Jose P. Laurel, the President of the Second Republic of the Philippines, officially known as the Japanese-sponsored Republic of the Philippines, was a patriot, nationalist, jurist, statesman and political philosopher of the highest order. As president, Laurel did his best to cushion the effects of a brutal enemy occupation on the Filipino people. To a certain laudable extent, Laurel managed to succeed in that regard while staying in the good graces of the Japanese military establishment.
After the war, Laurel was charged with collaboration. Because a general amnesty issued by President Manuel Roxas denied him a chance to defend himself in court, Laurel sought public vindication directly from the people by running for the Senate in 1951. Laurel landed in first place.
For several years after the war, history books had a negative assessment of the Laurel presidency. By the 1960s, however, a number of more thoroughly researched publications paved the way for the correction of the historical record. Indeed, Laurel had been misjudged during his time, and the real score was eventually revealed.
Sadly, however, there was no film, not even a documentary at that, that tackles Laurel and his role during the war.
That dearth officially ended last 7 April with the premiere exhibition of Laurel, a documentary film about the misjudged wartime Philippine leader, at the Cine Adarna of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman.
Directed by UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) cinema icons Grace Javier-Alfonso and Arminda Santiago, Laurel has all the trimmings of a historical documentary. A cast led by Omar Flores reenacted key events during the Laurel presidency with as much fidelity to the historical record as possible. There were commentaries from members of the Laurel family and Dr. Ricardo Jose, the leading Filipino expert on World War II in the Philippines and whose expertise is recognized worldwide.
The documentary distinguishes itself by two rare film clips of President Laurel in action — Laurel’s inaugural address as president in October 1943 and his extemporaneous speech in an assembly of Asian leaders in Tokyo hosted by Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo. Both film clips are a must-see for scholars and students of Philippine political history.
It also distinguishes itself by its use of a beautiful instrumental interpretation of the classic “Lambingan,” Laurel’s favorite Tagalog piece.
Laurel highlighted key segments in the wartime historical record, including Laurel’s refusal to accommodate the Japanese “request” that the Philippines declare war on the United States and the United Kingdom; his opposition to Filipinos getting drafted to the Japanese Imperial Army; and his order that Filipino soldiers, not Japanese troops, should guard Malacañang.
Likewise documented in the film is Laurel’s compassion even for those who wished him harm.
In 1943, months before his installation as president. Laurel was shot by a Filipino guerilla while playing golf one morning at Wack-Wack in Mandaluyong. Timely medical treatment at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) saved Laurel’s life.
Days later, the Japanese captured the gunman and brought him to the PGH for Laurel to identify. Although Laurel was certain that the prisoner was his would-be assassin, Laurel refused to identify him and insisted that the Japanese got the wrong man. The prisoner had to be released.
After the war, the would-be assassin sought Laurel personally in Manila to thank him. He eventually worked as Laurel’s bodyguard until Laurel’s demise in 1959.
Laurel is produced by UP Vice President Elena Pernia. Its executive producers are UP Regent Francis Laurel and Inday Arcenas of the Development Bank of the Philippines. UP CMC’s Rica Abad and Roehl Jamon are the film’s associate producer and cinematographer, respectively.
The screenplay was written by UP CMC professors Teresa Congjuico, Rachel Khan and Choy Pangilinan,
UP officials led by president Danilo Concepcion, executive vice president Teodoro Herbosa, ex-Regent Ramon Maronilla and assistant vice president Wendell Capili attended the premiere.
Laurel not only reveals the kind of leader the Philippine wartime president was, but likewise emphasizes the more dreadful times the Filipinos may have had to endure under the Japanese if the president was somebody other than the great Jose P. Laurel.
The film is expected in local cinemas before year’s end.