Home » Articles » A problem in Philippine history, April 12, 1947

A problem in Philippine history, April 12, 1947

A problem in Philippine history

by Sattahari T. Misah

Jolo, Sulu

Manuel Roxas or Jose Abad Santos?—Which of the Two Was Entrusted by the Late President Manuel Quezon with the Responsibility of Governing the Country During His Absence….

April 12, 1947–IN AN article entitled, “The Story of Roxas,” written by Federico Mañgahas in a certain campaign paper, I read something like this: “When President Quezon left Corregidor around the 21st of February, General MacArthur decided that Roxas remain with him. President Quezon, on the other hand, gave Roxas full authority to act for and in his behalf in all matters of government and, particularly, to take charge of the National Treasury.” The writer’s note states that the authority for the story is General Roxas himself.

Felixberto Bustos wrote in his book, “And Now Comes Roxas,” that President Quezon dictated two Executive Orders before leaving Corregidor. One such order delegated to Roxas all extraordinary presidential powers conferred on the Philippine Chief Executive by emergency legislation. The other fixed the presidential succession. In case of death or incapacitation of Quezon, and subsequently, of Osmeña, the presidency would go to Roxas. In the same paragraph, Bustos farther stated that copies of the documents were furnished the President of the United States through the US High Commissioner and the originals were buried with other valuable papers of Roxas in Mindanao.

United in their claims

Mañgahas and Bustos were united in their claims that President Manuel Roxas, then an army man, empowered to exercise the emergency powers granted Quezon by the Philippine Congress, was the direct representative of the latter and consequently, supreme head of the Commonwealth Government of the unoccupied Philippines. They were also united in their purpose in releasing this historical account of Roxas’ life—to boost the latter’s popularity among the masses. Both were motivated by a common desire—to help Roxas become President.

Let us now turn our attention to a Filipino who died in the support of his convictions, of the Philippines, of America and the world, of those high ideals for which they all stand. Let us have a glimpse of how he died during the dark days of the enemy occupation. Let us read T.M. Locsin’s “Last Decision” (FREE PRESS, Nov. 30, 1946). In his note accompanying the picture of Jose Abad Santos and his family, the author states that Santos was the direct representative in the Philippines of the Commonwealth government in exile. Reading the article, we learn that at the time of his death, Santos was acting for and representing the President of the Philippines (the most logical man under the American system of government because he was then a member of the cabinet). In conclusion, we are told by Locsin that the Japanese subjected Santos to intensive investigation because they learned that he had been appointed by Quezon to represent him as head of the Philippine government in the islands; that he was liquidated by the Japs because he refused to obey their demands one of which was to make a broadcast asking General Roxas to surrender. Was Santos then the supreme head of the Philippine government who had been asked by the enemy to make a broadcast to General Roxas to surrender, or a mere secretary of justice asked to make a broadcast to his superior urging him to surrender?

Conflicting theories

This account of the life and activities of Jose Abad Santos would seem to disprove the contention of the two gentlemen, Messrs. Bustos and Mañgahas, who were ahead in claiming the honor for His Excellency, the President, Manuel Roxas. On the other hand, the writing of the biographical sketch of Santos by Locsin must have been inspired by the occasion—National Heroes Day. The occasion demanded that Jose Abad Santos be eulogized and Locsin had to do his best to magnify the dead hero.

As a teacher, the writer can tell his geography class that Tayabas is now “Quezon;” and that the Turtle Islands will soon be a part of the Philippine map. He can tell his history class that Tila Pass in their history books must now be read as “Tirad Pass.” He can cite authorities for all of these. But how can he tell with certainty the same class who was the direct and true representative of the Commonwealth government in exile?

For the benefit of thousands or should I say “millions” of history teachers and students who want to know the true history of their country during the Japanese occupation, Messrs. Bustos, Mañgahas, and Locsin would settle these conflicting theories. They should restore our waning confidence in their ability to deal with facts. Their writings have more influence on the minds of the youth than all the teachers in the Philippines combined.

To the above question, as to who was the official designated by the late President Manuel L. Quezon to represent the Commonwealth government during the Japanese occupation, President Roxas had this to say:

“When I met President Quezon at Del Monte in Mindanao a few days before his departure for Australia, I inquired about Jose Abad Santos. The President told me that he had chosen to remain in the Philippines. He had stayed in Negros with the approval of the president and was by him entrusted with the power of supervision and control over the courts of justice in all unoccupied areas.”

This is an excerpt from a speech delivered before the Supreme Court by then Senate President Roxas during the memorial services for the late Chief Justice on December 2, 1945. On the same occasion, however, then Justice Roman Ozaeta went further and said:

“When President Quezon left for the United States via Australia, he gave Chief Justice Abad Santos the choice to go with him or to remain in the Philippines . . . He said: ‘I prefer to remain, carry on my work here, and stay with my family.’ The President, probably against his will, respected that decision and entrusted him with the heavy responsibility of governing the country during his absence.” Until further evidence is available, this is the best we can do. —Teodoro M.. Locsin


  1. […] The Philippines Free Press Blog has two articles on Abad Santos (who is on the 1000 Peso bill with two other martyrs of World War II: Josefa Llanes Escoda and Gen. Vicente Lim. All three were executed by the Japanese): Last decision, by Teodoro M. Locsin, and A problem in Philippine history, readers’ responses to Locsin’s article, written when Manuel Roxas was still alive: there was confusion concerning conflicting claims as to who had been left behind with the powers to act on the president’s behalf. A Masonic website offers further documentation to prove Abad Santos was indeed appointed Acting President for the unoccupied areas. Roxas was briefly appointed Executive Secretary and enumerated in a a special Executive Order listing the order of succession in wartime. My column on Thursday will be about Abad Santos. […]

  2. Marilen Ojeda says:

    i am looking for an article of Tessie Ojeda Luz wrote about Fleeing Ermita during the War. I don’t remember what year & month but i would like to have a copy of it & share it…

    Thank you,
    Marilen Ojeda

  3. marilen ojeda says:

    sorry for this mistake posting here…pls disregard…thansk

  4. Jose Cristovao says:

    I’m not a Filipino (I’m Portuguese), but I read somewhere that:
    – Jorge Vargas, President Quezon’s secretary, was to govern the Japanese-controlled areas of the Philippines (with José P. Laurel as Secretary of Justice and legal counsellor to Vargas);
    – José Abad Santos, the Chief Justice, was to govern the non-Japanese-controlled (i.e. free or liberated) areas;
    – Manuel Roxas was to go to exile with Quezon and Osmena, being in the succession line for President if they were incapacitated, but couldn’t make it, and was caught with Abad Santos.

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