CJ Jose Abad Santos died in glory
May 2 marks the 76th anniversary of the martyrdom of Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. It was on May 2, 1942, when he was executed by a Japanese military unit for refusing to swear allegiance to the Japanese occupation government.
When Abad Santos told his son and namesake in the afternoon of that day that he was to be executed, the son wept. The father gently reproached his son, saying: “Do not cry, Pepito. Show these people that you are brave. It is an honor to die for one’s country. Not everybody has that chance.” He was true to the closing lines of the national anthem, which his generation sang in English: “But it is glory ever when thou art wronged for us thy sons to suffer and die.”
May today’s commemoration of Jose Abad Santos’ supreme sacrifice inspire the present members of the Supreme Court to make the noble choice of principles, rule of law, and country over personal welfare.
Unlike him, Supreme Court Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr., and Alexander Gesmundo are not being made to choose between laying down their life for their country and submission to a foreign power. They are just being asked to choose between the rule of law and the apparent bidding of President Duterte and former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, or between dismissing the infirm quo warranto petition and the removal of the recalcitrant Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. (While Perlas and Jardeleza are appointees of President Benigno Aquino III, the former has been seen to follow Mr. Duterte’s apparent prompting and the latter has hostile feelings toward Sereno.)
If the 11 associate justices choose to uphold the supremacy of the law, the consequence would not be death but only the wrath and enmity of the ruling mandarins. That they have to make that choice makes them pathetic compared to Abad Santos.
Jose Abad Santos was born on Feb. 19, 1886, in San Fernando, Pampanga. In 1904, he was sent to the United States as a government pensioner. He finished a prelaw course at Santa Clara College, his bachelor of laws at Northwestern University, and in 1909 his master of laws at the George Washington University. He was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1911 and later served as assistant attorney at the Bureau of Justice in 1913-1917.
After serving as counsel for several government corporations, he went to the Department of Justice where he became attorney general, undersecretary of justice, then secretary of justice in 1921. In July 1923, he resigned as secretary of justice together with other department secretaries in protest against US Governor General Leonard Wood who they accused of interfering in even the smallest detail of governance in order to curtail the influence of Filipino officials.
He was reappointed secretary of justice by US Governor General Henry Stimson in 1928. He became an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1932 and was named chief justice on Dec. 24, 1941.
When the Japanese invasion forces gained control of much of the Visayas, the US military adviser to the Philippines, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, advised President Manuel L. Quezon to establish a government-in-exile in the United States. When Quezon was about to go into exile, he asked Abad Santos to leave with him. But the latter chose to remain in the country to carry on his work and stay with his family. Quezon then designated him acting president with full authority to act in the name of and on behalf of the president of the Philippines.
But in April 1942, Abad Santos and his son were captured by Japanese forces. When he refused to cooperate with the Japanese occupation government, he was condemned to be executed. As he told his son, not everyone is given a chance to lay down his life for his country.
When 11 senators voted to protect President Joseph Estrada during his impeachment trial, they were branded the “Craven Eleven” of the Senate. If the 11 associate justices succumb to the bidding of the powers that be, they might go down in history as the Obedient Eleven of the Supreme Court.
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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.
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