gave last minute instructions to Laurel, Vargas and other Filipino leaders to stay at their posts and serve under the Japanese conquerors in order to protect the defenceless people during the dark period of enemy occupation. General MacArthur knew these presidential instruction, and added in adice to them “never to take the oath of allegiance to Japan”.
By their mock collaboration with Japan, Dr. Laurel and other Filipino officials during the occupation period were able to save thousands of Filipinos’ lives. If they had not accepted the offer of the Japanese High Command to serve in the Executive Commission, most likely a Japanese military government would have been established or a puppet civil government would have been created composed of General Artemio Ricarte, Benigno Ramos and other pro-Japanese Filipinos, either way, it would have been calamitous for the Filipino people.
On Januray 28, 1942, a radio broadcast from Tokyo announced the establishment of a new government in Manila consisting of Vargas, Laurel, Recto and other Filipino leaders. This government was the Philippine ExclusiveCommission. High Commissioner Sayre of the US who was in Corregidor with President Quezon was alarmed . Quezon was worried, for the firmly believed in the patriotism of Vargas and his companions. Immediately, he wrote a letter to General MacArthur who was then in Bataan.
Meanwhile, the Japanese-made Philippine Republic was in crisis. Peace and order crumbled as the Japanese soldiers continued to oppress the people. Hunger was widespread because of the Japanese were confiscating food from merchants and fro producers. Men were being forced to work in military bases and those accused of supporting guerrillas and being pro-Americans were being arrested and tortured.
As this disorder was going on, President Laurel imposed Martial law on September 21, 1944. The following day, pressured by desperate Japanese authorities, he was forced to declare war on the US.
This was declaration was not effective, however, because of the two reasons: first, the President did not submit the war declaration to the National Assembly for approval; hence, it was illegal; and second, the President made it clear in the Proclamation that Filipinos would not be forced to serve in the war; hence, the war declaration was of no value.
It seemed that President Laurel, knowing that the Filipinos would not fight for Japan against US, issued the war declaration only to pacify the Japanese authorities and this save the people from their wrath.
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