Saturday, May 07, 2005

Jose Abad Santos: An apotheosis


JOSE Abad Santos was a victim of a wanton war, a pitiless destruction. Like the many other victims, he died in the service of his country. Unlike most of them, however, he chose his manner of dying. And unlike most of them, he could have lived had he wished to. But he preferred to die; his death has now become one of the glorious epics of our age.

At the outbreak of the war, Jose Abad Santos was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; he had been continuously serving in that capacity since his appointment on June 18, 1932, interrupted only when he was drafted by President Quezon as Secretary of Justice from December 6, 1938 to May 23, 1941. On December 24, 1941, he was appointed Chief Justice. Concurrently, he performed all the functions pertaining to the Department of Justice, pursuant to Executive Order No. 396, issued on the same date of his appointment. In accordance with the said order which reorganized the Executive Department of the Commonwealth, Chief Justice Abad Santos was also designated acting Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce. President Quezon later took him to Corregidor with Vice President Osmena, General Basilio Valdez, Major Manuel Nieto, and Father Pacifico Ortiz. While there, Abad Santos assisted President Quezon and the Commonwealth officials with him in disposing of and securing the funds of the Government that were deposited in the vault in Corregidor.

At the inauguration of President Quezon for his second term on December 30, 1941, Chief Justice Abad Santos administered to him in Corregidor the oath of office. Together with Quezon and his party, he stayed in Malinta Tunnel until February 22, 1942, when he left with them by submarine for the Visayas, arriving in Occidental Negros two days later. The presidential party shuttled from place to place as a precautionary measure, sojourning first at Talisay in the home of Governor Lizares and from there to the Del Rosario hacienda. Then they moved to a place called Buenos Aires and later to the government sugar mill at Binalbagan. Cognizant of the risk and difficulty of moving in a big group the party split two ways, the Chief Justice staying most of the while with Vice-President Osmena.

Jose Abad Santos was in bad health at the time. He was suffering from asthma. Nevertheless, although physically unfit for strenuous duty, he did not relax in his work. He continued indefatigably to discharge the duties of his triple position, i.e., Chief Justice, Secretary of Justice, and Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce over the unoccupied territory. The departure of President Quezon for the United States via Australia in the latter part of March 1942, multiplied not only the tasks of Abad Santos but also the dangers to which he was exposed. The President offered Abad Santos the choice to go with him or to remain in the Philippines. Indeed, the thought of America with its promise of haven at the time of great danger could have enticed the mind of an ordinary man. But Jose Abad Santos was not the common run of men. He told President Quezon: "I prefer to remain, carry on my work here, and stay with my family."

There has been much controversy as to who was appointed by President Quezon to represent him in the Philippines. During the occupation, not a few designing men presumptuously claimed the honor. President Quezon is dead and his lips are forever closed. Nonetheless, he wrote a letter dated March 17, 1942, addressed to Chief Justice Abad Santos. The letter settles the question and belies the claims of opportunists. It reads in full:

March 17, 1942

My dear Chief Justice Santos:

In addition to your duties as Chief Justice and acting Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce, I hereby designate you as my delegate with power to act on all matters of government which involve no change in the fundamental policies of my administration of which you are quite familiar. Where circumstances are such as to preclude previous consultation with me, you may act on urgent questions of local administration without my previous approval. In such cases, you are to use your own best judgment and sound discretion.

With reference to the government-owned corporations, you are also authorized to take such steps as it will protect the interest of the government either by continuing, curtailing or terminating their operations as circumstances may warrant.

Sincerely yours,

The responsibility placed upon Abad Santos was enormous. But he proved equal to the situation. The many years of service to his credit were more than ample preparation of the trust suddenly reposed upon him. At this juncture it is proper to digress and trace briefly his early life.


Jose Abad Santos was born in San Fernando, Pampanga, on February 19, 1886, the sixth of the ten children of Vicente Abad Santos and Torribia Basco. When only eighteen years old, he went to America as a government pensionado to complete his education. He studied for sometime in the Santa Clara College at San Jose, California, and then enrolled at Northwestern University where he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He pursued further studies in the George Washington University, where he was granted the degree of Master of Laws. Upon his return to the Philippines, he became on December 1, 1909, a clerk in the Executive Bureau with a salary of P960 per annum.

On July 31, 1914, he was appointed assistant attorney of the Bureau of Justice, after which he became attorney for the Philippine National Bank. He was the technical adviser and ex-officio member of the first Independence Mission to the United States in 1919. In 1922, he served for three months as Under-Secretary of Justice, immediately after which he became the Secretary. Because of the Cabinet crisis under the Wood administration, he resigned on July 17, 1923. In 1926, he headed the Philippine Educational Mission to America. He resumed in 1928 the Justice portfolio under Governor-General Stimson, which position he occupied until his appointment to the Supreme Court on June 18, 1932.

Jose Abad Santos devoted the best years of his life to the public service. He was President of the Philippine Bar Association and of the Young Men's Christian Association, member of the Abiertas House of Friendship, educational adviser of the Columbian Institute, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Women's University. He was actively identified with the Protestant movement of the Philippines and was prominent in Masonic circles.


And now we go back to the last days of this great man. The nature of his position necessitated communication with the capitals of the different provinces not yet under enemy control. Therefore, he had to travel by ferryboat and car through the length and breadth of Negros, Iloilo, and Cebu. On Ascension Day, April 11, 1942, while traveling somewhere around Carcar, Cebu, with his son, Jose Jr., Colonel Valeriano of the Philippine Constabulary, and some enlisted men, he and his party met truckloads of soldiers. Unaware that the enemy had landed in the vicinity, they stopped the trucks, thinking all the time that the passengers there were USAFFE soldiers. Finding out too late that the soldiers were Japanese, Jose Abad Santos and his companions calmly went down from their cars. They were ordered to surrender. Upon inquiry, Abad Santos identified himself as the Chief Justice of the Philippines. The Japanese confiscated the pistol of Colonel Valeriano and those of the enlisted men. The captives were then taken to the Japanese concentration camp in Cebu City. For the first time, the Japanese learned that Abad Santos was actually the head of the Commonwealth Government. Evidently, because of the importance of their prisoner and fearing rescue or escape, father and son were moved from one camp to another. The senior officers of the Japanese Army in Cebu, General Kawagutsi and Colonel Kawakami, "played the role of high priest and Pontius Pilate," respectively, towards Jose Abad Santos. For almost twenty days, he was subjected to gruelling and mortifying inquisition. The exact nature of the investigation is still shrouded in secrecy. Jose Abad Santos Jr., the only available witness was never present on the spot whenever his father was interrogated. One significant remark, overheard by the son from his father on one occasion, revealed the man's indomitable courage and unflinching loyalty to a cause he served long and well. He said: "I cannot possibly do that because if I do so I would be violating my oath of allegiance to the United States." What the Japanese asked him to do is still a matter of conjecture. Previously, however, he had been asked to contact General Roxas somewhere in Mindanao who up to that time had not yet surrendered. In all probability, the Japanese wanted him to induce General Roxas to surrender. Apparently, the very idea was revolting to Abad Santos' conscience. There is ground to believe that this demand prompted the utterance of those brave words of defiance by a prisoner in the face of his captor. That refusal cost Jose Abad Santos his life.

On or about May 1, 1942, father and son were taken from Cebu to Mindanao on a Japanese transport which formed part of a convoy sent on a military expedition to Mindanao. They landed at Parang, Cotabato, under fire from the USAFFE. About this last portion of their fateful odyssey, Jose Jr. relates:

"We were placed together with the troops in one of the landing barges. While we were moving toward the beach, the USAFFE force entrenched on the shore were firing at the landing barges. At that moment, I recall that my father was standing straight and the Japanese shouted at him: 'Hey! You get down!' and they signalled him to lie low. I also told him but he had an indifferent attitude at that time. After landing, we hiked for about three hours through mud and heavy luggage until we reached the Constabulary barracks at Parang. After one night in Parang, in the afternoon they placed us in a truck. We were not able to proceed farther that day because they had not cleared up the other parts to which they were supposed to be headed."

On or about May 4, 1942, they reached Malabang. For three days father and son were confined in a school house. For three days, they waited for further developments, doing nothing but read whatever they could get hold of.

The fatal stroke of fate was slow in coming. But slow as it was, there was that tragic inevitability, that powerful surge of destiny noticeable even from the dry, humid air of that summer afternoon. At approximately two o'clock in the afternoon of May 7, 1942, the Japanese interpreter, Keiji Fukui, went to the Chief Justice to summon him to the Japanese Headquarters. After a few minutes, Jose Abad Santos returned and called for his son. Both went into a small hut nearby and there the father stoically informed his son: "I have been condemned to be executed." Thereupon Jose, Jr. broke down and wept. But the father smilingly and affectionately reproved the son: "Don't cry. What is the matter with you? Show these people that you are brave. It is a rare opportunity to die for one's country and not everybody has that chance." What brave words, what sublime soul was thereby revealed by their utterance!

After exhorting all of his family to live up to his name, father and son said a short prayer. In final parting they embraced each other. And in a few minutes the son heard a volley of shots. Jose Abad Santos was dead, martyr to a very worthy cause.

No less than an enemy, the Japanese interpreter who witnessed the execution, admired the courage and stoical unconcern with which Jose Abad Santos confronted his end. Pointing out later to the son the father's grave Keiji Fukui remarked: "Your father died a glorious death."

Ostensibly, Jose Abad Santos was executed upon the imputation of having been responsible for the destruction of the bridges and other public works in Cebu. The charge was entirely unfounded, nay malicious. But he was never given an opportunity to disprove the accusation. In truth, the acts imputed to him had nothing to do with his duties; he was a civilian and it is too well-known that demolition activities more properly belonged to the military.

The Filipino people and the rest of the world stand aghast at the horror of such brutal sadism. Caught in the cruel circumstance of a violent war, Abad Santos was too rare a man to have been sacrificed at the altar of human destruction. But irreplaceable and rare as he was, his very act of supreme dedication has consigned him to immortality. Jose Abad Santos stands now as a towering monument to the idolatrous devotion of our people to the ideals of democracy, justice, and liberty: a shining obelisk that rises to the altitudes of the skies.

Human justice may not be able to devise a means to avenge fully the crime committed by the Japanese murderers. But at this time, our concern is not so much any more to return in retribution whatever injustice may have been committed; but more, we are interested to perpetuate the things for which he died. For only in doing so may we hope to justify his supreme love to the Fatherland.

[This Biography was awarded the first prize in the Jose Abad Santos Biography Contest, sponsored by Justice George Arthur Malcolm, who founded the College of Law of the University of the Philippines in 1911, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines for many years, who was the professor of the author in Legal Ethics, when Justice Malcolm returned to the Philippines for the last time to teach that subject in the College of Law, of the University of the Philippines, open only to senior law students in the College of Law of the University of the Philippines in 1948-1949 and awarded a first prize of P200.00 plus an exemption from thesis for the graduation, and a grade of "1" in Legal Ethics. Justice Malcolm, after teaching this class of the author, left for the United States where he died soon after.]

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