Sometimes, the things that we say can haunt us. This is particularly true if they are captured in print, as were many of the speeches and pronouncements of José P. Laurel, the president of the Japanese occupied Second Philippine Republic during the second World War, from 1943 to 1945. Laurel suggested, after occupation, that he was coerced into serving in that role by the Japanese. However, David Steinberg has argued that in fact Laurel chose to serve and that he could have avoided serving in the role had he wanted to. Furthermore, Steinberg argues that Laurel accepted the position because Laurel saw the opportunity as one that would allow him to transform Philippine society into something more disciplined and progressive.
Steinberg’s argument is built primarily on Laurel’s own words, using his works such as his Forces that Make a Nation Great (1943), his autobiographical War Memoirs of Dr. José P. Laurel (Manila, I962), recorded speeches, the wartime constitution, and some official communiqués. Steinberg’s arguments rest on the following premises: many men of power were able to avoid serving in the Second Philippine Republic by either expressing disinterest or using health issues as excuses. Laurel had been shot and hospitalized in serious condition for seven of the twelve weeks prior to his appointment (652-653). Therefore, like them, had he not wished to have served he could have used his health as an excuse. Therefore, he served because he wanted to.
Steinberg’s second claim is that the reason he wanted to serve was because he wanted to change Philippine society. In his own works and speeches, he expressed the desire to reform Philippines society on numerous times, and expressed admiration for the Japanese own “duty-centric” society with a high regard for the rule of law (654, 660). The wartime constitution, which reflected Laurel’s influence, concentrated power in the executive, a structure which Laurel had identified as important were one to accept social change as in Japan along with rule by an intellectual and moral aristocracy (655, 662). He also took measures to try to ensure some such changes could be enacted even after the Japanese departures, as expressed through his Proclamation 30, which declared a state of war, and his efforts to reconcile guerrilla forces (659). Steinberg concludes that in fact Laurel assumed power when he did not have to, he had a reason to do so. Laurel’s own stated professions of his goals, aims, and conception of a reformed Philippine society, and the actions he took to realize those reforms, provide evidence as to what that reason was.
Steinberg, David. “Jose P. Laurel: A ‘Collaborator’ Misunderstood.” The Journal of Asian Studies 24, no. 4 (August 1, 1965): 651–65. doi:10.2307/2051111.by