In the history of the EDSA People Power Revolution and its aftermath, perhaps no iconic figure had been more misunderstood and least appreciated than Salvador “Doy” Laurel, former vice president of the Republic and one of the fiercest oppositionists during the dark days of martial law. Despite the obvious historical significance of his role in the restoration of freedom and democracy in the country, Laurel remains remote and, in part, isolated from the key figures whom many revered as “heroes” of the “Yellow” revolution. Yet if truth be told, that historic moment would not have happened hadn’t he convincingly shown gravitas to fight back – Batangas-style – almost singlehandedly, at a time when it was risky to do so.
Laurel was no ideologue. Seasoned with a deep sense of social justice, he was a “pragmatic nationalist” who considered patriotism as the highest form of idealism. Steeped in the mythos of dictatorships, he strongly believed in democratic elections. Unlike most in the other side of the political spectrum, opposition leaders whose flirtation with the Left would have brought the country into the abyss of destruction, Laurel sought to liberate the country from Marcos through peaceful means. There was no other way around for a Laurel like Doy, son of the towering nationalist, Jose P. Laurel. Though many of his peers initially underestimated his resolve, including those who doubted his political persuasions from day one, Laurel pursued his cause with fervor and never looked back. Like some kind of a prophet, he showed others the way.
In 1978, when President Marcos made a god-awful error by resuming popular elections, Laurel had been among the first to respond the call for a peaceful transition to democracy. Surveying his options, he saw an opportunity right in front of him: he would oppose the regime from within! Elected as member of the interim Batasan Pambansa, Laurel had, at the outset, hoped for an early return to normalcy. True to his word, Laurel was regarded as the “lone voice of the Opposition” in the KBL-dominated parliament. But Laurel’s patience had its limits, and so was his temper. When it became clear that Marcos was bent on holding on to power indefinitely, Laurel, seething with anger and indignation, began to speak out more poignantly against the despotic rule.
A gifted orator, Laurel toured the country and rallied the people about the abuses of the dictatorship. He then offered his countrymen an alternative platform, a “third force,” he said. A tactician of no mean ability, Laurel’s rhetoric inspired, nay, signaled the opening salvo for the democratic opposition. “If President Marcos will not lift martial law, we will lift it for him!” he thundered in one of the historic freedom rallies in Cebu on June 12, 1980 – a portentous event which, unfortunately, none of the current historians would even consider writing about. But there was no erasing history, and Laurel’s role during this period had indeed left its mark.
Then came the United Democratic Opposition (UNIDO). Founded in 1980 by two of the most respected pre-martial law bigwigs, Gerardo Roxas (LP) and Speaker Jose B. Laurel, Jr. (NP), UNIDO became the rallying point for many opposition groups with Doy Laurel as its real active leader.
Not too long, UNIDO, had morphed into a juggernaut. With a steady hand, Laurel molded it to become the single largest opposition party in the country. It was Laurel’s UNIDO that challenged Marcos’ alleged participation in Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. The mounting public outrage in 1983 proved to be crucial to the reversing of the tide. By 1984, the tide had finally turned, and Marcos knew it. Despite the fact that other opposition groups led by Senators Tanada and Diokno boycotted the Batasan polls, the participating Opposition, led by the UNIDO, garnered 60 seats in the Assembly. Incredibly, it was through Laurel’s political dexterity that the regime had received a devastating blow. With UNIDO at its side, the opposition block now had Laurel as its strongest bet against a Marcos repeat at the polls – until then.
Having been nominated by a convention of 25,000 UNIDO delegates to run for president against Marcos, Laurel would have been the logical opposition candidate for the 1986 snap elections. However, Laurel had “discerned the needs of the times.” Convinced that a united Opposition was needed to oust the dictatorship, Laurel heeded the call of history and made the “supreme sacrifice” – he gave way to Cory Aquino. For him, “The country must come first – and no sacrifice is too great for it.” What followed next was a chain of events that culminated in EDSA.
The People Power Revolution had more stories than we already know and this story, His Story, Doy Laurel’s story, is undoubtedly one which, they say, must be written in the books. Thirty-five years thereafter, it might be time to shy away from the yellow light and recognize the other colors in the spectrum.
By Christopher Diaz Bonoan
The author is the curator of the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Library as well as the writer of its official Facebook page. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in The Manila Times, February 25, 2021