By SOL VANZI
The 1967 mid-term elections brought much-needed fresh blood, two bright young stars, to the Philippine Senate: Benigno S. Aquino Jr. (Ninoy) and Salvador H. Laurel (Doy). Both were from political families, the Laurels of Batangas and the Aquinos of Tarlac.
Doy and Ninoy were like brothers. Their friendship began during World War II when Doy’s father was president of the Philippines and Ninoy’s father was speaker of the House of Representatives. After the war, their fathers were accused of collaborating with the Japanese. Ninoy’s father died during the trial.
In Nick Joaquin’s book, The Aquinos of Tarlac, Ninoy is quoted as saying, “In 1947 when my father died, I thought my world had ended. Except for Doy Laurel, I don’t recall having any friends then.”
Ninoy had prepared for his political career, starting as a journalist covering the Korean War, and then he was elected mayor of Concepción in 1955, vice-governor of Tarlac province in 1959, and governor of Tarlac province in 1961.
Doy studied law at the University of the Philippines and later at Yale University, where he earned his Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) in 1953. He earned the title Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D.) at Yale University in 1960.
During his early years as a lawyer, he was appalled to discover that 94 percent of the cases filed by indigents in the fiscal’s office were dismissed for lack of counsel. This led him to found Citizen’s Legal Aid Society of the Philippines (CLASP).
He campaigned throughout the country, convincing lawyers to join him in his quest for justice for the poor and, by the end of that first year, 750 lawyers had joined CLASP. In 1976, the International Bar Association honored him with the “Most Outstanding Legal Aid Lawyer of the World” award in Stockholm.
Both Ninoy and Doy ran for the Senate in 1967 and won—Doy under the Nacionalista banner and Ninoy under the Liberal party. It is said that there was never an acrimonious relationship between the two during their days in the Senate, although they belonged to opposing political parties. This extended even during the Marcos regime, when Ninoy dissuaded Doy from running in the 1981 polls because he feared no clean elections were possible.
During the martial law years when Ninoy was imprisoned, he would often send messages to Doy through his wife, Cory. When Ninoy was arraigned before the military tribunal, Doy was there to give moral support. In February, 1979, Doy wrote a letter to President Marcos asking him to release Ninoy to help unify the people.
In 1983, when Ninoy planned to return to the Philippines, he asked Doy to organize his arrival at the airport. Doy contacted his UNIDO leaders in Southern Tagalog as well as his fraternity brothers to help him. Thousands gathered at the airport and the Baclaran Redemptorist Church.
He wrote Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel V. Ramos informing them of Ninoy’s arrival and requesting their assurance for his safety. He made arrangements with airport manager Louie Tabuena to allow him to meet Ninoy in the arrival tube. But when Ninoy’s plane landed, the airport doors were locked shut. Ninoy, Doy’s friend, lay dead on the tarmac, killed by an assassin’s bullet.
It was the beginning of the end for the government, and the start of a new role for Doy as The Opposition Leader. Doy became the voice of the political opposition and was the natural choice of UNIDO, the COMELEC-recognized opposition party, to run against Marcos in the 1986 Snap Election. Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, was convinced by one million signatures to run for president under a coalition.
The opposition was divided. Something had to give. Doy Laurel made the supreme sacrifice, which he explained in a statement.
“The crisis now facing the nation requires everyone, especially those who seek to lead our people, to subordinate personal interest to the paramount need for unity if we are to dismantle the Marcos dictatorship, and usher in a new democratic order based on truth, justice, freedom, and prosperity. And so I offered to make the sacrifice. I agreed to give way to Mrs. Aquino. All I asked was that we both run under the banner of UNIDO.”
The Feb. 7, 1986 snap election was followed by two weeks of unrest and political turmoil, culminating in the peaceful uprising now known as the EDSA People Power Revolution that installed Cory Aquino as President and Doy Laurel as Vice President. It was not a partnership that would last.
For a month following the People Power Revolution in late February 1986, Laurel became the only person in Philippine history to hold the posts of Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister concurrently. The office of Prime Minister was abolished in late March 1986, and Laurel was succeeded as Secretary of Foreign Affairs by Raul Manglapus in 1987.
In 1996, Doy was appointed by President Ramos as the chairman of the Philippine National Centennial Commission in the run-up to the Philippine Centennial of the country’s independence on June 12, 1898. Through his unwavering leadership, he revived Filipino nationalism by promoting Filipino heritage and culture.
He returned to private life and spent most of his retirement in the US. He contracted lymphoma and died of the same ailment on Jan. 27, 2004, in Atherton, California. His remains were cremated, with his ashes interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani following a state funeral.
The City of Manila honored him with a monument on Roxas Boulevard describing him as “Statesman, legislator, pioneer in free legal aid, writer, poet, an uncompromising nationalist, and a true patriot.”
Across the street is a statue of Doy’s best friend Ninoy, looking out to Manila Bay. Even in death, it seems the two friends can’t be far apart.