University of the Philippines Los Baños

Pages of history of both the University and the country were revisited when UPLB officials welcomed the members of the prominent Laurel clan on Sept. 2 for the launching of the Jose Sotero Laurel III Professorial Chair in Agribusiness.

The 1.5 million-peso grant is named after Amb. Jose Sotero Laurel III, the second child of the late president Jose P. Laurel (Second Philippine Republic, 1943-1945). Mr. Francis C. Laurel, son of Amb. Laurel and president and chief executive officer of YKK Philippines, conceptualized of and sponsored the said professorial chair in honor of his father on his centennial birth anniversary. The chair, which recognizes his father’s contribution to business and management, aims to support lectures on persistent and emerging issues in agribusiness development.

According to Dr. Dinah Pura T. Depositario, chair of the Department of Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship of the College of Economics and Management (DAME-CEM), the professorial chair is open to issues in agribusiness such as the need to integrate small farmers into local and global supply chains; business resilience strategies amidst disasters and other climate change manifestations; and strategic options for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the light of the ASEAN Economic Integration. The professorial chair will boost DAME-CEM and one of the newly established interdisciplinary studies centers of UPLB, the UP Agribusiness Center for Entrepreneurship.

Francis Laurel, the son, is no stranger to UPLB. He earned his BS Agriculture from UPLB in 1969 as magna cum laude. He belongs to the third batch of BSA graduates who majored in agricultural business through UPLB’s partnership with the College of Business Administration (now Cesar E.A. Virata School of Business) at UP Diliman. The program was the precursor to UPLB’s full-blown BS Agribusiness Management program. In 1990, he was awarded the Most Outstanding Alumnus of CEM for his excellence in business and management.

A Public Servant’s Journey to Malacañan

Amb. Jose Sotero Laurel, to whom the professorial chair is dedicated, was born on August 27, 1914. He completed his secondary education from the UP High School and studied pre-law for two years at UP. He then went to Japan as the first and only Filipino student at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy (1934-1937), taking up engineering.

One of his legacies to the Philippine government was his service to two presidents: first to Manuel L. Quezon during the Commonwealth and second to his father Jose P. Laurel during World War II. Before the War, he became an aide de camp of President Quezon.

It was his service to Malacañan Palace as his father’s chief aide when his knowledge and courage were tested under the challenging Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic. He helped strengthen the intelligence unit of his father’s administration in the midst of Japanese media censorship.

The book entitled “The Saga of Jose P. Laurel”, which was published in 1949 by Teofilo and Jose del Castillo, narrated Amb. Laurel’s role in maintaining a secret radio. When Pres. Laurel assumed office, one of his main priorities was to set-up a listening post inside Malacañan without the knowledge of Japanese administrators. This way, news from the Allied Forces would be transmitted to Laurel’s administration, a key to intelligent decision-making during the War.

This delicate task was entrusted by Pres. Laurel to Amb. Laurel, whom the authors refer to as “the official guerilla member of the family.” As a guerilla member, Amb. Laurel was not only trained for military duties, he also had constant communication and coordination with presidential guards, many of whom were members of guerilla units.

To fulfill his father’s urgent need for information, he worked closely with and directly supervised Capt. Angelo P.B. Frago, a member of the Philippine constabulary who graduated at the Signal Communication School of the US Army at Fort William MicKinley. He was second honors in their class and a topnotcher in the radio operator’s licensure examination. Capt. Frago built and operated the radio station Pres. Laurel wanted to have.

With the efficient cooperation of Amb. Laurel’s team, the Laurel administration clandestinely received news feeds from radio stations based in Allied cities, such as Sydney in Australia; London in the United Kingdom; and San Francisco in the USA. Local news stories were also gathered by the Malacañan-based radio unit. The del Castillo authors said that this set-up gave instant information to Pres. Laurel, like “who were caught in Jap traps, whether in Bulacan, the Ilokos, Pangasinan, or way down in Mindanao.”

Rise in the Academe, Diplomacy, and Business

The challenges and experiences Amb. Laurel learned from the War only motivated him to serve the country and continue the legacy of his father. He became active in jurisprudence, foreign relations, and commerce.

He continued his law studies at the Manuel L. Quezon University and entered the Bar in 1949. He was one of the early practitioners of Intellectual Property Rights Law in the Philippines. In terms of public service, Amb. Laurel became a special assistant to former President Carlos P. Garcia, with the responsibility of strengthening Philippine-Japan relations. A few years later, Amb. Laurel became the country’s ambassador to Japan from 1966 to 1971 during the term of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

In his diplomatic assignment, he linked the two countries. He also initiated the Philippine Federation of Japan Alumni (PHILFEJA) in 1976, an association of graduates of Japanese colleges and universities.

Amb. Laurel’s business ventures could inspire aspiring entrepreneurs and businessmen. One of his initial successes was the development of Castle Line, a fleet of jeepneys that later became a busline traveling from Pasay to Quiapo. His law firm became the liaison to Japanese companies Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, and Itochu Corp. in the 1950s.

In 1977, he entered into a joint venture with a Japanese national named Mr. Tadao Yoshida who founded the Yoshida Kogyo K.K. This partnership paved the way for Amb. Laurel’s chairmanship and presidency of YKK Philippines, Inc. Today, YKK Philippines, Inc. “manufactures world-class quality plastic, metal, and vislon zipper and distributes notion products.”

As UPLB paid tribute to Amb. Laurel during the launching of the professorial chair, the Laurel Family members could not help but be emotional while recalling the memories of their patriarch, who passed away on January 6, 2003 at the age of 88.

Amb. Laurel spoke fondly of all his teachers, even the strictest ones, according to Mr. Francis C. Laurel. True enough, the “Jose Sotero Laurel III Professorial Chair in Agribusiness” is parallel with the Laurel father-and-son’s attitude towards teachers as it honors faculty member-awardees. The younger Laurel hopes that the professorial chair named after his father will honor mentors who will mold future generations with ‘honor and excellence’.

Present during the occasion were Chancellor Rex Victor O. Cruz, Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension Ma. Victoria O. Espaldon, Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Development Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr., Vice-Chancellor for Community Affairs Enrique L. Tolentino, Jr., the CEM Executive Committee headed by Dean Isabelita M. Pabuayon, Dr. Depositario, and faculty members of DAME. Also present were Dr. Liborio S. Cabanilla, executive director of CEM Alumni Foundation, Inc. and former dean of the College and Dr. Jose V. Camacho, Jr., dean of the Graduate School. On the other hand, Mr. Laurel was accompanied by wife Valerie, siblings Joey and Ditas, and cousin Dr. Lourdes Eala-Resubal, a retired professor at the UPCA.