José Abad Santos

José Abad Santos y Basco (Spanish: [xoˈse aˈβað ˈsantos]: February 19, 1886 – May 2, 1942) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. He briefly served as the Acting President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and Acting Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during World War II, on behalf of President Quezon after the government went in exile to the United States. After about two months, he was executed by the Japanese forces for refusing to cooperate during their occupation of the country.

José Abad Santos
Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos.jpg
Acting President of the Philippines
In office
March 17, 1942 – May 2, 1942
Appointed byManuel L. Quezon
5th Chief Justice of the Philippines
In office
December 24, 1941 – May 2, 1942
Appointed byManuel L. Quezon
Preceded byRamón Avanceña
Succeeded byJosé Yulo
28th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
In office
June 18, 1936 – December 23, 1941
Nominated byHerbert Hoover
Preceded byNorberto Romuáldez
Succeeded byRicardo Paras
Secretary of Justice
In office
December 5, 1938 – July 16, 1941
PresidentManuel L. Quezon
Preceded byJosé Yulo
Succeeded byTeófilo Sison
In office
September 1, 1928 – June 18, 1932
Appointed byGovernor-General Henry L. Stimson
Succeeded byAlexander Reyes
In office
April 26, 1922 – July 17, 1923
Appointed byGovernor-General Leonard Wood
Preceded byQuintín Paredes
Succeeded byLuis Torres
Secretary of Finance
In office
December 30, 1941 – March 26, 1942
PresidentManuel L. Quezon
Preceded bySerafin Marabut
Succeeded byAndrés Soriano (as Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce)
Personal details
José Abad Santos y Basco

(1886-02-19)February 19, 1886
San Fernando, Pampanga, Captaincy General of the Philippines
DiedMay 2, 1942(1942-05-02) (aged 56)
Malabang, Lanao, Philippines
Cause of deathFiring squad
Resting placeUnknown
Amanda Teopaco
(m. 1918)
RelationsPedro Abad Santos (brother)
Vicente Abad Santos (nephew)
Jamby Madrigal (granddaughter)
ChildrenJosé Abad Santos, hijo (nicknamed Pepito)[1]
Luz Abad Santos
Amanda Abad Santos
Osmundo Abad Santos
Victoria Abad Santos
Alma materSanta Clara College, CA
Northwestern University, IL
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Together with Josefa Llanes-Escoda and Vicente Lim, he is memorialized on the Philippines' 1,000-Peso banknote depicting Filipinos who fought and died resisting the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the Second World War.

Early life and careerEdit

José Abad Santos was born on February 19, 1886 in San Fernando, Pampanga, to Vicente Abad Santos and Toribia Basco (from Guagua, Pampanga). His brother Pedro eventually emerged as a leading socialist leader during the Commonwealth era. In 1904, he was sent to the United States as a government pensioner. He finished a pre-law course at the Santa Clara College in Santa Clara, California; his Bachelor of Laws at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; and his Masters of Laws at George Washington University in 1909. He was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1911 and later served as Assistant Attorney at the Bureau of Justice from 1913 to 1917.

In 1919, Abad Santos was instrumental in laying the legal groundwork, as well as drafting the by-laws and constitution of the Philippine Women's University, the country and Asia's first private non-sectarian women's institute of higher learning.

Role in the Philippine GovernmentEdit

Department of JusticeEdit

He was later appointed as the first Filipino corporate lawyer of the Philippine National Bank, Manila Railroad Company and other government corporations. He went to the Department of Justice where he became Attorney-General, Undersecretary of Justice then Secretary of Justice from 1921 to 1923. In July 1923, he resigned as Secretary of Justice together with other department secretaries as a result of the controversy between Governor-General Leonard Wood and Filipino leaders.

Chief JusticeEdit

Abad Santos taking oath in 1941

Abad Santos then served as Chief Counsel of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. In 1926, he went to the United States as head of the Philippine Educational Mission. He was again appointed Secretary of Justice in 1928 and re-appointed on July 1, 1931. In 1932, he became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He became its Chief Justice on December 24, 1941. As part of the emergency reorganization of the Commonwealth government, Abad Santos, in his capacity as Chief Justice, was given the responsibilities previously handled by the Secretary of Justice (the position of Secretary of Justice was abolished for the duration of the war). Abad Santos accompanied the Commonwealth government to Corregidor, where on December 30, 1941, he administered the oath of office to President Quezon and Vice-President Osmeña for the second term to which they had been elected in November of that year. He also undertook, with Manuel Roxas, the supervision of the destruction of Commonwealth government currency to prevent its falling into enemy hands.

World War IIEdit

With the Japanese invasion rapidly advancing to the southern part of the Philippines, President Manuel L. Quezon was advised by General Douglas MacArthur to establish a government in exile to the United States; Quezon invited Chief Justice Abad Santos to leave with him. The latter declined preferring to remain in the Philippines and carry on his work and stay with his family. On March 17, 1942 the day of Quezon's departure at Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental for the US by way of Australia, he appointed Abad Santos as the Acting President with full authority to act in the name of, and on behalf of the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and become the Acting Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in some areas unoccupied by the Japanese.


On April 11, 1942, Abad Santos, his son José Jr. (nicknamed Pepito), Col. Benito Valeriano and two enlisted men were captured by the Japanese in barangay Tubod in Barili, Cebu while traveling by automobile to Toledo, Cebu.[1] He identified himself as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. He and his son were then taken to a concentration camp in Basak San Nicolas, Cebu City. When asked to cooperate with the Japanese, he refused. Although he had nothing to do with military operations, they imputed to him, as acting president, the destruction of the bridges and other public works in Cebu that had been undertaken by the USAFFE forces to delay the invasion of the island.

The Japanese High Commander Kiyotake Kawaguchi took him and his son aboard a ship on April 26, 1942, thinking they were heading to Manila. Instead, they arrived on April 28 at Parang, Cotabato (now in Maguindanao). The next day they were brought to Malabang, Lanao, arriving on April 30. After two days' confinement at Japanese camps, Chief Justice Abad Santos was called in front of Kawaguchi and was informed about the order of his execution. Before he was shot to death, he was able to talk to his son Pepito. Among his last parting words to his son were, "Do not cry, Pepito, show to these people that you are brave. It is an honor to die for one's country. Not everybody has that chance." José Abad Santos was executed at 2:00 p.m., on May 2, 1942, under a tall coconut tree near a river bank. He refused to be blindfolded and refused the last cigarette offered to him.[1]

Death and burial siteEdit

Later that afternoon of May 2, 1942, two Japanese interpreters took José's son, Pepito, to his father's grave. It was a small mound—too small, Pepito thought, to hold his father's remains if properly buried. On top of the grave lay a rock as large as a coconut. Pepito begged that he be allowed to mark the grave with a cross, but his request was denied.

After the war, an intensive search for the place where José was buried failed. Pepito did not find the hut and the trees, which would have served as points of reference for locating the grave. The area where the execution took place had been plowed and planted to root crops.[1]

Date of executionEdit

The date of his execution is often reported as May 7, but as former Supreme Court Justice Ramón C. Aquino, Abad Santos's biographer put it, "This (May 7) was the date given by Pepito himself during his testimony at the trials of Generals Yoshihide Hayashi and Kiyotake Kawaguchi. But on the basis of the testimony of Keiji Fukui, the interpreter during Abad Santos's confinement, supported by notations in his diary, the date of Abad Santos's execution was definitely ascertained to be at two o'clock on the afternoon of May 2, 1942."[2]

Personal lifeEdit

A staunch Methodist, Abad Santos worshiped at Central United Methodist Church along T.M. Kalaw Street in Ermita, Manila (then known as the Central Methodist Episcopal Church). Abad Santos was a freemason and a member of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity.[3][4]


In popular cultureEdit

  • Portrayed by Lito Legaspi in the 1998 series Bayani in the episode Jose Abad Santos
  • Portrayed by Alex Medina and Ricardo Cepeda in the 2018 documentary-film, Honor: The Legacy of Jose Abad Santos


  1. ^ a b c d (2013-04-03). "The execution of Jose Abad Santos". Official Gazette of the President of the Philippines. Retrieved on 2013-10-28.
  2. ^ Aquino 1985, pg. 215.
  3. ^ "MW Jose Abad Santos | The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  4. ^ "Upsilon Sigma Phi - History". Upsilon Sigma Phi. Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  5. ^ "Republic Act 1206; An Act Changing the Name of the Municipality of Trinidad, Province of Davao, to Jose Abad Santos Republic Act No. 1206". Chan Robles Virtual Law Library. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  • Aquino, Ramón C. (1985) "Chief Justice José Abad Santos 1886-1942: A Biography" Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City

Legal offices
Preceded by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
Succeeded by
Preceded by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Secretary of Justice
Succeeded by
Luis P. Torres
Preceded by
Luis P. Torres
Secretary of Justice
Succeeded by
Alexander Reyes
Preceded by Secretary of Justice
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Serafin Marabut
Secretary of Finance
Succeeded byas Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce