The Conley Police Bribery Case and Dr. Jose P. Laurel’s Presidency during the Japanese Occupation
[Keywords: Jose P. Laurel philosophy, Ray Conley, Govrnor General Leonard Wood, Tanauan Batangas, American colonial era]
Tanauan–born Dr. Jose P. Laurel is remembered in History as the President of the 2nd Second Philippine Republic during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines in World War II. For accepting this post, he was inevitably accused in some quarters as a Japanese collaborator and, therefore, a traitor. The point of view that he was a traitor, it has to be said, has to be seen as from the pro–American standpoint. There will be those among historians who regard him as a nationalist instead.
Whether he was a traitor or not has already been discussed in an earlier article in Batangas History. This article’s focus will be on the contents of a declassified United States Army document1 which tried to rationalize Laurel’s motives in accepting the Presidency of the puppet government. One theory which the document put forth had something to do with Laurel’s involvement with the so-called Conley Bribery Case.
READ: “Was Dr. Jose P. Laurel, Batangueño President of the 2nd Philippine Republic, a Traitor? .”
In 1922, fresh from a stint in the United States where he obtained a Doctor of Civil Law degree from Yale University in Connecticut, Laurel was appointed Undersecretary of the Interior by the Governor General Leonard Wood, a former United States Army Major General who had seen action in the Philippine-American War. The latter’s term as Governor General “was characterized by marked tension between him and key Filipino officials2.”
The following year, when Laurel was already the Secretary of the Interior, he himself became involved in a conflict with Wood over the so–called Conley Bribery Case. The subject of this case was Detective Ray Conley, who had arrived in the Philippines as an 18–year old in 1912 and immediately joined the Manila Police Force. Five years later in 1917, John W. Green, Chief of the Secret Service, made Conley his “confidential agent in Manila’s netherworld of vice and crime3.”
The declassified US Army document described the case and how Laurel and Wood became embroiled in a feud:
“ Charges were brought against Conley accusing him of dealing in opium and other drugs. Both the Director of Civil Service and the Chief of Police in Manila after investigation recommended that the charges be dropped. Subsequent to Laurel’s appointment as Secretary of the Interior, he and the Mayor of the City of Manila called Governor General Wood's attention to the fact that new charges of bribery had been presented and asked permission to suspend Conley pending an investigation. General Wood, on the ground that these officials [Laurel and the Mayor Ramon Fernandez of Manila] were prejudiced, insisted on a court trial and the court dismissed the charges notwithstanding the fact that the Mayor and Laurel appeared as witnesses. These two officials then requested again that an administrative investigation be made, and General Wood appointed as investigators the Director of Civil Service, Jose Gil and the Undersecretary of Justice, Judge Imperial, both Filipinos, and an American constabulary officer. This group recommended reinstatement, but in view of certain aspects of Conley’s private life, recommended that he be required to resign later. General Wood then directed Laurel as Secretary of the Interior to reinstate Conley, but Laurel refused and both he and the Mayor of Manila resigned their offices, whereupon General Wood himself directed the Chief of Police to reinstate Conley.”
Laurel’s resignation precipitated a mass exodus of Filipino officials from the Cabinet and the Council of State. Special missions were sent to Washington D.C. to bring to the attention of US President William Harding “undue interference on General Wood’s part” presumably in the Conley case but likely also in other matters of governance.
The mass resignations and special missions did not, however, bring the desired effect – i.e. presumably the replacement of Wood as Governor General. On the contrary, Harding “refused to interfere with General Wood’s administration and denounced the non–cooperation move.”
Meanwhile, Wood had moved decisively and immediately promoted the Undersecretaries to replace those who had resigned their positions. Before long, however, all the cabinet secretaries who had resigned in sympathy with Laurel, who had preferred to stay in private life, would be reinstated. He would not return to the limelight until elected to the Senate in 1925.
In view of all these, the declassified US Army document hypothesized:
“Since the maneuver [the mass resignation and special missions] was a failure from the standpoint of the Filipino leaders, it is possible that their inclinations were to blame Laurel for having led them into an embarrassing situation, and that as a result he was given little or no recognition for some twelve years. Laurel, who, according to some, lacks the type of personality necessary for political success in the Philippines, during these years saw many men, undoubtedly inferior to him in intelligence, occupying the limelight as leaders of the Filipino people. This apparently caused Laurel to feel that he had been used to promote the ambitions of others and as a result he is reported to have been very bitter… As President of the puppet government Laurel dominates the central administrative organs and the various Bureaus which go to make up those organs.”
The document further noted that Laurel had, presumably in his private practice of law, acted as attorney of Japanese firms, which in turn made him friendly with many prominent Japanese even before the occupation. He had also sent his sons to be educated in Japan. At the start of the Japanese occupation, the invaders started to use his name prominently in propaganda.
FOOTNOTE: In his book, author Alfred W. McCoy wrote that a Chinatown merchant by the name of Lao Teng was being harassed by spies of Mayor Fernandez, who were extorting money and threatening to plant morphine in the merchant’s premises and promising raids. The merchant was supposed to have reported this to Conley, who in turn started arresting the Mayor’s men. In retaliation, the mayor allegedly “launched an elaborate scheme to implicate Conley in the act of taking bribes” from the gambling lords in Manila. If this information is true, then it is also possible that Laurel was used by the Mayor to further his alleged plot against Conley.
Notes and references:1 “Civil Affairs Handbook: Japan. Section 18C: Japanese Administration of Occupied Areas – Philippine Islands,” published July 1944 by the Headquarters, United States Army Forces. Many of this article’s important details are taken from this document.
2 “Leonard Wood,” Wikipedia.
3 “Policing America’s Empire: the United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State,” by Alfred W. McCoy, published 1930 by the University of Wisconsin Press.