Today in Philippine history, January 31, 1876, Pedro Abad Santos was born in San Fernando, Pampanga

Sunday October 06, 2013 ()

Pedro Abad Santos
(Pedro Abad Santos)

On January 31, 1876, Pedro Abad Santos was born in San Fernando, Pampanga in a modest house thatched with nipa. He was the eldest of the ten children of Vicente Abad Santos and Toribia Basco, natives of San Fernando and Guagua, Pampanga, respectively.

Pedro took his secondary education at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, subsequently transferred to the University of Santo Tomas where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1891. He finished law and was admitted to the bar in 1906.

A man of principle and of great influence, Pedro Abad Santos dedicated his life to the welfare of the toiling masses. As early as 1932, he was heard criticized Quezon's "social justice program", calling it a paper plan. A revolutionary radical, he often had heated arguments with his younger brother Jose (Abad Santos) who was Quezon's Secretary of Justice. Both had the same ideological objective – that of fostering the welfare of the masses – but held divergent views on how to attain these. Thus the two brothers were said to illustrate the old conflict between revolution and evolution as means for securing change in the existing order.

Today in Philippine history, January 31, 1876, Pedro Abad Santos was born in San Fernando, Pampanga

An activist, Pedro firmly believed that it was only through a revolution that the living conditions of the peasants and workers in Central Luzon could be ameliorated.

During the Filipino-American War, Abad Santos became a major in the insurgent army. He was on General Maximo Hizon's side. Major Abad Santos was captured and tried before an American military commission where he was charged with guerilla activities and allied crimes. While awaiting trial he was imprisoned at the Old Bilibid. For his defense, his family engaged the services of John Haussermann, one of the most brilliant American lawyers of the time. The defense was unsuccessful. Pedro Abad Santos was convicted and meted a prison term of 25 years. President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States pardoned him later.

From 1907 to 1909, Pedro Abad Santos served as Justice of the Peace (Juez de Paz) in San Fernando, Pampanga. He served as a councilor of his town from January 1910 to March 1912. He was twice elected delegate of the Second District of Pampanga to the Philippine Assembly, and served there from 1916 to 1922. He was a member of the Philippine Independence Mission to the United States headed by Speaker Osmeña in 1922.

Although a scion of a prominent and affluent clan, Pedro Abad Santos was a man of the masses. He was tall, thin and ascetic. He dressed simply. His daily diet consisted of only two meals of the simplest food. On noting this, President Quezon paid him an uncommon tribute. "You hardly eat, I cannot starve you, like other labor leaders who eat much and live luxuriously".

Pedro Abad Santos was something of a maverick as far as the Pampango gentry was concerned. The people of Central Luzon feared his socialistic preaching and thought that it could bring about the destruction of their economic structure. But "Don Perico", as he was called, was highly respected because of his commitment and intelligence. He was and ardent nationalist, a great labor leader, distinguished lawyer, founder of the Socialist Party of the Philippines, and defender of the poor against the injustice of the elite, and was popularly acclaimed "Champion of the Peasants of Central Luzon".

His ancestral home in the provincial capital of Pampanga always overflowed with poor farmers seeking his legal help. This same house served as the headquarters of his farm labor and political movements in the early 1930's. To help him, he had a staff of the free legal services he extended but also because of his willingness to extend monetary help. Steel safe stood near Don Perico's desk. From this he would draw money to give to his needy visitors. Many a peasant would get the surprise of his life when Abad Santos would refuse his "gift" of a chicken, or eggs or vegetables, by saying that the giver needed them more than he and that he must take them back for his family's table.

An astute socialist, he was credited with being one of the most honest labor leaders in the Philippines. There were people who called him a "wacky, fanatical communist", but no one ever accused him of exploiting the poor.

In 1925, an Indonesian national, Tan Malaka, who was fleeing from prosecution in his country, planted the seeds of communism in the Philippines. Such an ideology found fertile ground between Pedro Abad Santos and his socialist followers. After his defeat in the gubernatorial elections in 1926, Pedro Abad Santos, together with Crisanto Evangelista, Antonio de Ora, and Cirilo Bognot left for Moscow where they studied at the Lenin Institute.

On October 26, 1932, when the Supreme Court declared the "Pambansang Kaisahang Magbubukid" illegal, Pedro Abad Santos founded the Socialist Party of the Philippines that differed in principles and practice from the socialist parties of England, France, and America.

A year after, Don Perico founded and headed the "Aguman Ding Malding Talapagobra" (AMT), better known as the General Workers Union. It was an organization in Central Luzon which advocated the expropriation of big landed estates and friar lands. The union likewise sought to improve the living conditions of the peasants. It also worked for the establishment of farmer's cooperative stores.

On November 7, 1938, during the anniversary celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution, members of the socialist and communist parties held a convention at the Manila Grand Opera House. There, both parties agreed to merge and to adopt as its official name "Communist Party of the Philippines". The following officers of the party were elected: Crisanto Evangelista, President; Pedro Abad Santos, Vice President; Guillermo Capadocia, Secretary- General.

During these years, the communist became quite popular in Pampanga. In the words of Justice Leopoldo Roviera, "From 1938 to 1942, the province of Pampanga which has been nationalistic and loyal to her government for three-and-half centuries has virtually become a little Russia where it is not the voice of justices and jurist that prevail but the voice of Lenin and Stalin".

Luis Taruc, the right-hand man of Don Perico described his mentor as a “Marxist” but not a Bolshevik. His favorite biographies were those of Norman Thomas and Leon Blum, both non-Marxists. It was believed that he had acquired the largest collection of Marxist and Soviet literature in Asia. He greatly admired the socialism of President Luis Cardenas of Mexico.

The extreme difference between Don Perico and the other Pampango liberals lay in the former's willingness to use measured violence. To him, it was like fighting fire with fire. Don Perico would advice a carpenter to hit a man who cheated him out of his due wage. Luis Taruc relates how Don Perico would test the resolve of an aggrieved peasant – by asking if he were willing to kill his landlord. When a peasant showed no inclination to do so, Don Perico would strike him out as a prospective member of the Socialist Party.

But in those cases where the peasant would resolve to slaughter his landlord, Don Perico would stop the man before he left his office and tell him "You have proven to me your strong conviction and nerve. I asked you just to test you. If you kill him you will become a fugitive and if you are caught you will be at the mercy of the judges. What you ought to do now is steal the harvest. Most of it is yours by right of your labor. Let him sue you in court and I will defend you".

The most dramatic confrontation between President Quezon and Don Perico took place in February 1939. President Quezon, in his efforts to restore peace and order in Central Luzon, finally accepted an invitation to speak at a mass rally in San Fernando, Pampanga. No less than the Justice Secretary, Jose Abad Santos took the necessary precautions of advising his brother not to embarrass the President.

Before this gathering of peasants and workers, Don Perico introduced Quezon as a "Friend of the masses and of the poor". He told the audience to "plant in your hearts what he will say". But before Quezon spoke, Don Perico first enumerated the peasants' grievances, accused judges and fiscal of being pawns of rich landowners, then turned to his brother who was sitting beside Quezon and challenged him, as Secretary of Justice to clean up the courts. Showing impatience with his brother's pacific temper and methods, Don Perico sarcastically remarked that the “Secretary cannot help us if he just sits in his office". Before Quezon left he told Don Perico "I greatly admire your courage, conviction and intelligent ways of leading your socialist movement. Keep it up and whatever and whenever you fight for it within the spirit of Constitution, you will find in me sympathetic response".

Unfortunately during the Japanese occupation, on January 25, 1942, the Japanese secret police arrested Pedro Abad Santos together with the other top communist leaders, and was incarcerated at Fort Santiago. Because of his failing eyesight and stomach ailment, the Japanese authorities released him and put under house arrest for medical treatment in a relative residence in Manila in 1944. After a few months of rest and treatment, he reportedly asked President Laurel to allow him to return to his people in Pampanga to die, which Laurel granted but Don Perico would escape to join Luis Taruc who was in the field leading the Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Guerrillas in fighting the Japanese).

On January 15, 1945, the great peasant leader of Central Luzon succumbed to an acute ulcer with intestinal complications in a Hukbalahap base in Minalin, Pampanga. He died a bachelor at the age of 69.


  1. Biographies of Eminent Filipinos. Manila : National Historical Institute, 1950, via the National Historical Commission.
  2. Quirino, Carlos. Who's Who in Philippine History. Manila : Tahanan Books, 1995, via the National Historical Commission.
  3. Villaroel, Hector K. Eminent Filipinos. Quezon City : Textbook Publishers, 1965, via the National Historical Commission.
  4. Photo credit:;


Comments (Today in Philippine history, January 31, 1876, Pedro Abad Santos was born in San Fernando, Pampanga)