The “puppet government” under President Laurel has gotten a bad rap. In some respects, the aegis allowed the president to avoid the enmity that many resistance groups thought he deserved, but “puppet” doesn’t really describe Laurel during the occupation, and to hold him any way responsible for the actions of the Japanese during that period wouldn’t be fair.
I must repeat here: it suffices that I’m not in a position to judge, but it seems to me that a Filipino had to step up and provide the country continuity, and MacAuthur and Quezon designated Laurel. You can’t then expect the impossible. The truth is he used his position as president as a counterfoil, often with significant results: for example, the Japanese bowed to him when he refused to surrender future President Manuel A. Roxas, whom Dr. Laurel placed in his cabinet more for his protection than anything else. People listened to and followed Laurel because they believed that he was a man who really cared for them.
My perspective of the war has been distorted by my reaction to what went on later in Vietnam. The certitude that we can believe what we’ve been told (or what we read in history books) I think has forever been quashed. I know Becky and I missed most of the demonstrations in the States (including Kent State). Our war, however, was just as much a watershed for us as the Japanese occupation was a watershed for Filipinos, but I never heard them talk about it (just as my father never talked about his experiences in the South Pacific). War! Or in quick succession, life and death, suffering and heroism, ignominy and victory, evil and patriotic sacrifice, horror and bereavement speeds up the process of maturation, and a generation without a war perhaps is not as focused as one that does have one. I believe I have mentioned that I’m against war. Perhaps my statements then seem inconsistent, but I suspect having lived through my war (Vietnam) has made me more peace loving than I would otherwise be. Our war got our attention, and you were either for it or against it. The ideals of the 50’s, of decorum and limits were eroded. The same sort of thing happened in the Philippines during our parents’ war.
I have just been thinking about the word “nationalism.” I’ve never considered myself a nationalistic person in the same way that many of my Filipinos friends did. Though I’ve always been proud to be an American, I’ve never been a crusader. I then say it wasn’t illogical for me to look to the world for answers. Those who think we’re not connected to the remotest places, in my view, are still living in the distant past, which is absurd, and I think they know it. Those without a country, however, yearn for one. I venture to guess that there is a middle ground, and thus I can love my country and be critical of her at the same time. At some point, it seems to me as if the eternal traveler has to come home, or search for one (if only for a visit). To find something you can relate to when you get there is always the hope.
Visitacion Del Rosario has observed that nationalism in the Philippines has been associated with the kayumanggi color or purely Malaysian stock and that Filipino mestizos were often denied their birthright. But during the Japanese occupation the mestizos were often treated better than Filipinos of Malaysian stock, for after all mestizos could often pass for Spaniards.
I remember they called me sir (I hadn’t expected it, since I hadn’t taught before), sir with love, I suppose because I was an American, though they could’ve looked at it from the perspective of the radical students who were demonstrating on campus every day. I remember they were polite to me anyway. I remember they paid me respect by standing up whenever I entered the classroom. I remember (I think) none of them fell asleep during my class. I remember no one sat on the front row. I remember one of them telling me that their country needed a benevolent dictator (that was before Marcos declared martial law or the events he used as an excuse for it). I remember asking myself what in the world was I doing there. I clearly remember how I got the job…that wasn’t it. I had to tell myself that I was qualified, that I had the right degree, the right piece of paper and that I had something to give. I only taught for four semesters, that was the last time I taught because by then I knew that I wasn’t made to be a teacher.
I find it very satisfactory that they accepted me in spite of all of my faults, and no doubt I was a very poor teacher, and even the most generous person wouldn’t have given me any more than a “C.” As far as I was concerned it was a coveted “C.” My enviable status as an American would’ve prevented them from giving anything less than a “C,” an obligatory mark my department head had to give me every semester, though I know he hated it. Mr. Hernandez never wanted to say anything that would injure anyone, but I am sufficiently certain that I tried his patience.