Dr. Jose P. Laurel, first Chancellor of the National Teachers College, is one of the country’s most colorful and controversial historical figures. An outstanding legal luminary, a brilliant jurist, a highly principled legislator, a writer with a profound mind, and an educator with a sincere dedication for the upliftment of his countrymen, Dr. Laurel lived a life checkered with troubles, successes, tribulations, honors and afflictions, finally to gain a revered place in the memory of our nation.
For his career in law, Dr. Laurel studied both at the State University of this country and abroad at Yale in the United States, and at Oxford in England. He was a consistent scholar and he gained honor and distinction wherever he studied.
He became a very successful government worker, rising rapidly to positions of power and responsibility, first as Chief of the Executive Bureau, then as Undersecretary and later as Secretary of the Interior. In this capacity, he precipitated the famous Cabinet Crisis of 1923, when he resigned in protest against the arbitrary acts of the American Governor-General of the period. Triggered by his courageous act, the entire Council of State resigned after him. This incedent illustrates effectively the courage and intense nationalism that were to guide Dr. Laurel through his turbulent life.
After leaving the government, Dr. Laurel became a very successful law practicioner, a much-sought after lecturer, and a textbook writer. But in the midst of success in private life, Dr. Laurel had to answer the call of public service.
Once again, Dr. Laurel became a public official. In 1925, he was elected to the Senate. There he rendered distinguished service, sponsoring such progressive measures as the revision of the Civil Code, women suffrage, and tax impositions on church landed estates.
In 1934, he became a member of the Philippine constitutional Convention. Here, he is best remembered as the sponsor and author of the Bill of Rights that was later incorporated in the Philippine Constitution.
When the Commonwealth Government was established, Dr. Laurel served under it as a member of the Supreme Court. Later he became Secretary of Justice and when war broke out, he was among those whom the home government was entrusted by the fleeing officials of our government in exile.
In his last capacity, he was in charge of maintaining peace and order throughout the country. To protect the people from the brutality of the victorious enemy, Dr. Laurel had to make a show of cooperating with the occupiers. For the guerilla forces, this left him open to charges of collaboration. And because he was doing what he felt to be right in the service of the people, he felled one day by a treacherous bullet from an unknown assailant. But the majority of thinking people were on his side. An upom his recovery, he was elected unanimously by the National Assembly as President of the Philippine Republic formed during the Occupation.
Two years later when the liberating army came, the retreating occupation forces had Dr. Laurel flown to Japan. There he presented himself to the victorious forces of Liberation and he was later flown back to the Philippines to be tried before the People’s Court. But before his trial could be completed, a general amnesty was proclaimed.
The freedom he thus gained, however, did not satisfy Dr. Laurel. He wanted intensely to be judged by the people. For this reason, he ran for president in 1949. He lost in this election but later won his old position as member of the Senate. This was indeed a true vindication as expressed by the will of the people. When he retired from active public service to become a private citizen, he continued to hold high positions in many private enterprises. Moreover, his opinion was sought and listened to by the nation in the various public issues of the day.
Dr. Laurel, the first Chancellor of the National Teachers College, later on founded the Lyceum of the Philippines and served as its president. He also headed the Philippine BAnking Corporation up to the day of his death.
He died on November 6, 1959, a greatly revered figure on the national scene. He is survived by his children with the late Pacencia Hidalgo – nine men and women who are capable and well known for leadership in their chosen fields of endeavor: Jose, Jr., one time speaker of the House of Representatives, Jose III, a former ambassador to Japan; Sotero, a Doctor of Laws, former president of the Lyceum of the Philippines and one-time president of PACU; Natividad, a social leader; Rosenda, former member of the Board of Trustees of the Lyceum of the Philippines; Potenciana, a businesswoman; Mariano, one president of the Philippine Banking Corporation; Salvador, once Vice President of the Republic; and Arsenio, a lawyer and businessman.