English translation of the speech of His Excellency, Jose P. Laurel, President of the Republic of the Philippines, at the Manila Jockey Club before presidents, leaders and family heads of Neighborhood Associations on March 25, 1944, at 5 p. m.
MY DEAR MAYOR, ASSOCIATES, BROTHERS, AND COUNTRYMEN:
Although I am not included in this program, I came; for it is my wish that we see one another now and then. It is not enough for the President of the Republic to remain in Malacañan and to read correspondence and papers. He should establish closer contacts with the officials under him. Thus alone can he have first-hand knowledge of their problems and their needs.
It was for this reason that I flew to Mindanao and the Visayas two days ago. I wanted to get first-hand information on how our countrymen in those places are faring. I may not be in a position to extend to them the full blessings of our Government, but I can at least do everything in my power to help them out of their difficulties.
I have taken it upon myself to join you in this gathering this afternoon, so that I may once more tell you what I feel and think frankly and sincerely. I would like to know your response to my request for cooperation And I want to make it clear that I am not making this request for my own sake. I am not interested in fame. I do not want power for my own personal aggrandizement. And l have no ambitions to hold my position permanently.
As a matter of fact, I did not even seek the Presidency of the Republic. It may be very pleasant to be President of a country or a republic in times of peace and plenty. But it can be a terrible burden when the people are beset with hunger and fear and mutual distrust. It is terrible to be President when own people have no faith in the very Republic that we have established. It is terrible to be accused of being the tool of a foreign nation.
My life has been an open book, for I have been in the public service for thirty-five years. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I began my career as a laborer at 60 centavos a day, because my father had died when I was eight, leaving my mother a helpless widow. Thanks to our Lord, I was able to study in the University of the Philippines; and I realized my ambition to become a lawyer. As some of you probably know, I was sent to the United States as government pensionado.
I was appointed Under-secretary, and later Secretary, of the Interior when General Wood was the Governor General of these Islands; and you will perhaps remember my precipitous resignation because of my controversy with the General over the Conley case.
Soon after that, however, I was elected one of the Senators from the Fifth Senatorial District, with President [Manuel] Quezon as the other. Later still, I was elected to the Constitutional Assembly; and I was one of the signers of the Constitution of the Commonwealth. In recognition of these services, the Commonwealth Government made me one of the Justices of the Supreme Court.
During the first few days of the Japanese occupation, I served our country as Secretary of Justice. When Mr. [Jorge B.] Vargas organized the Philippine Executive Commission, he first appointed me Commissioner of Justice. But, believing that he needed a man who could assist him—an intelligent person who could stand up for the City of Manila and for the entire nation—he gave me the portfolio of the Department of the Interior.
Mr. Vargas then made me Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for Philippine Independence, which prepared and signed the Constitution of our Republic. When the Republic of the Philippines was established. I was persuaded to be its President.
If I carry my own bench, as the saying goes; if I behave before you like the proverbial man from Parañaque who praises his own salt, I crave your indulgence. I only wish to show you how pure have been my motives throughout the thirty-five years that I have served the people of this country. If there is one among you who can point out a shady page in my life history—if there is one among you who can prove that I have committed a sin against our countrymen, or abused a fellow-Filipino, or neglected to defend the rights of our nation— I would like that one to come out in the open and speak freely and fearlessly.
I can “hold high the brow serene,” as Rizal himself would have said; because my conscience is clear, my conviction firm. I can look my countrymen squarely in the eye and tell them frankly what it is in my mind. I can tell them of my program and of the goal to which I hope to lead my people. I can tell them that I did not seek the Presidency, but that the Presidency sought me.
Of course, I could have turned my back on the Presidency. In fact, I was with President Quezon; and I could have gone away with him if I wanted to. I could have shirked my responsibility. But I remembered the plight and the confusion of my countrymen. I remembered my father who served the First Philippine Republic at Malolos. I remembered my uncles who, as lieutenants, colonels, and even generals in the Philippine Revolution, served their country gloriously and without a blemish on their names. I remembered my trip to Davao with General Francisco and others on a pacification tour—the trip in which we almost were drowned. And I felt that I would be remiss in my duty and my mission as a Filipino if I simply stood by and watched the Ship of State drift aimlessly on the turbulent currents of contemporary history.
Then, too, something happened which made me think it is the will of God Almighty Himself that I should carry on. For, while playing golf one day, I was shot by a fellow-Filipino. To quote the doctors who attended to me, “bullets had riddled my body.” Two bullets would have pierced my heart had they not miraculously swerved a little upward. The two bullets respected my heart, so to speak, giving me a new lease on life and an opportunity to fulfill my sacred mission.
And so here I am trying to serve my country. Even if I lose my life in this service, even if I lose it in the hands of my own brothers, I will not waver in my determination. For then I shall at least be able to face the God of my fathers with the conviction that, as a Filipino, I have given all to my country, so that she may attain greatness and freedom.
My mission is to support and to defend, to perpetuate and to glorify this our Republic. In the first place, I believe that this independence is a step towards that true freedom of which our heroes dreamed. I believe, too, that this Republic, this independence, this freedom, is much better than the independence and the freedom promised us by the United States in the Tydings-McDuffie Law.
Let me explain. Perhaps you still remember that heated controversy as to whether the Tydings-McDuffie Law was more advantageous to the Filipinos than the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. Those who were in favor of the first were “antis”; those of the second, “pros.” I was a “pro.” Even now, I do not believe that the Tydings-McDuffie Law is better than the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. The Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act would grant us independence in 1946, but it provided that the United States would retain the right to designate certain areas for her military and naval reservations. In the Tydings-McDuffie Law, instead of the phrase “military and naval reservations,” we find “military and other reservations.” In other words, the Tydings-McDuffie Law gave greater concessions to the United States, at the expense of the Philippines.
The Tydings-McDuffie Law had another proviso which made the kind of independence to be granted by it not so advantageous to the Filipinos than the kind of independence that Japan has granted us. According to this proviso, the United States, in order to guarantee the independence of the Philippines, should negotiate with other Oriental countries for a “Neutralization Treaty.” In other words, America herself knew that the independence she was giving to the Philippines would not endure, unless Japan respected it in a neutralization treaty.
Now, this independence that Japan has given us does not have any catch in it. The Japanese have not laid claim to Bataan or Corregidor or any other military reservation. It has not required any treaty. If it is Japan who gave us this independence, why should Japan take it away from us again?
It is because I firmly believe in this independence that we have won, that I do not want the Americans to come back. And what good will it be to us if they come back, even granting that they manage to land on our shores again? Do you suppose the Japanese will simply hand the Philippines over to them without a struggle?
No; you can be sure that there will be fighting. Our country will be laid waste again. There will be hunger and suffering and death. Confusion will be worse confounded; and, if we do not know what cruel torment is now, we will surely know it then.
It will be all the harder for us, because the Philippines is a house divided against itself. There are those among us who do not have faith in the Republic. There are those who think of the President merely as the puppet of Japan, whose ambition is to oppress and exploit the Filipinos. There are those who wait for the return of the Americans, believing that the Americans alone can redeem the Philippines.
Guerrillas are rampant. But the guerrilleros are brave only against fellow-Filipinos. At the sight of Japanese soldiers, they flee to the mountains and dare not fight. And what will happen when the Americans come? The Japanese will apprehend Filipinos who are pro-Americans, and the Americans will seize Filipinos who are pro-Japanese. In other words, Filipinos will be killed by the Japanese, by the Americans, and by their fellow-Filipinos.
What a catastrophe in the land of Rizal, Mabini and Del Pilar! Why can we not well enough alone? After all Japan has given us our independence. The United States promised to give it to us in 1946; and, according to radio broadcasts, she has already given it to us. What does it matter whether it be the Japanese or the Americans who happen the be here? The guerrilleros want freedom. We, too, want freedom. Why, then, should we fight one another? And for what?
Why do we not just keep peace among ourselves, till our lands, produce food? For we need food more than anything else. There is no rice in Manila. The people in the provinces, especially in Cebu, are hungry and almost naked. If you could see the plight of our brothers in Cebu, I am sure you would be moved to tears, as I was moved to tears.
This is, of course, a problem for the President of the Republic. And it is a problem for the governors of provinces and for the mayors of cities and towns. But it is also a problem for every citizen of this nation. We have to look not only after ourselves, but also after our neighbors and all our fellow-Filipinos. Unless we share the burden of this tremendous responsibility, unless the citizens cooperate with the Government in the solution of this pressing problem, let me tell you, my brothers, that we shall never attain our desire.
Many of our countrymen refuse to cooperate with the Government, because they say that we in the Government are merely front-line men for the Japanese. But are we? Months ago, I was told that conscription was necessary: but has there been any conscription? No; for I firmly believe that I can call the nation to arms only in defense of Philippine freedom, This, I will defend with my very life. For what could be said of a people who would not defend their native land? What could be said of a race which could not die for its heritage?
At the Greater East Asia Conference, I spoke my mind as a Filipino. I said that the Conference should respect our religion, our honor our Filipino nationality. I said that the independence of every country should be the first concern of the nations whose representatives were assembled in Tokyo. And I won my points. All the measures I presented were approved.
With the inauguration of the Republic, I wanted the Japanese garrisons and the Military Police removed and transferred to military reservations like Fort McKinley and Fort Stotsenburg. But the Highest Commander of the Imperial Japanese Forces said that this could not be done because of the disorder obtaining the towns and even in Manila. He said that if I, as President of the Republic, could guarantee the maintenance of peace and order throughout the length and breadth of the land, he would accede to my request.
On the strength of this promise, believing in the powers vested in me by our Constitution, and desiring earnestly to help my brothers establish a new government, I issued the Amnesty Proclamation. But how did our people respond to this Proclamation? They surrendered, of course, but they returned to the hills and to their old way of life. They would hide their weapons; and, upon their arrival in Manila, someone would get killed. The police were powerless against them. Among these was a former student of mine, who said that he was grateful for the Amnesty, because it enabled him to bring arms into Manila.
What can your President do in the face of all these untoward circumstances? How can he face the Highest Commander of the Imperial Japanese Forces and say that the country is enjoying peace and order? How can he demand the withdrawal of the Japanese garrisons and of the Military Police? How can he protest against the interference of the Japanese military authorities in the running of the Government of the Republic?
These questions I ask you to answer. For it is patent that the President alone, with all his powers, with all his zeal for the welfare of his people, with all his readiness to fight for the freedom of his country—the President, I repeat, alone and unaided by his fellow-Filipinos, can never realize his dream of freedom, of a real Philippine Republic. I plead for unity, therefore. For thus alone can we work out our survival, our salvation, our destiny. Let it not be said of us by our children and our children’s children that, in the face of the greatest crisis in our history, we failed to unfurl our banners, because there was dissension among us, because ours was a house divided against itself.
I thank you.
Source: Office of the Solicitor General Library