by Teodoro M. Locsin
“Do not cry. What is the matter with you? Show these people that you are brave…. This is a rare opportunity for me to die for our country: not everybody is given that chance.”
November 30, 1946–THE dead are many, and the heroes are innumerable. Courage, so rarely evident in peace, in wartime becomes commonplace. Men die gladly and with a will for what they call their way of life, their country, their liberty—although men have died to uphold a tyranny. The enemy, too, have their dead.
Men die in war in many ways. They die in the trenches, in cities under bombardment, in the air—a new kind of death made possible by the genius of the two brothers who launched the first plane—and in the sea, by drowning. These are the common casualties of war. They die in the hope that they would not die, that they might not be hit, that they would escape and live. They die just as they are thinking that the bullet or bomb has not yet been made with their number on it.
It is one thing to be in a trench with other men and have the enemy shooting impartially and not too accurately at all of you. It is not the same as having a gun pointed at you, and to be asked to do what that stern and terrible judge, your conscience, will not let you do.
This is the story of José Abad Santos. A Filipino, like many others. A man, like how few! Perhaps he died foolishly. Uselessly, perhaps he should have done what the enemy asked him to do. Perhaps he should have chosen life—to work in a government imposed on his people by the enemy, to collaborate with the invader for the cause now proclaimed by another man as that of “national survival.” He chose to die. Foolishly, perhaps uselessly. But bravely.
On that there is no issue.
It would have been so much easier—to live.
President Quezon took Abad Santos with him to Corregidor. There he administered the oath to office to the President as his second inauguration. He left the island fortress with Quezon and Osmeña for Negros the day after his 56th birthday.
Before Quezon left for the United States, he asked him if he wanted to go with him or remain in the Philippines. Abad Santos said: “I prefer to remain, carry on my work here, and stay with my family.”
On April 11, 1942, he and his son, José, were captured by the enemy in Cebu. When the Japanese learned that he had been appointed by Quezon to represent him as head of the Philippine government in the islands, he was subjected to intensive investigation. The Japanese blamed him for the burning of Cebu City.
Today his family knows—through an American officer who had taken part in the investigation of the Japanese officers responsible for his death—that the enemy demanded of him two things: to make a broadcast, asking General Manuel A. Roxas to surrender, and to take part and hold an important position in the puppet government.
He would do neither.
“I cannot possibly do that, because if I do so, I would be violating my oath of allegiance to the United States,” he was overheard by his son as replying to the Japanese demands.
Much of his life he had passed judgment and sentence on other men. Now he passed judgment and sentence—his last—on himself.
The Japanese took him and his son to Parang, Cotabato. They were forced to go through jungles with their baggage on their backs. He was, according to his son, all this time in high spirits. He was marching on to death for the Philippines.
The next day they were placed in a truck and taken to Malabang, Lanao. Three days later, a Japanese interpreter told Abad Santos that he was wanted at the Japanese headquarters. There he went to return a few minutes later to his anxious son and to tell him calmly: “I have been sentenced to death. They will shoot me in a few minutes.”
When his son wept, José Abad Santos smilingly admonished him: “Do not cry. What is the matter with you? Show these people that you are brave… This is a rare opportunity,” he went on, “for me to die for our country; not everybody is given the chance.”
The father and the son knelt down and prayed together. The father embraced the son. Then José Abad Santos walked with serene eyes, to his death.
The son heard the volley of shots. That same afternoon the Japanese interpreter took him to the place of his father’s grave. The Japanese, though an enemy, could recognize courage and paid tribute to it.
“Your father,” he addressed the son, “died a glorious death.”
Today José Abad Santos lies in an unmarked grave, but he lives in the hearts of his family, in the memory of his friends, and in the reverence of his countrymen.