Jose P. Laurel has a somewhat mixed legacy for having served as President of the Japanese-sponsored Second Republic from 1943 to 1945. Whatever achievements his administration had were overshadowed by the specter of Japanese control over the country, especially with their “support” for an independent but pro-Japan Philippines, and the horrors of World War II at large, especially towards the end when fighting between the Japanese and the US-led forces brought about much death and destruction to the country. Despite this, he is regarded as a good president who had nothing but the Filipino interests at heart and did what he could in the situation prevailing that time in the face of Japanese control.
Interestingly, Laurel is also one of the few personages in history who has a preserved legacy as far as the structures associated with him are concerned, with two houses he has lived in still remain standing in the midst of the rapid urbanization in the metropolis that has brought about a rapid loss of its built heritage.
VILLA PEÑAFRANCIA: LAUREL’S OLD PACO RESIDENCE
One of these houses can be found at the corner of Peñafrancia and Santo Sepulcro Streets in Manila’s Paco district. The house was said to have been built in 1861. It was a bahay na bato structure whose size indicated that the original owners of the house were well-off. Considering Paco during that time was a bustling affluent neighborhood, that should not come as a surprise.
In 1926, Laurel, who was serving as a senator at that time, bought the house to be his residence and that of his growing family. While not much is known yet about the house, considering Laurel is a rising political figure at the time, it can be surmised that it also became an important venue for political and social events hosted by himself and his wife Paciencia. In time the house itself became a landmark known as Villa Peñafrancia.
When Laurel assumed the presidency in 1943, while he held office in Malacañang, he did not actually live in the Palace. Villa Peñafrancia remained his residence throughout most of his term, except for a short while when had to sleep inside the Palace before he would be evacuated to Japan as the Japanese forces decided to bring him along as the Americans were advancing to Manila in early 1945. Upon his return to the country in 1946, he returned to Villa Peñafrancia as well where he would stay there for the next 10 years or so.
In 1956, Laurel decided to leave his Paco home and move to a newer neighborhood up east, in the hilly and yet-to-be developed spaces of Mandaluyong near the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club. When he died on November 6, 1959, his third son Sotero inherited Villa Peñafrancia, who in turn spearheaded the restoration efforts along with the Jose P. Laurel Memorial Foundation, to whom the ownership of the house is transferred to and is maintaining it to this day,
VILLA PACIENCIA: THE LAUREL RETIREMENT HOME
Jose P. Laurel would move to a bigger residence at 515 Shaw Boulevard, which eventually became known as the Villa Paciencia (named after his wife) While the house’s primary purpose is that being a residence and retirement home of sorts, being the house of a former president who is still an active participant in politics at that time, Villa Paciencia was more than just some residence.
The house served as a venue for a number of diplomatic functions. One such event happened in 1957 when Laurel hosted a dinner in the house in honor of American newspaper editor and diplomat James M. Langley. Who is this Langley fellow, you may ask? He just happens to be the one of the people instrumental in a landmark trade agreement between the Philippines and the United States in 1954 called the Laurel-Langley Agreement which provided Americans are allowed to own 100% of all companies in the country up to 1974.
Upon Laurel’s death in November 6, 1959, his eldest son Jose Jr. inherited Villa Paciencia and continued to serve as a residence and a political venue. It became known as the Nacionalista House since many of the meetings of the Nacionalista Party, which the Laurels have headed over the years, were held here and became a de facto headquarters of the party. It was also here that Indonesian President Sukarno stayed here on the invitation of Jose Jr. during his working visit to the country on August 5, 1963 for the Maphilindo summit of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. (hence the name)
While not living in the same house, another son, Salvador, would build his house just beside Villa Paciencia which also served as a residence and a venue for political meetings.
Eventually in the 2000s, the Laurel family decided to sell the property where Villa Paciencia stands to a fellow Nacionalista Party stalwart and real estate magnate, Manuel Villar. It served as a venue for some political events leading to the 2010 elections as Villar was gunning for the presidency at the time, in which he lost unfortunately. The property was later turned over to his real estate company Vista Land which was to develop the property into a residential-commercial high rise project called Vista Residences 515 Shaw. This meant the demolition of some houses of the property, including Salvador Laurel’s old home. Villa Paciencia, however, was left intact thanks to a prior agreement Villar had with the Laurels that the house would not be demolished.
Instead, the old Villa Paciencia still stands today as an events venue and sort of a centerpiece of the whole development while part of the house has been allotted to be a dining space as commercial activity has picked up in the 515 Shaw area and the nearby areas of that greater central Shaw Boulevard* commercial district that includes the old Cherry Foodarama and Mandala Park, among others.
As was stated earlier, Jose P. Laurel is one of the few notable personalities in our history who is fortunate to have left behind some form of legacy in the houses he lived in throughout much of his life. They serve not only to serve as monuments of sort to his legacy and his contributions to our history, but also as surviving gems of urban heritage that is largely endangered by the ill effects of development. May the present and future generations get to appreciate the man and the heritage he was able to leave behind for us.
*Interestingly, the other street (aside from Shaw Boulevard) along which Villa Paciencia is located has been named recently after the aforementioned son Sotero who also served as a senator like his dad.
Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia