Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lakan Genealogy: Brunei to Batangas?

Kissing Cousins? The Laurel family's claim to be descended from the
Brunei royal family cannot be substantiated.

When the late Salvador "Doy" Laurel ran for president in the 1992 election I was fascinated to read in a Newsweek article that the Laurels of Batangas claim descent from a certain prince who was supposedly the eldest son of the Sultan of Brunei. I was unable to get a personal copy of that article and for many years since I started doing other people's genealogies in 2000 I have been trying to get my hand on that article, if only to refresh my memory about the Laurel family tree.

I was finally able to reread that article online some years ago and this is the gist of the Laurel genealogy:

The first "Laurel" in the Philippines was said to have come from Brunei in the 15th century. This man was named Gat Masungit and he was the eldest son of the Sultan of Brunei who refused the crown as he felt that court life was not to his taste. Due to his love of adventure and travel he escaped his father's plans for his future and sailed to the unknown seas, eventually ending up in Panay. Later, he and his followers went to Luzon where they eventually ended up founding the settlement that now encompasses the province of Batangas. Later it is said that he had a son named Gat Leynes. It was Gat Leynes's eldest son who first became a Christian, and was later baptized as Miguel de la Cruz. He led his own people against the Spaniards and championed their cause. In his old age he wished for a peaceful life and was advised by a friar to change his name, perhaps a gesture of sorts that he wanted to change. He finally agreed to take on the last name Laurel, which the friar said was to make him live his remaining years in peace and honor.

When I first read this family tree I was awestruck and could not find the words to describe how amazing the Laurel family tree seemed to me then. Later, by sheer coincidence, I got hold of the Brunei family tree and I found the first chink in the Laurel family history - there just isn't any factual reference to this so-called eldest son of the sultan.

Most write-ups available online on the Laurel genealogy claim that Gat Masungit, the alleged eldest son of the Sultan of Brunei, came to the Philippines in the 15th century, way before the arrival of the Spaniards. Which would only mean that Gat Masungit should be referenced in the Brunei Royal Genealogy in the years 1400 - 1500. The following are the Sultans of Brunei within the mentioned timeframe and the corresponding notation from the Brunei royal genealogy:

1. Paduka Sri Sultan Muhammad Shah, the first sultan. He had one son, Pangiran Muda Hassan, who died before him.
2. Paduka Sri Sultan 'Abdu'l Majid ibni Hassan ibni al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Shah, grandson of #1 and son of Pangiram Muda Hassan. He died in 1406 and had one child, a daughter.
3. Paduka Sri Sultan Ahmad, brother of #1. He died in 1425 and had two daughters.
4. Paduka Sri Sultan Sharif 'Ali Berkat, married Putri Ratna Kusuma, the eldest daughter of #3. His eldest son succeeded him.
5. Paduka Sri Sultan Sulaiman ibni al-Marhum Sultan Sharif 'Ali Berkat, eldest son of #4. 
6. Paduka Sri Sultan Bolkiah Shah Alam ibni al-Marhum Sultan Sulaiman, eldest son of #5.

The genealogy of the rulers of Brunei, similar to those of other ruling families, is carefully kept and updated and as the list of rulers of Brunei above shows us there was an obvious direct succession from father to eldest son. Nowhere is there a mention of a son, eldest or otherwise, who fled from Brunei to seek his own fortune. The list does mention, several times, marriage between the ruling family of Brunei and Sulu's royal family. There were also mentions of the Lakans of Luzon. Both of these topics (Sulu Sultanate and Manila's Lakans) will be dealt with in future articles.

Clearly, the story of Gat Masungit does not fit in any of Brunei's carefully kept genealogies. For further research into the Brunei royal genealogies see Amin Sweeney's "Silsilah Raja-Raja Brunei" and Hugh Low's "Selesilah of the Rajahs of Brunei". A detailed genealogy can be found in the Royal Ark, maintained by Christopher Buyers.

The second problem in the Laurel genealogy is the mention of Mguel de la Cruz becoming Miguel Laurel. If he were the grandson of Gat Masungit as the legend claims then he could not have been able to switch names and then pass on this last name to his descendants. As the grandson of Gat Masungit he was probably born in the middle of the 16th century, centuries before the Claveria decree. Furthermore, the family tree of the Laurels in a website maintained by the Laurel Memorial Foundation shows that Miguel Laurel, who married Tomasa Pimentel, was the grandfather of Sotero "Teroy" Laurel, whose marriage to Jacoba Garcia produced Jose P. Laurel, the President of the Philippines during the Japanese Occupation. Clearly, this Miguel Laurel could not have been the grandson of Gat Masungit, the alleged eldest son of a Brunei sultan.

However, despite the chinks in their ancestry, what we do know of the Laurels that can be verified through records is still amazing. Before he became the President of the Philippines in 1943 Jose P. Laurel's father, Sotero Laurel, was one of the signatories of the Malolos Constitution. Among his children, Jose Laurel, Jr. became a member of the Philippine National Assembly and a Speaker of the House of Representatives; Jose Laurel III was an Ambassador to Japan; Sotero Laurel was a Senator; Salvador Laurel, before becoming Cory Aquino's vice-president, served as a senator from 1967 to 1972. Many of his grand and great-grandchildren are well known in the arts, theatre, fashion, and television.


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  2. Please note that Jose P. Laurel's children and grandchildren have seen to the prospering of his legacy-- the Lyceum University of the Philippines, with campuses in Manila, Makati, Batangas, Laguna, and Cavite. Their commitment to quality education has borne fruit in the consistent top rankings of their alumni in licensure exams as well as the prestigious awards and accreditations by professional institutions. LPU remains the standard bearer for excellence in the hospitality/culinary and maritime fields as well as in the allied health and engineering concentrations.

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