Mauro Gia Samonte’s “Dr. Jose P. Laurel: Nation above self—a biography”
There are two ways of viewing this book. One may dismiss it as an exercise in historical revisionism. Or it can be taken as a candid account of events during World War II from the point of view of a man who told the other side of Japan’s role when it invaded the Philippines in 1942 and occupied the country until 1945.
That man is Dr. Jose P. Laurel and this book is his biography.
Written by 77-year-old, former film director-screenplay writer, and now Manila Times columnist Mauro Gia Samonte, the 280-page book is a lesson in history that will disturb, perplex, and perhaps, even anger those among us who grew up accepting and asserting the “America is the hero-Japan is the villain” dichotomy of the Second World War.
But for those who have always been slightly suspicious of the war’s declared heroes and villains, the book, proofreading errors aside, is an eye-opener.
Consider these information dug up by Samonte:
Right at the beginning of American occupation in the Philippines in 1898, history has on record a contingent of Japanese shishi or ultranationalists landing in Manila and then fighting alongside President Emilio Aguinaldo’s army against the Americans…
A Japanese ship docked in Manila in 1896, laden with firearms meant for the Katipunan Revolt. There were speculations that Andres Bonifacio tried to get those firearms, but the ship captain refused to give the arms to him as those were consigned to one Don Francisco Roxas-Chua, the head of the Los Compromisarios, the body within the La Liga Filipina tasked with raising logistics for the revolution…
America’s ostensible fight for the Philippines was actually a fight only to disrupt the Japanese timetable for its rampage against the British Empire, a disruption that was a condition for British victory against Germany—which in the end was in turn the condition for the Strategic Triangle, and hence America, to remain safe…
US vs. JAPAN
The book asserts that Japan invaded the Philippines because it was home to the largest US military installation outside America. “After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Philippines was next,” the author wrote.
Tanauan, Batangas-born lawyer, politician, and jurist Jose P. Laurel is introduced in the story as one who had early qualms about America’s capacity to defend the Philippines.
With Laurel’s Memoirs as guide, the book goes into the mind of the then Associate Justice to the Supreme Court in 1941.
Although the President had expressed confidence in American capability to defend the country from any foreign aggression, Dr. Laurel could not help having ambivalent feelings on the issue. As far as he was concerned, at the helm of the Japanese government were officials who had proven their hospitality to Filipinos, and if the feared threat of Japanese attack in the Philippines does happen in fact, it would be a war against America, not the Philippines…
America, having been caught unawares of the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor showed how much more unprepared it must be now in regard to defending the Philippines, MacArthur’s earlier assurances regardless…
Laurel is revealed as a man who admires Japan. He sent his son Jose Sotero III to Japan to pursue military training at the Japanese Imperial Military Academy.
Tension between the US and Japan continued to escalate and Laurel found himself conflicted over what he would do when Japan finally invaded the Philippines.
As described by Samonte: “Dr. Laurel already sensed being alone saddled with a responsibility so huge he felt it could form the cross of his life.”
This responsibility became evident when Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon escaped to the United States after Japanese forces entered Manila and left the care of the country in the hands of Laurel and other officials left behind.
Entry IX of Laurel’s War Memoirs captured the moment: It was at this juncture that I raised the very important question pertaining to the conduct and behavior of those of us he was leaving behind. I said: Mr. President, it is easy to say that you are leaving us to take care of the situation with a view to the protection of the civil population considering the fact that that when the Japanese forces come, we shall be performing neutral functions, pertaining to the municipal adminstation and the administration of justice; but the Japanese may require or compel us to do many things which are inimical to our Government and that of the United States. In my case, may I leave my position and go to the mountains. I am asking the question because when you come back , you might disapprove of our acts and accuse us of disloyalty. We would hate to be placed in that predicament…
Laurel’s question was answered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said that Laurel and the other remaining officials have to do what the Japanese officials ask them to do, except one thing—the taking of any oath of allegiance to Japan.
The book said Laurel was unable to follow MacArthur’s caveat because he and the other Filipino officials during the Japanese Occupation were ordered to establish the Second Republic of the Philippines on Oct. 13, 1943, with Laurel as President.
And so, like a prophet of his own doom, Laurel’s registered misgivings came true after the war when he was imprisoned and charged with treason.
US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had earlier disowned President P. Laurel, calling his administration a “puppet government.”
Laurel was declared “not guilty” by Prosecutor Lorenzo B. Tañada who in later years would be praised as one of the country’s best statesmen.
On the day Laurel died on Nov. 6, 1959, then President Carlos P. Garcia described him as a “great patriot, eminent jurist, statesman, senator, and constitutionalist.” It was a complete turnaround from the time when Laurel was regarded as a traitor to his country.
“I am neither pro-Japanese nor pro-American. I am pro-Filipino. There is no law that can condemn me for having placed the welfare of my people over and above that of America,” Laurel said. G
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mauro Gia Samonte, 77, first caught the public eye in the mid-70s as screenwriter for Vilma Santos-starrers like “Tag-ulan sa Tag-araw,” and “Burlesk Queen.” In the 80s and 90s, he directed a string of erotic films like “Kirot,” “Machete,” “Halimuyak ng Babae,” “Kesong Puti,” and “Talong.” A prolific writer, Samonte has written a novel and short stories. Today, he writes a column for the Manila Times.