The Philippines will mark the 79th death anniversary of Jose Abad Santos, former Supreme Court Chief Justice and World War II hero, this coming May 7, Friday. It is a special non-working day in Pampanga as well as Angeles City by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 8815, which was enacted during the time of former President Joseph Estrada.
Born in San Fernando, Pampanga, Abad-Santos was the country’s Chief Justice from December 24, 1941 until May 2, 1942* – covering the first four months of Japanese occupation. Before that, Abad-Santos served as speaker of the House of Representatives. During the early weeks of the outbreak of the Pacific War in the country, then-President Manuel Quezon asked him if he would be willing to join other high-ranking Commonwealth government officials in seeking refuge in Australia but he refused.
Quezon then decided to entrust Abad-Santos with the responsibility of supervising the operations of the civil government in areas not yet occupied by Japanese forces, effectively making him acting president.
He was performing this duty when he and his son Pepito was arrested by Japanese forces in Cebu City on April 1942. He was falsely accused of ordering the destruction of essential infrastructures in the city to render them unusable for the invaders. When told that he can regain his freedom if he opts to collaborate with the Japanese, he rejected the offer.
Shortly before his execution in Malabang, Lanao, Abad-Santos told his son: “Do not cry, Pepito. Show these people that you are brave. It is a rare opportunity for me to die for our country. Not everybody is given that chance.”
*Several sources indicate that Abad Santos’ execution actually took place May 2, 1942 and not May 7, 1942 but the law has not been amended.