|Jose P. Laurel (Photo from Wikipedia)|
Valor /ˈvalər/ n. Great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle.
Even in the very definition of valor, there is still a lot of machismo going on. I think it’s preposterous to emphasize that valor always has to be “in battle”. To emphasize this would make youngsters justify violence as gallantry; that great courage can only be found in the tips of guns, swords, and fists.
But to simplify valor as great courage in the face of danger would be to belittle its very meaning. Valor is an action word. Courage not shown through action is not courage at all. But what constitutes “acts of valor?”
As we celebrate “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor), I am not reminded of the many nameless American and Filipino soldiers who died in the foxholes and pockets of Bataan and Corregidor. Not that I don’t remember them at all—we’ve given them due credit in countless of commemorations and we still do up to now by incessantly fighting for veteran’s rights.
I am more reminded of valiant people lost in the historical weave because of historians’ machismo and biases. One person I remember the most is former President Jose P. Laurel.
Laurel was branded a traitor and collaborator during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines by no less than General Douglas MacArthur. He orders Laurel’s incarceration in Sugamo Prison and the indictment of treason charges against him. Other pro-American historians would soon follow in this persecution of Laurel and his comrades Jorge Vargas, Benigno Aquino Sr, and Claro M. Recto, among others.
Little do we know that on December 24, 1941, these gallant men were instructed to stay behind by President Manuel L. Quezon himself “for the purpose of meeting an invading enemy force and with a view to protecting the people and interceding in their behalf.” These men were also advised not to take the oath of allegiance to Japan.
Laurel was personally chosen due to his experience in diplomatic affairs with the Japanese. He has an honorary doctorate from the Tokyo Imperial University and one of his sons studied at the Imperial Military Academy in Japan. He was in the best position to lead the Philippines under Japanese control. During his term as puppet president, he managed to evade taking the oath of allegiance to the Japanese on several occasions.
After the fall of Manila to the Japanese on January 3, 1942, the Japanese High Command ordered the “immediate organization of an Administrative Constitution”. On January 23, the Filipino leaders instructed to stay behind (led by then Manila Mayor Jorge B. Vargas) gave a Letter of Response stating their readiness to obey the orders of the Japanese army for the “maintenance of peace and order and the promotion of the well being of our people”. On the same day, the Philippine Executive Commission was formed with Vargas, Aquino, and Laurel among others as members.
When the Americans and Commonwealth government-in-exile in Corregidor heard about the establishment of the Philippine Executive Commission, President Quezon immediately wrote to General MacArthur in Bataan:
“In reference to the men who have accepted positions in the commission established by the Japanese, every one of them wanted to come to Corregidor, but you told me that there was no room for them here. They are not quislings. The quislings are the men who betray their country to the enemy. These men did what they had been asked to do…”
After the establishment of the Philippine Executive Commission, a new Japanese-sponsored constitution and the Second Philippine Republic would be established with Laurel being elected as president. But more than an unwilling collaborator, President Laurel had greater things in mind.
It is worth noting that while President Laurel gained prominence as a lawyer and senator during the American period, he wasn’t pro-American at all. In fact, he once clashed American governor general Leonard Wood over the latter’s reinstatement of an American official charged with malfeasance. He resigned out of disgust and the rest of the Filipino cabinet would resign as well out of sympathy to his cause. A true patriot, he has always envisioned an independent Philippines with a society that serves its State loyally and passionately—a trait which he saw and admired from Japanese society during his doctorate in Japan.
Now, as president, he would take advantage of the occupation to reform Filipino society from what he perceived as degradation from its patriotic nature during the American occupation. Hence, he supported the creation of the KALIBAPI (Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas) to serve the interest of the people by fostering the teaching of the National Language and Filipino history as well as promotion of Filipino culture and arts. While organizations like this are merely propaganda for the Japanese, for Laurel and his cabinet, it is a means of reigniting Filipino passion for freedom and love of nation.
Thus, throughout his presidency, Laurel always spoke of service and loyalty—not to the Japanese—but to an independent Philippines. From Proclamation No. 30 in September 22, 1944 which declared the State of War between the Second Philippine Republic and the United States:
“Face to face with the grim realities of war, I earnestly call upon every Filipino at this momentous hour to show their (sic) unswerving loyalty and to give their support for the government, so that regardless of the trials and tribulations that we are undergoing and those we shall have to suffer in the near future, we may closely and firmly unite to safeguard the free and independent Philippines.”
President Laurel also desperately worked around the tight system of governance the Japanese organized in order to protect more civilians and public servants against the atrocities of the Japanese and their pro-Japanese sympathizers (such as the Makapilis, Palaaks, and Pampars, among others). Some of the few people whose lives he saved include Manuel Roxas, Ferdinand E. Marcos, and his very own assassin at Wack-Wack Golf Club, Feliciano “Little Jo” Lizardo. He also kept a deaf ear and a blind eye to the activities of pro-American guerrillas within his own cabinet.
While Laurel’s patriotic intentions were pure and true, he and his associates were the only ones who saw the purity of their intentions. They underestimated the colonial mentality most Filipinos still had during the time as evidenced by the great number of Filipinos who joined or supported guerrilla movement. No matter how much Laurel distanced his agenda from the hated Japanese, to most Filipinos they were the same. He was a victim of circumstance, a victim of war itself, and if not for the general amnesty given by his successor Manuel Roxas, Laurel would have died a prisoner of war, without the chance of vindicating himself from accusations of treason.
His vindication would come a few years later, when he was swiftly brought back to the political limelight as a returning member of the Philippine Senate in 1951. But his vindication in history books still remains moot and academic.
Nevertheless, President Laurel was a man of valor more than the many nameless soldiers who died in the foxholes and pockets of Bataan and Corregidor. He was courageous enough to put himself in a difficult and dangerous position to intercede on behalf of the millions of Filipinos who suffered during the war. He may have had fears, just like the young Elisha when Elijah vested him prophetic authority before being whisked away to heaven. But he had no hint of indecision, only the firm belief that amid the darkness of war, there should be someone courageous enough to open the light so that people may see their path into the future.
Hence, on this Day of Valor, let us remember the sacrifice, not just of the men and women who died defending our freedom during the war, but also of the people who courageously lived and served under difficult circumstances so that others may live.
Zaide, Sonia and Gregorio. The Philippines: A Unique Nation. Manila. 1993
Laurel, Jose P. War Memoirs of Dr. Jose P. Laurel. Manila. 1962
Recto, Claro M. Three Years of Enemy Occupation: The Issue of Political Collaboration in the Philippines. Manila, 1946
Steinberg, David. Jose P. Laurel: A Collaborator Misunderstood. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 24. No. 4. August 1965. pp. 651-665