By Harvey I. Barkin
FilAm Star EIC
SAN FRANCISCO – The Philippine Center screened “Honor: The Legacy of Jose Abad Santos” last September 26 at its Museo ng Lahing Pilipino.
The center piece of the biopic is the man with a name some Filipinos would recognize from their history books. The same name can be found in streets, a hospital and the face on a 1,000 peso note.
Kind of cheap for the man President Manuel Quezon said was, “the noblest, purest man in public service.” And at the time of his death in World War II, the highest Filipino government official executed by the Japanese.
The thing with a biopic is that it’s usually lush sets, high production value, plenty of gratuitous sex, explosive action scenes and a soaring score. Just to elevate the biopic’s hero. Then imbue him with legend, make him bigger than life.
But that’s it, there’s no opp for sfx here. Jose Abad Santos was not a wise-cracking superhero. He did not spin a web of lies. He was humble with the quiet strength proportionate to that of a moral man. And he stuck to integrity and principles.
He was not a conflicted hero, not an anti-hero, not super. Just a good old fashioned hero but still relevant to our times.
When she set out to chronicle this little known hero, Executive Producer Desiree Ann Benipayo said she was amazed at the volume of materials the surviving members of the Santos family made available.
Jose Abad Santos served government for 33 years but never even ran for office. Probably why historians couldn’t give him more space bigger than a foot note.
Leave the James Bond exploits to Jose Rizal and the Rambo outrage to Andres Bonifacio.
Jose Abad Santos’ super power was, according to Benipayo: he was picked by the Americans out of 20,000 Filipinos around the turn of the century as a potential leader in the fledgling Philippine government. He went to San Francisco as one of the few “pensionados.”
He went to Santa Clara High school, then Northwestern University and on to George Washington Law University where he earned his degree. At 16, he taught English to persons older than him.
His only super deed was to save his future wife from drowning when he got back.
He already had a rep as an incorruptible Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when World War II broke out. When Quezon was evacuated to go to Australia and establish an exiled government in the US, Santos refused to come along. He stayed to continue service for the besieged government. On top of being Chief Justice, he was also Secretary of Finance, Commerce and Agriculture.
After his capture and before he was executed by the Japanese, he calmly told his distraught son that not everybody gets the chance to die for one’s own country. Only a plain stone marks the spot at Malabang, Lanao del Sur where the solid immovable force for patriotism was cut down.