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Celia Diaz-Laurel tells it like it is

By Gerry Lirio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:56:00 03/08/2009

Filed Under: People, Books, Lifestyle & Leisure

CELIA Diaz-Laurel, widow of former Vice President Salvador H. Laurel, sits pensively in a wheelchair one Thursday afternoon inside the Shaw Boulevard house she and her husband built in 1954.

At 80, Laurel feels the urge to write a number of books about a wealth of memories she had accumulated from over 50 years of living with her husband.

?Because there are so many things [people] don?t know [about us],? she says.

Laurel looks radiantly beautiful and younger than her age. She says she feels stronger, except for a problematic right knee hit by an uncommon type of bacteria that, she says, has tied her to the wheelchair the past 12 months.

?I am okay,? Laurel says. ?I have no [other] health problem. ?The problem is when you can?t use your leg. I have gained a few pounds. The doctors say I will have to have a titanium rod into my bone. It is very hard for me even to get into a car.? Her left knee had been replaced a few years back for another ailment.

While the conditions of her right leg have greatly restrained her mobility, nothing stops her from tinkering with her computer to continue writing.

Laurel has finished writing a book about her husband titled ?Doy Laurel,? a coffee-table biography on his life.

?I feel it?s quite ironic,? she says, ?that ever since the first anniversary of Edsa I, Doy was never made a part of it, never mentioned or even remembered. Publications about that important part in our history have completely ignored the man who made it possible.?

?What if he did not risk his life during the martial-law years to organize an opposition that would fight the dictator and restore democracy? What if he did not bother to convince and inspire the leaders of various political parties to unite and join the Unido for the cause of democratic freedom? What if he were not courageous enough to lead marches and rallies nationwide against a powerful administration when it was dangerous to do so??

Sacrifice

She particularly cites her husband?s sacrifice in abandoning his plan to run for president to give way to Corazon Aquino, widow of murdered Sen. Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino Jr., and prevent the opposition from splitting up, in December 1985.

?What if he did not give way to Cory during the snap elections and insisted on running as the official Unido candidate? After all, he had already been proclaimed official candidate of this powerful organization. Would there have been an Edsa I?? she wonders.

After his funeral, Laurel went through all her husband?s books, letters, speeches, notes and ?wove together, like a tapestry, his odyssey, in his own words, in his own inimitable style of writing, the expression of his beliefs, his deepest thought and feelings,? all revealing, she says, what he did best for God and country.

?I don?t understand why they linked Doy at all to the Centennial controversy. Did you know that he was very particular about not getting his hands dirty with government funds? He never even entertained people wanting to see him about the projects through his relatives.?

Far from idyllic

Doy and Celia got married in September 1950 at San Marcelino Church while they were still studying at the University of the Philippines. He was a law student. She was into the arts.

?It was far from being an idyllic wedding that one dreams of,? she says in her book. ?Doy was fidgety throughout the ceremony. He had asthma and his nose was bleeding from lack of sleep. His close friends [among them] Ninoy Aquino and Pitoy Moreno stayed with him on his last night as a bachelor. But when our photographs were taken by Bob Razon, Doy managed to smile and look so handsome, while my apprehension was recorded for posterity.?

New house

Four years into the marriage, the young couple moved into their new house on a 2,400-sq m property on Shaw Boulevard, built at a cost of around P75,000. Contrary to an earlier report, it was built three years before Laurel?s father constructed his own house on the adjacent 6,000-sq m lot, later to be known as the Laurel mansion, which they sold in December 2007 to the family of Senator Villar because, as a close relative put it, ?nobody lives there anymore.?

Laurel says she has nothing to do with the sale, but she liked the Villars and what they did to the mansion.

?In his speedy rise to power, Manny Villar has remained humble, honest and upright, the good son who is still devoted to his mother. He is now a loving husband to his wife, Cynthia, and a good father to his three children,? she says.

Nothing wrong

Two weeks ago, the Laurels? rural bank in Batangas hometown was reported to be up for sale, triggering talks that the Laurels, once one of the country?s most influential families, were running out of cash.

But everything is all right with the Laurel clan, she says. ?But it?s better that way than for the people to think that we are too rich.?

She finds nothing wrong with being identified with the poor, she says, having been once impoverished by the war. Like her husband, she has lived with the poor and the homeless.

Surprisingly, Laurel says she and her children are also planning to sell the house on Shaw Boulevard where they live. ?That?s what Doy had wanted us to do because this place has become too commercial. We wanted to follow his will, and so we tried to sell it. We are just waiting [for the right buyer].?

So many companies have approached them, she says, but no firm agreement has been forged with anyone so far.

?When that time comes,? Laurel says she and her son, singer-actor Cocoy, would move to a house on a four-hectare property in San Pedro, Laguna, that her husband bought during the martial-law years.

Beautiful

Unlike their house on Shaw Boulevard, the San Pedro home is ?not so big,? but she says it is fully furnished, its design done by Gabby Formoso. It is located on top of a hill, with only three rooms, the third one to be transformed later into a museum to house the memorabilia of her husband.

?It?s a beautiful house,? she says.

The four-hectare property has an airfield and open-air chapel done by Rodney Pernejo. The town mayor, she says, plans to put up inside their property a five-meter-tall shrine of the Risen Christ. ?They also want to use our garden for meditation.?

A few meters away from the property stands another church called Santo Sepulchro, which attracts a huge number of believers during the Holy Week. ?Doy loved that (San Pedro) place so much. He wanted us to retire there.?

Loose ends

Laurel?s book about her husband is not just about him alone. It also tries to tie some loose ends in one of the darkest episodes in the nation?s history?the Japanese occupation, including the time when José P. Laurel was the president of the Japanese-sponsored Second Philippine Republic.

Part of her account reveals how many times the elder Laurel disobeyed the Japanese ?script? and how the Japanese army forcibly took him to Japan to save Filipino civilians, including Cabinet men and their families, from death.

The book contains a number of anecdotes on the heroism of the old man unknown to the general public.

Good letters

Another book about her and her husband is in the pipeline, tentatively titled ?Doy and Celia: Exchange of Letters,? dating back from the time they were sweethearts at the University of the Philippines.

Laurel says she?s writing this one ?because Doy wrote good letters? that described their romance, the time?s major events, social and cultural trends as well as his political passion.

?Doy was so good at writing and speaking,? she says. ?He was a very attractive man.? So attractive, in fact, that so many other girls had fallen for him since the couple?s UP campus days. ?Even when we were engaged, so many girls got attracted to him. I knew that.?

One of them was Pilar Pilapil, a young and beautiful model-turned-actress who, a few years back, wrote a book about her life story, part of which tackled her own affair with the former vice president.

Judging from Pilapil?s account, the affair sent the Laurels? marriage on the rocks.

?I knew her, because she was modeling with my daughter in Japan for Pitoy,? Laurel says, adding that she was in charge of these models in Japan. ?But that?s not important now. She has her own life now. She has found herself. Doy handled the women.? She didn?t.

Spiritual

Laurel says those who would read her book would know many things they never knew about her husband. ?He was a very spiritual man, for instance.?

She wants to finish all these books and possibly attend to some unfinished paintings, one of them inside her study room, showing a scene inside a Middle East bazaar.

She also wants to see her children more often?all of them artists just like her. They all know how to act, sing or play a musical instrument.

More than anyone, she?s proud of Cocoy because he is a ?very talented singer? even if in private, she says, he?s a very shy person, despite all the time he?s spent in the limelight.

Like her, Cocoy knows how to paint. ?For instance, he painted the ceilings of the San Antonio Church in Sampaloc. He spent so much there. Why San Antonio? Because he said it is a church of the poor and they couldn?t afford it,? she says.

?Do you know that Cocoy regularly sings at the St. Francis Church in Mandaluyong every Sunday? And that?s for free. He stays there only in the background because he didn?t want to distract the churchgoers.?

Admirer

Laurel is almost through with her book about her grandfather, Domingo Franco, who she says was a ?fundraiser for La Solidaridad.? She has also begun collating materials for a book about her father.

?They never mentioned my grandfather at all in the Philippine history books. He was remembered as just one of the 13 martyrs of Bagumbayan. He was a great admirer and friend of José Rizal, and Apolinario Mabini was his secretary in La Liga Filipina.?

Laurel has published three other books, namely, ?Days of Our Years,? ?Quotes of Dr. José P. Laurel? and ?The Laurel Family Tree.?

She says it was Doy himself who, at his hospital bed, urged her to write these books. ?You will write my odyssey,? he whispered to her at his sickbed. ?No, I protested. You will get well and we will write it together.?

Laurel died on Jan. 27, 2004, without seeing his wife?s book completed.

?Memory, I know, is frail and evanescent,? she writes in the prologue on her book about the former vice president. ?What we hold precious today fades away tomorrow. What we say now is soon forgotten. But what is written lives on for generations to come.?

With these books, Laurel hopes that people would get to know more about her family, especially her husband, and to give them the honor they truly deserve.



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