MANILA, January 29, 2004 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The death of Doy Laurel, as we affectionately knew him since our youth, didn’t come as a surprise – because we had known he was dying for many weeks now. It was with both sorrow and regrets, however, that the news of his release from pain reached us yesterday. Regret that we did not have the chance to clasp his hand one last time in adieu and wish him bon voyage on his journey to God. Sorrow that not just his friends but the nation had lost a leader, albeit in the twilight of his years of service.

Salvador H. Laurel, as our former Vice President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, will be brought home with "honors" from the US where he had spent the final year of his life fighting the disease which consumed him. He had already lapsed into a coma at the Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto (San Francisco) last December 18th, but regained consciousness after 21 days when he asked his family to bring him back to their nearby home in Atherton so they could be with him at the last.

It is despicable, to say the least, that he had till the very end, been plagued with accusations of "graft" in connection with the Centennial fund, which was poor reward for a lifetime devoted to our country’s cause. Of course, like any man, Doy was not perfect. He made enemies and mistakes. Yet in his case, Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony will be proven wrong. In his tribute to the murdered Julius Caesar, committed grudgingly to memory by every reluctant schoolboy of our time, Rome’s Mark Anthony grieves: "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interrèd with their bones."

Not so with Doy. The good he did will be remembered – at last.

For Doy’s fought the good fight.

It was their karma alas, that in 1965 he and his brother, the late Speaker Jose "Pepito" Laurel, had helped "smuggle" Ferdinand E. Marcos, then the president of the ruling Liberal Party, into the Nacionalista Party – despite the strong rejection of Marcos by the NP chief, Senate President Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez. (Marcos has just lost the LP nomination for the Presidency, understandably, to the incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal – GMA’s dad.)

It was the balimbing cum somersault act of the century. Having pole-vaulted into the opposition Nacionalista Party, Marcos then snatched the NP nomination away from such loyal NP stalwarts as Emmanuel Pelaez (former Vice President), Senate President Gil Puyat, and others. The Marcos victory condemned us unwittingly to a de-cade and a half of outright dictatorship and martial law.

Doy and Pepito argued that they had welcomed Marcos with open arms into their party with all the "good intentions" in the world. You know how the road to hell is paved with such good intentions. In any event, Doy himself was among the first to discover their dreadful mistake. He valiantly stood up to protest Marcos’ totalitarian rule at the height of the despot’s martial law powers. Pepito for his part bitterly cussed Marcos both when he was sober and in his cups (the latter often enough).

Doy was nominated for President to fight Marcos by 28,000 delegates at the UNIDO – or United Opposition – convention held at the Araneta Coliseum on June 12, 1985. When it became a toss-up between him and Ninoy’s widow, Corazon C. Aquino, as to who would run against Marcos, Laurel was convinced by friends, led by His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin, that a divided opposition could not win against the dictator and his Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL).

Laurel gallantly stood aside for Cory to be the opposition’s standard-bearer, while he ran for vice president. Marcos might have cheated his way to triumph in February 1986, but the actual vote count could not be denied – then People Power at the EDSA barricades assured the ascent of the two to office.

In victory, however, the two parted ways. Cory, Doy declared, had pledged to be the candidate of the UNIDO, but in the end she cast the UNIDO aside. Was a deal made that Doy should be named "Prime Minister", not just Vice President? What he got instead was the Secretaryship of Foreign Affairs. Nursing his political wounds, smiling through his period of being regarded as a virtual outcast within the Aquino Cabinet, Laurel did a fine job as foreign minister and head of the intrigue-ridden Department of Foreign Affairs (still a Puzzle Palace, if you ask me).

Finally, the break became irrevocable between Cory and Doy. Cory unkindly sneered at him as a langaw (fly).

How can you fight against St. Cory at that time viewed as our national Joan of Arc? Indeed, how can one fight against a sitting president stubbornly set against you, and suspicious of your every move? This spelled the end of Doy Laurel’s political career. His ascent was out down in mid-trajectory. He never recovered his momentum again.

We honor him today, however, for what he accomplished, for his self-sacrifice, his idealism – and his lost hopes. For, like his friend Ninoy Aquino, Doy dreamed the "Impossible Dream". I can still remember him vividly, singing that song a capella in his unusually rich baritone, with fervor, accompanied by his own accomplished children. Among them, naturally, the famed singing star, Cocoy Laurel (who starred as The Engineer, with Lea Salonga in Miss Saigon in London’s Royal Theatre, Drury Lane). His faithful and tireless helpmeet was his beautiful wife, Celia Diaz-Laurel, our comadre.

Doy fought "the unbeatable foe". He was handsome, dynamic and brave. But he couldn’t lick the Big C, the cancer that finally took his life.

Ave atque vale, Doy: Our hearts and our prayers go with you!

* * *

Now that he is gone, Doy Laurel’s "secret" can be revealed. He told a few friends like our long-time jogging partner Babe Romualdez (we then belonged to the "Makati Road-runners" in our more ambitious days) and myself, how he had been energetically, urgently invited by the deposed Ferdinand Marcos to visit him in Hawaii.

By the time Laurel arrived in Honolulu (from a trip to San Francisco) that August 1989, he found that Marcos was no longer in his Makaki Heights residence, but had been rushed to the St. Francis Hospital in the city. Clearly, Macoy was in extremis.

According to the former Vice President’s narrative, Marcos had told him, in a hoarse whisper, that his dearest wish – his "dying wish" – was to be permitted to return to the Philippines, so he could die in his native Batac, Ilocos Norte. Marcos requested Doy to bear his offer directly and exclusively to President Cory C. Aquino herself, and tell nobody else about it. Macoy, Doy said, had pledged to turn over US$5 billion from his "foundation" to the Philippine Government, if he (Marcos) were allowed to be immediately flown "home" to the Philippines so he could expire there in peace.

Doy said that when he got back to Manila, he sought a meeting with President Aquino. But Cory, he alleged, absolutely refused to see him. Less than three weeks later, on September 28, 1989, Marcos died in Hawaii.

The return of US$5 billion? Wow. If Doy Laurel had not misunderstood Marcos, and the story is true, Sus, we could have used that money.

Anyway, all that is history now. And we’ll never know.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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