It was a strange incident, practically forgotten now after these sixty-four years; the lifespan of an old man, but maybe one still worth remembering on the Fourth of July. A man handed the keeping of a departed and defeated government fought on against the enemies of the United States and did a Nathan Hale.
Jose Abad Santos, was born in 1886 in Pampanga and largely educated in the United States. He finished high school at in San lose, California; law in the University of Illinois and Northwestern; a finally a Master of Laws at George Washington University. Eventually he rose to become Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. In the waning days of resistance on Bataan, the departing government appointed him Secretary of Justice and Acting Secretary of Finance, Agriculture and Commerce, named him caretaker and fled by PT boat to Australia. What happened next is described in the Philippine Supreme Court's website.
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, thinking all the time that the passengers of the trucks were United State Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) soldiers. Finding out too late that the soldiers were Japanese, Jose Abad Santos and his companions calmly went down from their cars and surrendered. Upon inquiry, Abad Santos identified himself as the Chief Justice of the Philippines. The captives were then taken to the Japanese concentration camp in Cebu City. ...
For almost 20 days, he was subjected to grueling 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 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 captors. That refusal cost Jose Abad Santos his life. ...
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 2 p.m. 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.” ...
After exhorting all of his family to live up to his name, father and son said a short prayer. In a 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 his father’s grave Keiji Fukui remarked: “Your father died a glorious death.”
The incident is puzzling, and like many mysteries of the Second World War, was studiously omitted from discussion by a society where accusations of collaboration and the painful memories were still raw. Filipino "nationalists" in particular must have felt discomfort at delving too deeply into the story of a man who faced death rather than violate his "oath of allegiance to the United States". Those who know the definite truth are all dead or very old. But I think enough evidence remains to make a guess at what happened.
Jose Abad Santos was 56 years old in 1942, a vigorous age, and we meet him far from the capital of Manila "traveling somewhere around Carcar, Cebu, with his son, Jose Jr., Colonel Valeriano of the Philippine Constabulary, and some enlisted men". This incident is extremely suggestive. Rather than wait in Manila to meet and negotiate with the Japanese, the Chief Justice is encountered doing the rounds in uncaptured territory, "unaware that the enemy had landed in the vicinity". Given his military entourage; the fact his capture occurred before Wainright's final surrender in Corregidor, and Cebu's proximity to Mindanao I think probability is that Abad Santos was setting up resistance cells when he was surprised by the Japanese.
The Japanese must have understood this immediately. "For almost 20 days, he was subjected to grueling and mortifying inquisition. The exact nature of the investigation is still shrouded in secrecy." There is evidence that the Japanese were primarily interested in operational intelligence, rather than political cooperation, from Abad Santos. "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."
Probably the only thing that kept the Japanese from killing and torturing Abad Santos outright was his possible utility as a collaborationist figurehead. Abad Santos knew it and played the card immediately by identifying himself as the Chief Justice. It kept him alive for three weeks. Why then did the Japanese decide to shoot him on the day after Corregidor surrendered? The only answer I can come up with is that the Japanese had found other high ranking Filipinos willing to serve in their puppet government, who had probably waited until the final denouement before throwing in with Nippon. Once a set of collaborators had been found, Abad Santos's potential political utility was at and. He was simply an operational prisoner and doomed. Abad Santo's last words were the kind uttered by men who have stood by their friends -- the men fighting on Mindanao and the flag fluttering far away -- and have no regrets.
"I have been condemned to be executed. 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."
Moderns will ask where lay this 'glory', a word in which we have largely ceased to believe. Did it lie in defending the fortress of his honor; in keeping faith with his friends? Did the memories of childhood in Pampanga and young manhood in America all run together at the end for Abad Santos? Or did it perhaps consist in that he believed there were things so important that they were worth dying to defend? In that he answered the question we are all asked in life in a way we would all like to? We know the collaborators lived long and prospered. Abad Santos has only our memory, on this the Fourth of July.