thumbnail of In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Salvador Laurel
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Yes. Yes. Can I start? Yeah. Well, MacArthur's only condition he said was that nobody should take the oath of allegiance to the Japanese government. He said, if any of you should do that, I'll shoot you when I get back. And, well, looking back, my father said he was able to keep up and live up to that condition. None of them took the oath of allegiance to the Japanese government. Sorry, I thought you said the others didn't. No. Those that served under his government, but I think we have to distinguish. Maybe I can add. Those that served with him in his government never took the oath of allegiance to the Japanese government. There were others, however, who formed another group called the Makapili, headed by Benignoramos and that group, which were very, very pro-Japanese, took the oath of allegiance. Okay, let's go back to this period now. You were then growing up. What was it like? Do you have any memories of the period during the Japanese occupation and your father?
Then, at the time, he becomes president in a way of this independent republic. Well, I was a youngster. I was about 12 years old when the war broke out. And so, when father became president, that's the minor bird. Oh, that's nothing yet. Wait, did you hear him listen? Listen, when he talks, he talks. And he whistles. I was about 12 years old. Maybe. I was about 13 when my father became president in October 1943. And one thing I recall is that the family never moved into Malakanyang with him. He had to stay in Malakanyang to receive VIPs and special guests.
I moved in with him and the rest of the family stayed behind in our old house in Pena, France. And at that time, he knew that people were suffering. There was fighting going on. He had served a very austere standard of living. He would serve only one course meals to his guests. And he prohibited gifts, giving of gifts to himself or any member of his cabinet. And the fellow who shot him, there was someone who tried to kill him when he was playing golf. I remember this very distinctly. That assassin to be or that would be assassin was caught by the Japanese. And I think made to confess that he was the one who shot my father in the 345 caliber bullets, the buddy.
But when they presented this man to my father, my father said, no, he's not the one. You've got the wrong guy, setting free. And so the Japanese soldiers who had captured him in just shook their heads and set him free. After that, my mother said, you're sure that's not the one. And then he said, that's the one. But if I stole the Japanese, he's the one they would have just chopped his head off. And then after the war was over. Sorry, before you go to after the war, could you talk a little bit about when he became president? Why did he accept the presidency? I have a choice. There were others who wanted to be president. Yes. You see, after he had recovered from the gunshots, my father was nominated for the presidency. There were several names being mentioned. Benignol Quino was one. Another was Benignoramos.
And he felt that he could better serve and keep the people from being used by the Japanese to fight the Americans. If he didn't accept it, people who were prone to be more pro-Japanese might conscript again the Filipino youth and use them to fight against the Americans. So father felt he would be in a better position to resist Japanese pressure. And that's the principal reason he accepted. Now, he did declare war on the United States, but he did not allow the Filipino to fight. Let me clarify that point. My father did not declare war against the United States. Being a professor of public international law and constitutional law, he knew the difference between declaring war and declaring the existence of a state of war. And as an international lawyer, he made it a point that he declared only the existence of a state of war and also short of conscription.
He opposed or was able to resist Japanese pressure to conscript soldiers for the Japanese army. Now, as a teenager in those days, what was it like under the Japanese occupation as he saw things? I mean, of course you were particularly... To a young man of 13, you know, everything is exciting and danger is considered an adventure or an excitement. But one thing was there. I noticed that people are afraid of Japanese centuries. Every time you pass a Japanese century and you fail to salute, you get slapped. You could get slapped in the face. So every time the Japanese would suspect you being sympathetic or being helpful to the guerrilla, the underground, they would just... We have to stop.
Yeah. Who's that? Can we control the traffic there? Let's go back to the... The atmosphere during the war, when fighting was going on between the United States and the Allies against Japan, was one of fear. Danger. They were afraid not only of the Japanese soldiers, the Japanese centuries, but also of the guerrilla. So much so that the plain citizen was afraid of both. If the Japanese soldier suspected that you were sympathetic to the guerrillas, you'd be rounded up, picked up, tortured, if not executed. And the guerrilla would also do the same. If they suspect you of being collaborating with the Japanese or helping them, they'd also pick you up and execute you. So that was the situation that it was very difficult.
Now we go to the period just to the end and your father was taken by the Japanese. Yes. I remember a baguio that was about the month of December. My father decided to transfer the seat of government from Manila to Baguio, and it was about December 18 when we took that long convoy of cars and trucks to Baguio. We stayed there until March and during that period from December 1945, rather 1944 to March of 1945, we stayed in Baguio and we saw a lot of bombings and strafings. Fighting was going on. We could hear shelling going on from Linganyan, from Pangasinan. Until finally, the Japanese ambassador one day told my father that he has to be taken with his entire cabinet to Japan, that he had been decided by the war cabinet under General Tojo. I think it was the premier at that time, that my father, a president, had to go with his entire cabinet.
My father said he was willing to go, but if his cabinet could be allowed to stay because they have their own families, and that instead of bringing his cabinet with him, he said, why don't you bring my entire family? If that's what you want. The Japanese agreed, Ambassador Murata, conveyed father's decision to Tokyo, and on December 21, we started leaving. We left Baguio at about 7 o'clock in the evening in a long convoy upwards, up north towards the mountain trails. It took us about 10 days and 10 nights traveling in those narrow mountain trails of Bondok, and up to Nevaviskaya, Isabella, and finally to Gigaro, where three Japanese bombers were waiting for us. We took off on March 31, headed for Taiwan as the first stop, ultimately for Japan.
But when we were in Taiwan, we couldn't, we couldn't, I'm sorry, when we were in Taiwan, we couldn't leave right away for Tokyo or Japan because the war in Okinawa was raging, and someone tried to do it. The plane carrying chunderboss of India tried, and it was shut down, so they decided that we should stay in Taiwan, we stayed there for three months. Finally, when they felt that the war in Okinawa was subsiding, they allowed us to fly, and we landed in Fukuoka, took the plane from Fukuoka to Nara. And that's where we stayed until November or rather until September of 1945. I don't want to, you're getting into more detail, but I just want to ask you this, your father was then the Americans when they came into Japan, arrested your father, and brought him back to the film. Yes, I want to get to, OK, by the way.
What happened there was, I remember I was my father's secretary, I was taking down all his dictation and doing the typing for him, so I remember this very distinctly. I remember he dictated a letter to General MacArthur, to tell General MacArthur that he was there in Nara, hotel, and that placing himself at his disposal. A few days later, certain members of the United States Armed Forces came, I think it was the CIC, headed by Colonel Turner, and he was accompanied by a few other officers, and he asked if he could bring my father on the instructions of General Willaby to Sugamo Prison, and he was brought to prison. But how did your father feel when he came back, and he and others were kept under arrest and indicted, and Manuel Rojas was exonerated? I mean, how did he feel toward MacArthur's treatment? Well, my father felt quite disappointed, to be quite direct, it was quite disappointed with General MacArthur, and I heard him say this to the family many times.
He said that General MacArthur was witness to the instructions given to him by President Kason, in fact he was even consulted as to what he should do if the Japanese made them accept positions in the government. And he couldn't understand why General Rojas, who was a member of his cabinet, was not charged, was even allowed to run and win as President of the Republic, he became the first President of the Philippi Republic, and yet he, who protected Rojas, and who kept him as a member of his cabinet, was being charged for treason. Could it be because MacRohas was a friend of MacArthur before? Well, we know that MacArthur was close to Rojas, Rojas was his aide camp during the war. But fundamentally, the whole issue of collaboration really never took root in the Philippi Republic.
No, it never did because this was a different case. No, but the whole, even other people, I mean there was practically no trials of collaboration. Well, there was trial held before the people's court. A people's court was created right after the liberation of Manila, and upon my father's return to the Philippines from Japan, he was indicted and charged with the other members of the cabinet. And the trial went on. I attended almost all the trials, and I think I was a lost student at that time. I think the trial was going very smoothly, and people expected an acquittal for my father and the other members of his cabinet. But it never reached that point. General Rojas issued a general amnesty with a statement saying they made errors of the mind, but not of the heart. I just want to get into one point that maybe you could explain it.
There is a thesis that nobody wanted to pursue the collaboration issue, because it would have disrupted this society, and so many people did, in fact, collaborate. And this is David Steinberg's argument. Yes, yes. But if you started going after collaborators, then you would have disrupted everything, and nobody wanted to do that. Is that a fair assessment? I think eventually later they came to realize that. I'm sorry, can you say that? I believe that at the beginning there were, right after the liberation, there were so many so-called superpatriots who condemned those who collaborated under the Japanese. But later, after a few months, they realized that they really divided the country into collaborators and non-collaborators, and almost everybody collaborated. Only those who were out of the country can say that they did not collaborate, or only those who joined the guerrilla movements could honestly say that they did not collaborate. And they were a minority.
The point has been made, there were more collaborators in the world. Yes, yes. I mean, just go on to one point. What do you think about American policy just after the war? Americans came back, they liberated the Philippines. Did the whole, how did a whole new period of independence get off? What kind of a start did it get off to a good start or a bad start? How would it judge you? I was still a student when the Americans came back with MacArthur. And in fact, I was in premed, staying in premedicine in UP. And of course, everybody was happy to see Manila being liberated from the Japanese, that freedom was being restored. They were also happy over the fact that the Americans were keeping the word in giving the Philippines the independence they had promised. That is the favourable side, but on the unfavourable side was the conditions that were imposed as part of the grant of independence.
For instance, parity rights were imposed as part of the grant of independence. When you go back a minute and say, you say parity rights, could you explain? Yes. There were some conditions that were imposed. When you discuss it because it's difficult in terms of American privilege? Yes, yes. So the Filipino people welcomed the return of the United States, the liberation of the Filipino people from Japanese occupation, and the grant of the Philippine independence was fulfilled as a promise. They were very happy about that. But when the United States imposed certain conditions as part of the grant of independence, that's when there were some doubts and some dissent expressed.
For instance, when they imposed certain conditions like Americans would be able to enjoy the same privileges as Filipinos here in this country, including exploitation of natural resources, which are supposed to be exclusively for the Filipinos, then also the imposition of the military-based agreement. As part of the grant of independence and as part of the grant of economic aid, we felt that the United States could have been more altruistic. But then the Filipino's had no choice. Yes, at that point it is true that the Filipinos had no choice. We were prostrated after the war. I think the second most destroyed country in the world, second only to Berlin. And we had no choice but to accept the conditions of the United States.
And yet? In those years, the first few years after the war, let's say the first decade after the war, there was still a very strong pro-American sentiment. Yes, there continued to be a very strong pro-American sentiment because to be quite candid about it, the Filipino people did not know any country as well as the United States. 50 years of American tutelage, American public school system, our language was English, and our books were English. The movies we were seeing were made in Hollywood. So there was a very strong American influence and most of the people who were aspiring to be somebody who wanted to study in the better schools in the United States. So there was definitely a partiality for the American people more than any other people at that time.
This takes us right into your own experience of being together. Let's stop your change. I think the air condition went on. Oh, sorry. I remember there were times when my father would talk to some close friends and tell them that the reason why we are in this situation, why we are under Japanese occupation is because America was unprepared. He was actually saying that we fell under Japanese occupation because America was not prepared to fight the Japanese, but he said it will take a little time for the US to get ready to fight back. And it was a matter of time when they achieved the point of preparedness to be able to come back.
So he knew that it was a matter of time. So he never lost confidence in the United States? I don't think he ever did. I'm sorry. I don't think my father ever lost hope in the ability of the United States to mobilize all his resources to any war. While I'm on this, I'm now going back to the occupation for a minute today. Okay. What else is that? I wonder if you recollect any of the Japanese propaganda when they would say to the Filipinos, you know, you'll never become white men, you're Asians. Oh, yes. I remember that we were still in school, even in high school. They were spreading that around. It was part of me. Yes. I remember that we were still in high school and the Japanese propaganda machine was already working and telling us that this is no place for the Americans. This is a place for the Asians, Asia for the Asians, that's what they were saying.
And they were propagating this idea of a greater East Asia-Copus-Fertis fear, which they call Ditoa in Japanese. In fact, they named one of our major streets here as a Ditoa Avenue. That was their major thrust in their propaganda. Now, do you think some of the Filipinos who did work with the Japanese like the Kino or others? I truly believe that in the Japanese, I mean, were they more pro-Japanese than you thought? I believe that many were more pro-Japanese. I believe that many Filipinos were more pro-Japanese than my father, because they really believed that the Japanese were here to stay, that the United States would never be able to drive them back or drive them away. There were a lot of people who believed in that here in this country at that time. Did the Japanese declare the independence of the Philippines? Was it not an attraction?
Oh, yes, that was an attraction. Yes, the declaration of, or rather the grant of independence of the Philippines on October 14, 1943, was definitely an attraction to many Filipinos who had been working for the Philippines. It was an attraction, I would say, for those who, like my father, had been working for the Philippines even under the Americans. I wonder if you could give us a little bit about the Kino and what his position was. Speaker Benigno Aquino, senior father of the late Nino Aquino, was quite active in the government at that time. In fact, he was one of those who was being considered to be president under the Japanese-sponsored government. He was secretary of, or rather minister of interior, when Vargas was chairman of the executive, what do you call it, preparatory government.
My father was only, was secretary of justice at that time. And he was one of them outspoken leaders. I mean, Speaker Benigno Aquino, senior was one of the most outspoken leaders of the government at that time. And do you think more pro-Japanese than others? I'm not trying to make the judgment, but definitely he believed in the idea of a greater East Asia, Coppersburg, this fear. Oh, 43. The reaction of my father when the Japanese offered to grant independence to the Philippines in 1943 was of course welcomed.
How could you be against, how could anyone be against the grant of Philippine independence? But of course, there were people who knew that independence under a Japanese occupied Philippines was not going to be the real kind of independent, they had in mind. But they had to make the most of what was there. And they knew that they had to match widths with the Japanese while carrying on the government. The comparison is not exact, but when the United States gave independence there was strength attention as well. Yes, except that in the case of the grant of independence granted by the United States of the Philippines in 1946, force was absent.
Whereas in the case of the grant of independence by the Japanese in 1943 force was present or ever present in the form of the centuries, the Japanese centuries that were all over the country. Now let's just go up to your own first visit to the United States in the year 1950s. 1952. Now here you are saying, excuse me, could I sneeze? Yeah, excuse me. Couldn't stop that. That was something I could, I think. I wonder, given the fact that up to then, how old were you in that time? 1943. No, 1952. 1952, I was about 223. So you've come from this American education, American books, American movies. Now you've got the United States for the first time.
Yes. What kind of impact does it make on you? Does it confirm what you've expected or is it disappointing or how is it or a mixture in which way? How does it look after having, if I could use tap sprays? You're a little brown brother. What is all looked at? I was excited. I was excited, I dread so many books. Sorry, when I first went to the United States in 1952, right after taking the bar examinations. I was, of course, very excited. I dread so much about the United States. The life there in novels. I even remembered all the books about it, the Civil War. Even gone with the wind, they came back to mind. And other, other novels. And I was, it was like looking at a kaleidoscope. Everything was different and exciting.
And when I finally arrived in New Haven to attend classes at Yale, we were so well received, so well treated. I remember we had a hard time looking for a place to live in. And Yale allowed us to use what they called executive suite where visiting lecturers would stay and just accommodate us while we were looking for a place to stay at. When you got to the States, did you feel like you were, was it all familiar to you? Did you feel like you were sort of at home or was it very strange? Or how was it? Well, it was, sorry. It was both familiar and new. Familiar in that I found it very, very convenient that I could speak English. Language was no problem. But I also found it new in a sense that it was a completely different attitude, different way of life.
And while they were very friendly, but they were not always warm. They were warmth that I knew here before living was not there. You see, there is a certain warmth that is quite special here in this country. You experience immediately with people here. But I didn't find that there right away. Of course, I made a lot of friends immediately. And the friends that I made there in New Haven are still my friends now. No racial problems? No, I did not experience any racial discrimination or racial problem. Among the Americans that you get to know, did the Philippines seem like a very remote place to them? Or did they make some of you with the Philippines?
You were familiar with the States at this point of your culture. But the Philippines was the Philippines part of their culture. That's, I'm glad you asked that question. When I arrived in New Haven, I met a lot of Americans who didn't know anything about the Philippines. Some of them couldn't even spell the word Philippines correctly. Many of them thought that we lived in trees. And they knew very little about the Philippines. On the other hand, we knew so much about the United States. Let me jump ahead and just deal with a few sort of broader subjects, broader generalizations. Of course, you've been in politics in the war for the 60s. To what extent do you think the institutions that were introduced by the United States, particularly the political institutions, we used the word democracy in the Philippines, the legal system, and so forth.
To what extent have they really worked or have they been adapted to a Filipino style? I wonder if you could eventually a little bit talk about that. There were many democratic institutions established here that the Philippines has modified. Along the way, we are happy that these institutions were introduced here by the governors that came over. But we had to adapt them because some of these institutions are suitable for mature democracies, not for developing countries like the Philippines. So we had to adapt a number of them. For instance, the electoral system, to exercise your right of suffrage required a certain amount of education and familiarity with the democratic electoral process. And we had to go through the process of educating the people as to how this works and it didn't come easy.
Now, there were other institutions like the judicial process, the system of checks and balance, you know, the election of representatives to a Congress that would legislate. The interaction among the three departments of government, the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. We had certain concepts as to what it ought to be as contemplated by those who introduced them here. But in the process, it didn't really come out just like the way we envisioned them. Like we started with a very strong executive that dominated the Congress. We wanted an independent judiciary, but then we could not avoid the influence of politics. We wanted a very assertive legislature, but under a strong executive it was very hard to have an assertive legislature.
So this we learned along the way and modified along the way. Back in the 1960s before Marcos declared martial law. He used to use the term raw democracy for the Philippines. Like it was going haywire, it was wild and corruption and so on and so forth. Why did you think it went in that direction? Why did it all get out of hand? Because we started having too much... Oh yes, it went... Democracy was transplanted here by the United States. It went wild at first because it was like having too much too soon. I would not give the United States full credit of having introduced democracy here. Democracy was already here in 1898 when the first Philippine Republic was established under General Aguinaldo. We had a democratic setup, of course it was a strong executive that we were putting up because we were engaged in a revolution.
The basic postulates of a democratic government were there. We had a separation of powers between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. We had a bill of rights and so forth. So we were already familiar with this, but it was still at the beginning or we were just beginning to try it. When the United States came in 1898 and 1999, we just had it for about a year. And then the more sophisticated concepts came in with interpretations given to it by the Supreme Court of the United States as to what was due process of law and what was police power and so forth. These were things that we were being tried out for the first time. And I believe that a developing country must have a strong authoritarian government at first in order to put them on the railway tracks. Because otherwise you go all places.
So you think the Philippines from independent should have had more of an authoritarian government than people? For a start to put them on the right track. I would not say... I was saying that any developing country needs a strong leadership and a strong government so that it could, you know, stay on the right track until... Fagrackers, what you need. I believe that a developing country like the Philippines needs strong government and strong leadership at the beginning. We can't have too much of everything right away or too much too soon.
We're not going to move forward. In order to move forward, a developing country must have a strong executive and that can enforce the decisions of the government. Now, if you give too much freedom and too much, which could be easily converted into license, like any right can be abused. And if you don't have a strong leadership, their abuse becomes more predominant. So I'm saying that the Philippines should have started with a strong leadership as all developing countries who which are successful had from the beginning. It's often been said that one of the problems of Philippines is that it's really run by about 50 or 100 families and families and dynasties or oligarchy. And it's very hard to get them to make changes to give up any of their prerogatives and privileges such as the issue of land reform and without going into the specifics. Is that a fair evaluation?
That may have been so. That statement that the Philippines is run by just a couple of families, maybe 50 families, may have been true or may have been true many years ago. But I don't think it's valid now. What is needed now is a strong, capable, decisive leadership, capable of leading 57 million Filipinos. I do not believe that 50 families can lead 57 million Filipinos. Right now, the strong authoritarian government that you think the country needs at the very beginning was exactly what Marcos gave when he declared martial law. For a while, the Filipinos thought that Martian law, when it was imposed in 19572 by Mr. Marcos, was a catharsis that was needed by the country. Many people welcomed it quietly, especially during the first months when they saw people walking in pedestrians lanes, people turning over their guns, illegal weapons were now being surrendered.
Private armies were being disbanded. The economy was registered during a positive and so many nice things and good things. I was one of those who thought that Marcos, when he imposed martial law, was giving the country needed catharsis, that it was something the country needed to set it right to move forward. Especially when we saw the first results of martial law, people were crossing the streets in pedestrians lane, everybody was following traffic signals, loose firearms were being surrendered. Private armies disbanded, there was peace and order in the country and the economy was moving forward. We felt probably this was what the country needed until Marcos forgot to terminate martial law until he prolonged it indefinitely and used it to remain in power.
That's when it lost its attraction and people wanted it ended because they discovered that Marcos had imposed martial law not to save the republic but to perpetuate himself in power because he kept the country under martial law for about 10 years. What went wrong? If Marcos had maintained, if not martial law, I had maintained his authoritarian system and it had all been very successful economically. I don't want you to make the illusion but like Korea or Singapore, I mean, you call you as an authoritarian leader. You think people would have accepted it? If there had been economic prosperity and growth under an authoritarian system, you think Filipinos would have accepted it. Filipinos would have judged martial law by its results when I discussed this with President, President Marcos, during the early years of martial law.
I told him that martial law, in my opinion as a lawyer, as a one who taught constitutional law, I told him that martial law is a double-bladed sword. It can be used to cut for good or for evil and as long as Mr. Marcos used it to do good for the country, nobody would object. So people were ready to give martial law a chance and to judge it by the results. At the beginning they saw good results and they were willing to allow it and give it a chance until they discovered after about a couple of years that Mr. Marcos was not at no plans of ending martial law. It was becoming obvious that he was going to keep the country under martial law indefinitely. That's when the negative reaction of the people came out. But why? I mean, let's go back to my question again if you want to answer that, which is...
I mean, other countries have had authoritarian rules in Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, but they got economic growth in exchange. The leader said, well, take away your democracy role in this prosperity. And people, except for a few people who were activists, most people said fine. But in the Marcos case, he took away the democracy, but he didn't give the prosperity. So the question is, to the Filipinos, what was more important to them? Could they have sacrificed their democracy if they were given economic prosperity in exchange? I wouldn't go to the extent of saying that the Filipinos would have exchanged their basic rights for economic benefits. But I would say that the Filipinos would have been willing to reduce some of their basic rights or the exercise they're off or the assertion of those rights. In exchange for some tangible economic benefits, for instance, their standard of living improved or if their children went to better schools or they could see better roads and better school buildings.
If they saw something tangible and concrete, they probably would not complain too much. But when they saw their basic rights removed and nothing to show for it, I think I remember it was once demonstrated that rights and economic benefits was like a seesaw. The moment some developing countries per tail some basic rights, there was a corresponding increase in economic benefits. But where the basic rights are put down and the economic benefits go down, it's like a broken seesaw. And people, that's what happened under Marcus. Let me ask you just briefly to talk about, Nino, I was a good friend of yours. I wonder if you could give us a little word picture of what he was like as you saw him as an individual.
Nino, as I knew him and I knew him since childhood, he was 9 years old and I was 12 years old when we met. His father was the speaker of the house and my father was then the president. And we have been together ever since we've been in close touch even when he was in prison. Nino was a man who was always ahead in Spanish they call him El Nino Precos, the Precosius child. So that even when he was 9 years old only he wanted to be with the 12 year olds and that went on. He was always ahead so he was the youngest mayor, the youngest governor and the youngest senator and he wanted to be the youngest president. He was a man in Harry and a very bright mind and capable of solving things fast. Nino's dream was of course to lead the nation towards what he considered was good for the country. He also believed in strong government and strong leadership.
He used to tell me that this nation cannot move forward if we don't provide the kind of strong leadership that is needed by all developing countries. What do you think some of his faults were? Well I don't want to criticize a friend especially he's not around. He did wear a halo. Well he was perfect and he was very human. Nino Aquino was not perfect. It was very human and he had human weaknesses as he had human strength. As they say there is something good in the worst of us and something bad in the best of us. Nino was no exception. Nino was in Harry most of the time and he's training, his experience, his background as a newspaper man was always there even when he was already in the senate. He wanted to get involved in things that would be good copy.
So you think he was a bit too flamboyant? Well I wouldn't say that he was too flamboyant. I would say that he had a good nose for things that would get to print. That's being a good politician. It was a good newspaper man. What about when you learned that he was planning to come back in 1983? Did you try to dissuade him? I never had a chance to dissuade Nino Aquino from coming back in 1983. When I met him for the first in 1983 it was about February. It was in San Francisco at the house of his sister. At that time he had already made up his mind and it was useless to discourage him. He said I have made up my mind I'm coming home. After all I made a promise. I promised Marcos that when he allowed me to go that I would come back. And so I want to keep my word and come back.
He had already made up his mind. Did you say there was a mistake? I don't think it was a mistake for him to decide to come home. It is not and can never be a mistake for any Filipino to want to come home. It's the right of every Filipino to return to his home, his country. He has no other home. Just as I'm saying the same thing about Mr. Marcos. Mr. Marcos has the right to come home because he has no other home except this country. In other words what I said for Nino Aquino holds true for Mr. Marcos. So I do not think it was a mistake for Nino to decide to come home. I think the mistake was on the part of those who had him killed when he said food in this country. That was the mistake. I refer to the term mistake given the risks. I mean he knew the risks. Oh yes, we calculated that.
We discussed that for days. In fact I met him in San Francisco. We discussed that. Then I met him again in June of 1983 in Boston. We discussed it. And then two days later he joined me in New York and we discussed it again. And we weighed the pros and cons, the chances of getting killed. And in our estimate we gave it not more than 5% chance. I don't think they do it, he said. With all the newspapermen and journalists and TV people coming with me. At that time I was just saying 10,000. With at least 10,000 people there, the airport to welcome. I don't think they'll dare try to kill me there. And so if at all it would be just about 5%. No, just one last point. Because as I said, this is for next year's first time. So we want to avoid the intricacies of politics now that it may be different. But if you could sort of look at what's happened since Marcos was overthrown
and you and Cory have taken over. How is this administration functioning? What's your estimate of what it's achieved and what it's failed to do? If you could try to look at it within the perspective, was it two or three years? Well, looking at it very objectively. And as one who has invested a lot to make this new government succeed or come to power. I would say on the plus side, this new government under Cory Aquino has succeeded in removing the dictatorship and restoring freedom and democracy in this country. I think that's a major achievement. It has also succeeded in restoring the democratic institutions here. Like we now have a Congress, a new constitution, and we just held the local elections. So this new government has succeeded in putting in place certain established democratic institutions.
On the other hand, there is failure in the part of this government in so far as uniting the people are concerned or is concerned. This government has failed to unite our people. There is fighting and killing going on, not only against one group. The real enemy are the communist insurgents, but we are fighting not only the communist insurgents. We are fighting also the Muslim who could be our friends, the Muslim national liberation front. There are also the men identified with Mr. Marcos. You know, in victory there should be magnanimity and we should extend the hand of reconciliation to those that we have defeated in political fights. We also should extend the hand of reconciliation to other people whose only fault is to have been identified with the previous regime. I believe that the shortcoming of this administration is its failure to affect a genuine reconciliation. If we unite, can we move forward?
Only if we unite, can we defeat the real enemy, which is the communist insurgents. I think it was in the Bible, I think it was a house divided against itself, cannot stand. Do you find in this administration that is technically speaking your part of this administration? I am. But in Korea, in her any sort of concept or idea of what kind of society the Philippines should be, that this government is working for. Korea and I, when we were campaigning for the President's and the Vice Presidency respectively, promised a number of things. We promised that we would dismantle the dictatorship of Mr. Marcos and restore freedom and democracy in this country. I think we have done that. But we also promised that we would restore morality and decency in government. That we would, for instance, abolish gambling casinos.
That we would have land reform in its true sense. There were many things that we promised that we have not done. And that accounts perhaps for some of the disappointments. Do you think that disappointments can also stem from the fact that the expectations were so high? Everybody expected that when you overthrew Marcos to be golden streets next time? Yes. That could be part of the reason for the disappointment. There was euphoria and great expectations after the ads are revolution. But I believe that the people would easily understand if we told them right off. If we were sincere with them right away. That all right, this is all we have and is all we can do. In other words, straight talk. Deliver clear and consistent messages. Sincereity, accompanied with selflessness.
That is the kind of language that people would like to hear. One, I promise, this is the last question. What do you think the relationship between the Philippines and the United States should be? Without getting into, I mean, you can mention the basics. The base negotiations are just beginning to start and let's not get into the details of those. But is there a time? Is this a time for a new work of the relationship? No, it's interesting that the period of American rule, the period of independence is now almost as long as the period of American rule. Yes. About 40 years. Yes, even Stephen. Yes, about even. And still, the Philippines is very, very dependent on the United States, to look to the United States and so forth. I mean, is there something you would think ought to be changed? The Philippines needs to develop their own scrubber sense, their own identity, and does that require breaking with the United States?
How would you describe this whole relationship? The relationship between the United States and the Philippines must undergo a certain kind of renewal. In the sense that the people, the 70% of the people in this country now are below the age of 30. They were therefore not in existence. They were not around when we fought together in Batan and Corridor. They were not around when World War II was being fought here. So as far as they're concerned, there is no such thing as special relations between the United States and the Philippines. And I believe policymakers in the United States should consider that. In dealing with the Philippines, we have now a new generation born after the 1950s. And they would like very much to take a more independent stance.
Therefore, the United States should consider, for instance, re-examining its position. VISAV, for instance, certain special agreements like the basis agreement, the other mutual defense facts that are presently extant, in order to gain the sympathy of this young generation that has come to the fore. As I said, 70% of 57 million are below 30. But when one goes around, even young people, you'll find that even young people have a very strong sympathy toward the United States. Even if they don't have relatives in the United States, cultural reasons, music, movies, the dream. I mean, there's a 40-year waiting list of Filipinos when we get visas.
That's true. It is true that as far as the United States is concerned, it is the closest country to this country. The United States is the closest country to Philippines because we've dealt with it longer than any other country except Spain. We haven't been in too close touch with Spain since the Spanish-American Spanish Philippine War. But for instance, anytime you ask any Filipino, which would you rather have to deal with the United States or the Soviet Union? Without hesitation, I'd rather deal with somebody whose language I can speak. So you are correct in that respect that the Filipinos have a soft spot for the American people. It's just that there are certain irritants that must be addressed immediately so that the relationship can be smooth. I believe that in dealing with each other, the Philippines should be treated as a grown-up child.
Not adolescent. The Filipinos and the Philippines should be regarded as a grown-up individual and no longer as a child. And of course, the Filipino people must also undergo some change. And in order to earn the respect of other countries. But the United States must also realize that this is a grown-up now they are dealing with. I believe that the Communists are receiving support from outside this country. We cannot prove it. They've been very smart.
But they are receiving support from outside. I consider the Communist rebels as the real enemy of the people because they are determined to bring about change in government or to bring about a new system through force and violence. To me, there are no unthinkable thoughts in a free society. It is when you utilize force and violence to achieve your ideas or to bring them into reality that it becomes wrong and condemnable. And so of all the groups that this government is engaged in fighting now, Muslims, the NPA, communist rebels, the loyalists, the reform movement of the military. I believe the real enemy are the communist rebels or the NPAs because the others we can win, the Muslim rebels we can still win them. The military reform movements, the loyalists of Mr. Marcos, we can still win all of them.
But the communist rebels, there's no way out. They are determined to achieve their ends through force and violence and a government has to protect itself. You did some investigation into the state of the military and the morale of the conditions. I wonder if you can defend some of this before or after the coup. Right after the coup. I wonder if you could, without mentioning exactly what is the state of the military? The state of the military here in the Philippines is fragmented. They feel that they are being neglected, that more attention seems to be given to the communist rebels than to them who are doing the fighting. When a communist rebel, for instance, is caught immediately or almost immediately amnesty is issued or ordered released and even charges are filed against those who captured them or violations of human rights. On the other hand, there are complaints on the part of the military that the reforms that they've been asking for all these years have never been heated.
A lot of them have joined what they call reform movement and even joined a boarded coup, like the one states on August 28, a year or so ago. I believe that this is one of the most serious problems of the country today. I have been urging the president to attend this because if we don't have, if this continues, we will have a fragmented military, how can we win against the insurgents? Now, part of the military problem is lack of equipment, the low salaries, what's bothering, what's disturbing? A number of complaints, one of them is, of course, low salaries. Yes, a number of things are being complained about by the military.
They are complaining about low salaries, inadequate equipment. The leadership is weak, that there are softer on the reds and soft on the reds and hard on the military. And they even complain that there are some communist sympathizers in the government. So this should be attended to right away. Do you think the military establishment of the Philippines today, compared to what it was, let's say, 30 years ago, has become a political. There are politics in the army, isn't it used to be? Do you think that there is a possibility of potential for some kind of a military takeover or military government in the Philippines? That's possible. The military takeover here in this country is possible if the situation continues to deteriorate. In other words, if the military continues to be neglected and they feel that they have to help themselves, that could take place.
However, there are efforts now to bring about not only reorganization but reforms in the military to cover all those grievances. And under the new officials or officers, I think this has started.
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In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines
Raw Footage
Interview with Salvador Laurel
Producing Organization
Pearson-Glaser Productions
Contributing Organization
Pearson-Glaser Productions (Kittery Point, Maine)
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Raw Footage Description
Salvador Laurel served as Vice President under President Corazon Aquino (1986-1992). Laurel discusses the implementation of outside, democratic institutions within the Philippine milieu, his perspective on Marcos' enforcement of martial law, and his opinions on Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino. Laurel describes how the Philippines had democracy prior to American intervention, and that the problem with America's implementation of its democratic institutions was that it was too much too soon; he explains that a developing country that receives more freedom than it can handle will result in the abuse of governmental power. To Laurel, this abuse culminated in Marcos' martial law, which, although he initially thought would bring order to the Philippines, was ultimately damaging in the way martial law served more to preserve Marcos' seat of power than to rule with a strong, authoritarian government. Indeed, Laurel explains that developing countries ought to start out with authoritarianism to ensure initial order, and he states that Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino was also a proponent of this viewpoint. Despite his ideological agreements with Ninoy, Laurel cites Aquino's accomplishments as the youngest elected mayor and senator of the Philippines during his time and recalls Ninoy's habit of always "being in a hurry."
Asset type
Raw Footage
Corazon "Cory" Aquino; Japanese Occupation
Media type
Moving Image
Interviewee: Laurel, Salvador
Interviewer: Karnow, Stanley
Producing Organization: Pearson-Glaser Productions
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Pearson-Glaser Productions
Identifier: cpb-aacip-d24ab91fc4c (Filename)
Format: Betamax
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Chicago: “In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Salvador Laurel,” Pearson-Glaser Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
MLA: “In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Salvador Laurel.” Pearson-Glaser Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 21, 2024. <>.
APA: In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Salvador Laurel. Boston, MA: Pearson-Glaser Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from