The following essay was written by Dr. Ricardo T. Jose and was published as the afterword in His Excellency Jose P. Laurel, President of the Second Philippine Republic: Speeches, Messages and Statements. 

This was made available online with the permission of the author.


The Second Philippine Republic was born under great duress—during the Japanese occupation—and faced virtually insurmountable obstacles. Despite the odds, Dr. Jose P. Laurel as President of this republic, did all he could and more to meet the problems of the time and to try to transcend them.

 

The Road to Japanese-Sponsored Independence

Hardly had the Japanese occupied Manila when the seeds of the Second Philippine Republic were sown. In an attempt to win the loyalty of the Filipinos, Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, in January 1942, announced that Japan would grant the Philippines “the honor of independence” if the Philippines understood Japan’s “real intentions” in the war and cooperated sincerely with the Japanese. Filipinos were then fighting bitterly together with the Americans against the Japanese invaders in Bataan, Corregidor and other fronts.

A week later, in front of the Japanese Diet, Tojo noted that much progress has been made in cooperating with the Japanese—the Japanese have established a military administration and had successfully prodded several pre-war political leaders to create the Philippine Executive Commission, which would carry out the Japanese plans—and that therefore, plans for independence would be carried out “in the shortest possible time”.

While indeed peace and order had been restored in Manila, the war was still going on in Bataan and other fronts, and would continue for a few more months. Few Filipinos gave the promise much thought, seeing it as a ploy to coax them to cooperate with the Japanese. Those in the Executive Commission—including Laurel, who was first Commissioner of Justice and later Commissioner of the Interior—saw the possibility of softening the Japanese demands and for carrying out much needed reforms in the administration. They were, after all, on the spot and Manuel L. Quezon, president of the pre-war Philippine Commonwealth government—then in Corregidor and later in exile in the United States had given them instructions to stay behind and do the best they could to soften the blow of enemy occupation.[1]

A year later, Tojo repeated his promise, prompting the Japanese Military Administration to exert more pressure on the Executive Commission to cooperate. In May 1943, Tojo visited Manila to get a first-hand view of Philippine conditions, and again dangled the promise of independence. Satisfied with his reception in Manila, Tojo declared that the Filipinos were cooperating well with Japanese (when actually they were not, and the guerrilla resistance movement thrived in the hills), and thus, Japan would grant the Philippines the honor of independence within the year.

 

Laurel and the 1943 Constitution

As a concrete step towards Japanese-sponsored independence, the Japanese mandated that a Preparatory Commission for Philippine Independence (PCPI) be created. Laurel was named president of the body, which was tasked with drafting the constitution for the republic to be. The Japanese had their own ideas on how the constitution was to be framed, and they made no secret of it.[2]

Laurel, however, was shot at by a guerrilla believing Laurel was too pro-Japanese. Laurel survived the attempt, although he was badly wounded and had to be confined at the Philippine General Hospital. Even before he had fully recovered, he met with the PCPI members and, from his hospital bed, postulated his own ideas on how the constitution should be—regardless of what the Japanese wanted. Laurel immediately showed that he was in charge. With his long experience in government, as well as his role in framing the 1935 Constitution, Laurel knew what the country needed and how the Constitution should be shaped.[3]

The ensuing 1943 constitution established a republican government with a strong executive, which Laurel felt was important for that time, for more direct action. It stressed the duties and obligations of the people rather than their rights and privileges, so as to mobilize the nation so that it may survive during the emergency period. This constitution, however, was categorically temporary, until the end of the war. Once peaceful conditions were restored, the transitory provisions of the constitution clearly stated that a new one would be promulgated to suit the times.

The Japanese had kept close watch over the PCPI and the draft constitution, and saw great similarities between it and the 1935 Constitution. The US democratic tradition still showed, and it was completely different from the Japanese Constitution, which they probably hoped would be emulated. The Japanese tried to get some changes and objected to some points, such as the absence of military conscription—but Laurel stood his ground.[4]

Even though Laurel tried to push his ideas while keeping the Japanese at bay, most Filipinos could not see the high-level conflicts and joked that PCPI actually meant “Please Cancel Philippine Independence”, because a Japanese-sponsored independence would not be real. Laurel would have to contend with this sentiment when he became president.

 

Toward the Presidency

On September 7, 1943, Laurel delivered an extemporaneous speech at the Legislative Building in front of a special assembly of the Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI), the semi-political organization the Japanese had created to replace all pre-war political parties. Laurel explained the highlights of the Constitution—and also his political philosophy, and in so doing, urged that the Constitution be ratified.

This Constitution, Laurel stated, was a constitution of action, because those days were days of action. “These are days of responsibility; these are days of courage; these are days of determination; these are days of life and death,” continued Laurel, and so a strong executive was needed. He explained the various other aspects of the constitution and why they were needed at that time. The speech was very well received—rounds of applause cut in often—and it was reproduced and translated into the major Philippine languages and given wide distribution.

A catch phrase he used in the speech—”One Nation, One Heart, One Republic”—became a slogan which was embodied in posters and the newspapers. The Constitution was duly ratified by the KALIBAPI general assembly.[5]

The KALIBAPI assembly then elected members of the national assembly for the republic-to-be. The assemblymen then proceeded to elect the president of the country.

Laurel was undoubtedly the most qualified to be president. He was virtually the father of the 1943 Constitution, was eloquent, had a full grasp of the situation and a clear idea of where and how he wanted to direct the country. He could also deal with the Japanese as he had their respect. This was obvious to the PCPI, to the KALIBAPI, and to most Filipinos. He was, thus, unanimously elected as president on September 25, 1943 by the National Assembly.

Even the Japanese approved of Laurel, because they felt he—having served as lawyer for some Japanese before the war and having had a son study in the Japanese Military Academy, in addition to his own honorary doctorate from the University of Tokyo—would be pro-Japanese. In this, they were wrong.

Shortly after the election, Laurel, together with Speaker of the National Assembly Benigno Aquino and outgoing Chairman of the Executive Commission Jorge B. Vargas, were summoned to Tokyo for a meeting with Prime Minister Tojo. After some pleasantries, Tojo urged Laurel to declare war against the U.S. It became clear that this was the strongly attached to early independence. It was too late now to refuse the Japanese independence offer; but it was unthinkable that the Philippines would do as Tojo wished. Laurel walked the tightrope using tact: he argued that the Filipino people, would not accede to it and besides, he was not popular enough to win the people over. Furthermore—in Laurel’s own words—”it would not be ‘decent’ for the Filipinos to declare war against the United States that was their benefactor and ally… only unworthy people could be expected to do that.”[6] Laurel was thus able to stave off the Japanese condition for independence, but he knew he would not be able to keep it away forever.

All of this had been happening with no concrete date set for independence. Only during the visit of Laurel’s party to Tokyo was the date publicly set: October 14, 1943.

 

President of the Second Philippine Republic

In lavish ceremonies accompanied by a four-day holiday, the Japanese Military Administration was terminated and withdrawn and the Second Philippine Republic was born. Laurel took his oath as president—in Tagalog—and then delivered his inaugural address. In this address, Laurel did not just point out the priorities and directions of his government, but also presented his social, economic and political philosophy. The address—the first speech presented in this book—sought both solutions to immediate and concrete problems, such as the loss of morals, national unity and economic security.

Although today’s conditions are not as severe as in 1943, the philosophy and solutions Laurel offered, hold contemporary relevance.

To view Laurel’s administration in proper perspective, the conditions of the Philippines in late 1943 have to be examined. First of all, the Second World War was brewing in Europe and Asia. The Japanese military presence dominated the Japanese-occupied Philippines, and even though independence had been declared, the Laurel government had to sign a pact of alliance with Japan. Part of the pact stated in no uncertain terms that “the Philippines will afford all kinds of facilities for military actions to be undertaken by Japan; the Philippines and Japan will closely cooperate with each other to safeguard the territorial integrity and independence of the Philippines.”[7]

The Japanese army and navy, then, were in the Philippines to stay, and the threat of Japan recruiting Filipinos to fight in the war loomed large.

As if to dramatize the situation, Japanese garrisons and outposts ringed Malacañang Palace. In September 1944, some 10,000 Japanese servicemen surrounded the palace and some 100,000 armed Japanese occupied the whole of Greater Manila. In mid-1944, no less than the Commanding General of Japan’s Southern Army—which covered not just the Philippines but the whole of Southeast Asia and New Guinea—made Manila his headquarters. Laurel had only 300 Presidential Guards to defend the palace.[8]

The Japanese military itself was not a homogenous organization, and the Japanese Army and Navy were keen rivals for power, resources and publicity. In addition to the Japanese military was the Japanese embassy, which represented other Japanese interests.

The Damocles Sword of the Japanese military thus hung over Laurel’s head. With the war going on, the Japanese also reasoned that Laurel had no military forces of his own to defend the republic against outside attack (meaning the U.S.) or internal threats (the guerrillas), and thus the Japanese military would have to stay on ostensibly to defend the sovereignty of the republic.

The Japanese military presence and the war led to corollary problems, among them a shortage of food, clothing, fuel and other basic commodities. The Japanese Military Administration had taken over most of the pre-war government owned or controlled corporations, and had created controlled agencies to supervise the acquisition, transport and distribution of foods, fuel, prime commodities, and sugar. Just before independence, the Japanese returned the National Rice and Corn Corporation to Filipino hands, but kept all others, even after independence. With these strategic commodities out of Filipino hands, the republic was crippled economically.

To make matters more difficult, the peace and order situation was deteriorating rapidly, with the guerrilla movement gaining more adherents and sympathizers daily. In addition to the guerrillas, there were criminal elements and others posing as guerrillas, but were actually bandits.

Within the government itself were some unscrupulous and corrupt persons, which gave government a bad image to the public.

Above all this, most people felt that the government was a puppet government, and while the people understood the position and ideals of Laurel, many did not take the republic seriously.

Laurel was aware of all these, and said to a friend, “This independence we have is an independence which is not independence. You have the {Japanese} Navy on one side, the {Japanese} Army on the other, the guerrillas, the Embassy and my own government. Five in all!”[9]

Laurel had to walk a dangerous tightrope then, balancing himself and his aims with the various forces arrayed against the Republic. He had to give in when it was impossible to push hard, to gain more advantageous position in other areas and to forward the interests of the Philippines and the Filipinos.

Upon taking office, Laurel had to take immediate action to try to ease the burdens bearing on the country. The number one problem was to provide food to the residents of Manila and other cities. He called for unity—this theme that he kept harping on in his various speeches. After all, on this, depended national survival.

Laurel took various steps to solve the food problem: reorganizing the rice control agencies; giving farmers more recognition and raising the government’s buying price; increasing food production and distribution were also dependent on other factors, not all of which were in the hands of the republic.

Shortage of fuel and transportation was one cause of the food crisis, but control of these remained in Japanese hands. Laurel would try hard to get them transferred to the republic, but the Japanese argued that since these were necessary for the army and navy they could not be transferred. He would try to organize a separate transportation company run by the government, but due to practical problems it was short lived.[10]

Related to the shortage of food and other basic commodities was inflation, and again Laurel used a variety of steps to deal with it: creating special courts to try profiteers, increasing penalties against those who unjustly raise prices; and raising government salaries, among others.

The deteriorating peace and order situation also had to be addressed, as it threatened the stability and even the life of the government. Initially Laurel tried to win the guerrillas by offering an amnesty and suspending all Japanese operations during the period allotted for guerrillas to avail of that amnesty. The Japanese did not like the plan, preferring to keep up military pressure, but Laurel prevailed.

Laurel planned to strengthen the constabulary in lieu of an army, partly to combat unlawful elements but also to remove the Japanese excuse they had to stay to maintain peace and order. He also tried to build up the morale of the peace officers by giving awards (such as the Order of Tirad Pass) to those who served the government heroically.

Laurel also had to protect Filipinos from Japanese abuses and depredations. Well known were his refusals to turn over Manuel Roxas and then Major Jesus Vargas to the Japanese military police. He repeatedly protested to the Japanese embassy and military officials incidence of slapping, beatings, unwarranted arrests and other abuses and human indignities. The Japanese, however, chose not to act on them, most of the time.

Extremely important was to win the loyalty and support of the people, and many of Laurel’s speeches focused on convincing the people that independence and the government were real—but the people had to believe in it and give it a chance.

He promptly rid Malacañang of Japanese guards and advisers and embarked on a program of government to cleanse it of crooked elements so that the people would be more responsive to his administration.

Aside from responding to immediate conditions, he also exerted much effort in transforming his vision for the Philippines into action. This vision involved social, political and economic reforms which would set the Philippines on the right course even after the war.

Politically, he reorganized the government, streamlining it and making it more responsive to the immediate needs and long-term needs. He abolished non-performing offices, combined others for efficiency, and created two new offices: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, specifically to address the nation’s economic problems.[11]

Morally, he continued the pre-war code committee and urged it to come up with a civil code which would bolster the Filipinos civic and moral standing. In his inaugural address and other speeches, Laurel spoke of the role of women, the family, the need to strengthen the moral fiber of the nation and the need for moral regeneration. The code committee embodied some of his ideas, but the result of its work was not published during Laurel’s presidency.[12]

The Laurel administration, seeing the need for uniting the people, sponsored a contest for a national symbol around which the people could rally and identify with. Time was too short, however, and the results of this contest were forgotten after the war.

Laurel likewise sought to strengthen the Filipino character, developing traditional values, respecting the flag and the national language, resurging educational endeavors that would further develop the nation’s people. Many of his speeches were delivered in Tagalog; several of his speeches called for Tagalog as the national language.

Laurel saw the need for a balanced and self-sufficient economy. His creation of the Ministry of Economic Affairs showed the importance he attached to sound economic development. He organized scientists and gave them incentives to develop local medicines, food and other local substitutes for imported items. Under his guidance, the National Assembly passed an act creating the Central Bank, and concrete steps were taken to print Philippine money, so the next-to-useless “Mickey Mouse” money could be replaced and the Republic could enjoy financial independence. Actual test samples of bills for the Second Republic—in Tagalog—were printed, but technical problems delayed their circulation.

In the limited time that he had, Laurel also tried social reform and was even able to distribute actual land titles to the residents of the Buenavista estate, an estate bought by the government before the war but whose redistribution had been delayed.

The Japanese had hoped Laurel would follow their prodding and hints and act as a puppet president, but they were disappointed. Laurel was clear on where his loyalties lay—in the Philippines and Filipinos—and he stood up to the Japanese by pressing them—as well as the Filipino people—to make Philippine independence, real.

Continued Japanese attempts to pressure Laurel to declare war and mobilize Filipinos to fight together with Japan were strongly resisted by the President. He reasoned out to the Japanese military and diplomatic leaders in the Philippines that the country could not afford fighting another war, having already suffered in 1941-1942. Much precious Filipino blood had been spilt there, and the economy was ravaged—hence, it was not advisable for the Philippines to join in the war. Only in September 1944, when American carrier-based planes bombed Manila, did Laurel have no choice. Even so, he declared a “state of war”—a passive expression of reality—and announced that there would be no conscription. And he did not have it ratified by the National Assembly to make it legally binding.

Some Japanese, thwarted in many of their desires and plans, actually planned a coup d ‘etat to replace Laurel with someone more pliable and more sympathetic to the Japanese cause. Actual preparations for the coup had been made, but the more sober Japanese officers were able to dissuade the radicals from pursuing that line of action for fear it would completely alienate the Filipino people.

With the return of the Americans, the Japanese did mobilize a seemingly pro-Japanese armed organization—the Kalipunang Makabayan ng mga Pilipino, or Makapili for short—against the wishes of Laurel, and outside of the government. They virtually forced Laurel to attend the inauguration of the group, and then forced Laurel and his Cabinet to evacuate to Baguio, and later to Japan.

The Second Republic effectively ceased to function with the departure of President Laurel from Manila, although skeleton government offices continued to operate until February 1945. With the re-establishment of the Commonwealth government and Laurel’s subsequent forced departure for Japan, the republic existed only on paper, and was finally officially dissolved by Laurel upon the Japanese surrender to the Allied powers, on August 17, 1945.

 

Laurel Statement, August 17, 1945

In view of the reoccupation of the Philippines by the United States and the re-establishment therein of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the acceptance by Japan of the Postdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, and the consequent termination of the Greater East Asia War, the Republic of the Philippines had ceased to exist.

(quoted in Hartendorp, History of Industry and Trade, p. 152; also by Agoncillo, Fateful Years, p.882; Friend, Blue-Eyed Enemy, p.138; Steinberg, Collaboration, p-121)

 

 


[1] This essay is based largely on the following works: Teodoro A. Agoncillo, The Fateful Years (Quezon City: R.P. Garcia, 1965); Rose Laurel Avancena and Ileana Maramga, Days of Courage: The Legacy of Dr. Jose P. Laurel (Metro-Manila: Vera-Reyes, 1980); Theodore Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy: Japan against the West in Java and Luzon, 1942-1945 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988); Jose P. Laurel, War Memoirs (Manila: Jose P. Laurel Memorial Foundation, 1962); Carlos Quirino, The Laurel Story (Manila: Jose P. Laurel Memorial Corporation, 1992); and David Joel Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan University Press, 1967).

[2] See Resume of Premier Tozyo’s Message to the Members of the Preparatory Commission for Philippine Independence, 9 July 1943 and Verbal Communication to the Preparatory Commission for Philippine Independence, July 2, 1943 both in the Jose P. Laurel Memorial Library, Manila (henceforth JPLL).

[3] Transcript of Stenographic Notes taken at the Meeting of the PCPI, July 5, 1943.

[4] Naokata Utsunomiya, Minami Jujisei o Nozomitsutsu (Np: privately published, n.d., c. 1981), pp. 132-133. For more on the Japanese pressures on the PCPI, see David Joel Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in world War II, pp. 80-82.

[5] The speech is in Executive Commission, Official Gazette Vol. 2, No. 9 (September 1943), pp. 870-876. The various translations can be found in the U.P. Main Library.

[6] Laurel, War Memoirs, p. 17. This action contrasted with the experience of Burma, which like the Philippines had been occupied by Japan, but had gotten its independence on August 1. Burma had declared war on the Allies on the same day.

[7] Terms of Understanding attached to the Pact of Alliance between the Philippines and Japan, in Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 1 (October 14, 1943-February 15, 1944), p. 8.

[8] Partial Disposition of Japanese Forces in Manila… September 1944, JPLL.

[9] “The Case of Dr. V. Buencamino; Meeting held at Malacañang Palace at the Office of the President,” Historical Bulletin XI:2 (June 1967), p. 199. Typescript copy of this interview in JPLL.

[10] The long process of negotiating for the return of the government enterprises and control agencies is detailed in the Report of Negotiations on the Government Industrial Enterprises and Control Agencies… between the Committees Representing the Japanese Military Authorities and the Committee of the President of the Republic of the Philippines (unpublished, 1944). A typescript copy is in the Sophia University Library, Tokyo.

[11] See Executive Order Providing for the Reorganization of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1944) for specifics of the reorganization.

[12] The product of the Code Committee, however, was published years later. Civic Code Committee, Filipino Civic Code (Manila: Philippine Historical Association, 1958).