Dr. Prospero E. de Vera
Sotero H. Laurel, who comes from a family that has contributed much to the shaping of Philippine society, joined our Creator on September 16, 2009, at the age of 90. He obtained his law degree at the University of the Philippines and subsequently pursued post-graduate studies at the University of Santo Tomas and at Harvard University where he specialized in international and constitutional law.
This opening paragraph in today's Manila Bulletin editorial entitled Farewell to a Nationalist, Statesman, and Educator, former Senator Sotero H. Laurel brings back fond memories of what many consider as "the best" Philippine Senate, composed of men and women of integrity, eloquence, brilliance, and with PhDs like Jovy Salonga, Wigberto Tanada, Nene Pimentel, Leticia Shahani, Rene Saguisag, Edgardo Angara, Juan Ponce Enrile, and of course Sotero "Teroy" Laurel.
I was privileged to be part of that Senate when I joined the staff of Senator Sotero Laurel as Technical Assistant and Chief of Research in 1988. I was a relatively young faculty member of De La Salle University at that time who felt an obligation to join the government to "put my money where my mouth is" after years of opposing the martial law regime. Senator Laurel gave me the break to start a career in the legislative branch of government.
"Nationalist", "Statesman", "Educator", "Scholar" and many other terms were used to describe Senator Laurel in the eulogies delivered at the Senate yesterday. Teroy Laurel to me was a boss who hired me on the strength of an on-the-spot speech on the plight of Indo-Chinese refugees in the Asian region which was assigned to me when I applied at his office. Upon receipt of the speech during a UN forum, Senator Laurel immediately instructed his chief-of-staff to hire me as Technical Assistant and also made me Chief-of-Research and Head of Secretariat that organized the regular consultants meeting.
To say that he was a task master is an understatement. He demanded discipline, hard work, and preparation - of facts, policy arguments, legal basis, and sentence construction - from the staff. He was, pardon the reference to President Ramos, an original "complete staff work" type of leader. I remember writing a speech for him on higher education which he personally revised ten times!! In the end, only nine original lines remained from the draft I submitted three days earlier.
Like most of his colleagues, Teroy Laurel took the "numbers game" seriously and monitored his ranking in the number of bills filed at the end of every session. He would give his technical staff a quota of new bills and resolutions that should be ready for his signature at the start of the next session. Drafting the bills was a breeze, getting it past the "Teroy consultants" was a nightmare.
Why a nightmare? Because he assembled a group of heavyweight consultants - Chief Justice Felix Makasiar, Trade Secretary Teddy Quiazon, UP Law Dean Froilan Bacungan, UP Vice President Fred Morales, Ambassador Jose Moreno - to represent him in Senate committee meetings and serve as a panel to go over the bills we prepared.
All proposed bills and resolutions were presented before this panel of consultants who would raise legal questions, test your mastery of the facts, pick apart your arguments that there was a need to amend the law, and generally make you wish you had another job. If you survive the panel, then you can present your proposal to the Senator.
Over time, these luminaries became my mentors. CJ Makasiar made me understand the majesty of the Constitution and sharpened my bill drafting skills. Teddy Quiazon taught me how to write short, concise and understandable committee reports and memoranda. Dean Bacungan showed me how long-winded legal arguments and complex legislative language can be explained in terms understandable to a layman, and Fred Morales stroked my interest in higher education policy and convinced me to finish my graduate studies.
On a personal note, their personalized recommendations (CJ Makasiar, Teddy Quiazon, Fred Morales) together with that of Senator Laurel helped convince the Philippine Fulbright program that I deserved a Fulbright-Hays Visiting Scholar grant to the University of Southern California and the California State University-Sacramento to study higher education policy and administration.
Ka Teroy's academic and intellectual achievements, integrity and probity, and demand for complete staff work later shaped my choice and association with Senators from the 9th-14th Congress. I have been fortunate to be associated with Senators who personified these same characteristics - Nene Pimentel, Letty Shahani, Juan Flavier, Jun Magsaysay - and whose stint in the Senate were never tarnished by allegations of corruption.
Thank you Senator Sotero Laurel for lending your presence to the Senate. How we wish there were more of you to make the Senate a real "august chamber".