At the MacArthur and Laurel
Perspectives of the War Years
Muralla Ballroom, The Bayleaf Hotel
February 16, 2015
It pains me deeply not to be able to join you today; a personal invitation from Mrs. Laurel is something I always look forward to. Our families are bound by the strong ties of affection; I myself am an admirer of the great senator Sotero H. Laurel, whose contributions, as a statesman and educator, added luster to the Laurel name, a name indivisible from the concepts of patriotism, statesmanship, and valor in service of the country.
I was also looking forward to meeting James Zobel, who has been very kind to my office in terms of helping us in our pursuit of historical documents through the MacArthur Memorial.
Let me say this: The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila and the forthcoming anniversary of the end of the war have brought an outpouring of memory, triggering a concerted effort to transition from remembrance to commemoration. As those who lived through those harrowing days pass from the scene, it is incumbent upon the rest of us, who continue to bear their memory, to pursue the task of understanding and giving meaning to their life experiences.
As part of that effort, I would simply like to share three points relevant to the topic at hand: the great dilemma that confronted Filipinos at that time under circumstances that were unique to our country. We forget that, then, among the nations in Southeast Asia, the Philippines was the only one that had a concrete expectation and understanding of independence. We were the only ones that had an autonomous government, and only we had our own Armed Forces, one pledged to the Allied cause.
On this note, let me share an excerpt from a letter of President Manuel L. Quezon to General Douglas MacArthur, dated January 28, 1942:
The relevant paragraphs read:
In reference to the men who have accepted positions in the commission established by the Japanese, everyone of them wanted to come to Corregidor, but you told me that there was no place 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, under the protection of their Government. Today they are virtually prisoners of the enemy. I am sure they are only doing what they think is their duty. They are not traitors. They are the victims of the adverse fortunes of war and I am sure they had no choice. Besides, it is most probable that they accepted their positions in order to safeguard the welfare of the civilian population in the occupied areas. I think, under the circumstances, America should look upon their situation sympathetically and understandingly.
Here in a few paragraphs one can find the dilemma of those who had the responsibilities of leadership at that time, in particular of those who could not be part of the government-in-exile. The dilemma strikes at the heart of a crucial debate: what are the responsibilities of a Filipino leader to his fellow Filipinos. This goes beyond any other tie—political, legal, or even personal—as these leaders had to fulfill public duties, as well as address their own personal expectations of what constituted their duty to their country. This brings me to the dilemma faced by Sotero Laurel. When World War II broke out, Sotero Laurel was in the United States. He came to serve as secretary to Vice-President Sergio Osmeña. When the Japanese established the Puppet Republic and appointed Sotero’s father, Jose P. Laurel, as President, Sotero did the honorable thing: he offered to resign.
In response to that offer, this is the reply he received from President Quezon.
The letter is dated September 30, 1943:
My dear Laurel:
Your letter of September 27 touched my very soul. Being a father and having a son I understand what you mean. The question of your remaining in the service of the Government of the Commonwealth must be decided solely upon this question. Are you in conscience loyal to America and to the Government of the Philippine Commonwealth regardless of whether your father has in truth become pro-Japanese. If you are loyal to the Government of the Commonwealth it is your duty to remain in your job and it is my right to advise you to do so. I may say in passing that I am not convinced that your father is a traitor either to the United States or to the Philippines. I know him personally and have been closely connected with him officially for many years. I believe he is doing what he honestly believes is in the best interest of the Filipino people for the time being, and not because he has become a tool of the Japanese.
After saying what I have said it is a matter for you to decide what you should do. If you are loyal to America and to my government, stay in your job. If you are not, resign, and I will accept your resignation forthwith.
Manuel L. Quezon
I have always maintained that the sins of the father should not weigh upon the son. But sons in turn have great latitude in adding to or diminishing the reputations of their fathers. Therefore, the true measure of a father is what a son does to uphold and live by the code of conduct of his father. Nothing speaks more highly of Laurel than what his son did: offering to resign. The letter speaks of this, far from the judgment of his peers.
I cannot, and I should not, preempt what Mr. Zobel will be saying today. We can trust that it will be both interesting and thought-provoking. We must ponder what he says with the spirit of impartial inquiry, from the perspective of an inquisitive Filipino. And today, I am reminded of the words of another great leader of that war.
In his eulogy for Neville Chamberlain, dated November 1940, Winston Churchill said:
It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.
This is how statesmen must be judged. This is how generals must be judged. This is how those who feel they have served their respective countries must also be judged.
Thank you very much, and good day.