Jose Abad Santos

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Jose B. Abad Santos (19 February 1886 – 2 May 1942) was a Filipino jurist and patriot. He was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines (SC).

He was married to Amanda Teopacio. They had five children: Jose Jr., Luz, Armanda, Osmundo, and Victoria.

Early Life and Education

Abad Santos was born on 19 February 1886 in San Fernando, Pampanga at the height of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. He was the seventh of the 10 children of Vicente Abad Santos and Toribia Basco. He finished his early education in his hometown.

Because of his exceptional intelligence, he was part of the first batch of 18 pensionados (scholars) sent to study in the US. He finished secondary education at Santa Clara College in California and Bachelor of Laws at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In 1910, he was conferred a Master of Laws at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and was admitted to the US Bar.


Upon returning to the Philippines, Abad Santos served as a temporary clerk in the Archives Division of the Executive Bureau. He passed the Philippine Bar in 1911 and was promoted to Court Interpreter and then to Assistant Fiscal in the Bureau of Justice. In 1914, he served as a special attorney in the Philippine National Bank (PNB). He soon rose from Assistant Attorney General to Acting Public Utilities Commissioner.

He also went into private practice while the PNB retained him as its counsel. In 1919, he was re-appointed assistant attorney in the Bureau of Justice and served concurrently as one of the six technical advisers on the First Parliamentary Independence Mission to the US. Upon his return, he resigned as assistant attorney and counsel of PNB. He became an Undersecretary of Justice in 1922.

Abad Santos served as Secretary of Justice under various American Governor-Generals. He first served under Governor-General Leonard Wood from 1922 to 1923. In the “cabinet crisis” of 1923, the Filipino members of the cabinet, including Abad Santos, relinquished their posts to protest Wood's handling of the Conley Case.

He was subsequently re-appointed in 1928 and served under Governor-Generals Henry L. Stimson, Dwight F. Davis, and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. until his appointment as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1932.

In 1938, he was appointed Secretary of Justice by President Manuel L. Quezon, who had long trusted Abad Santos because of his remarkable legal expertise and steadfast temperament. The latter had often sought the former his advice on matters of state and he additionally served as chief writer for President Quezon's speeches and statements.

On 16 July 1941, Abad Santos was re-appointed to SC by Quezon. On 8 December 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. The Commonwealth Government was informed it would have to evacuate Manila as it was declared an Open City to spare the population from enemy bombardment. The evacuation of the government required the reorganization of the Philippine Government to address the situation. On 22 December 1941, the Commonwealth War Cabinet was organized by virtue of Executive Order No. 396.

On 24 December 1941, Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña retired and President Quezon appointed Abad Santos as Chief Justice before the Commonwealth War Cabinet evacuated Manila for Corregidor. In the reorganization under Executive Order No. 396, Abad Santos was appointed Secretary of Justice and Finance. The Commonwealth War Cabinet took the SS Mayon to Corregidor.

President Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmeña had been re-elected to a second term and had fled to Corregidor to take refuge from the incessant Japanese bombing raids. On 30 December 1941, outside the Malinta Tunnel, Abad Santos administered the oath of office to Quezon and Osmeña for their second term as President and Vice President.

On 19 February 1942, the Commonwealth War Cabinet prepared to leave Corregidor to establish the government in unoccupied areas of the Philippines. The following day, aboard the submarine Swordfish, President Quezon and his War Cabinet, set out for Antique as the enemy forces had yet to occupy the Visayan Islands. They went to San Jose de Buenavista, Antique; Iloilo; Bacolod City; Guimaras; and back to Bacolod.

While in Negros Oriental, President Quezon invited Chief Justice Abad Santos to join his government-in-exile in Washington, DC. Abad Santos said that he preferred to remain and carry on his work there and stay with his family. Quezon appointed Abad Santos as his “delegate” and effectively Acting President of the Commonwealth Government. Abad Santos bade goodbye to Quezon for the last time in Zamboangita Point and returned to Bacolod.

On 5 April 1942, Abad Santos and Manuel Roxas flew to Dumaguete, where they parted ways. Roxas flew to Mindanao, and Abad Santos proceeded to Cebu by boat to oversee the civil government in the area.

On 10 April 1942, upon hearing the news of the Fall of Bataan, Abad Santos evacuated to Naga, a town south of Cebu. When he learned that the Japanese forces had landed in Cebu, he planned to return to Negros but his route had been blocked by the Japanese. He and his men were captured in Baril, Cebu on 11 April 1942.

Abad Santos was ordered executed when he declined to take an oath of allegiance to Japan, or to cooperate with the Japanese government. On the date he was to be killed, 2 May 1942, he spent his last moments with his son Jose “Pepito” Abad Santos, Jr., reminding him not to cry as he need to show the people that he is brave. Abad Santos added that it is a rare opportunity to die for the country and that not everybody is given the chance.

One of Abad Santos's successors, Chief Justice Manuel Moran, called Abad Santos the “counselor of the nation.”




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