Movie tackles life, love and heroism of Jose Abad Santos

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People generally think of Jose Abad Santos as a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court worthy of being honored as one of the modern-day heroes. In fact, he is immortalized in the P1,000-bill together with Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim and Girl Scouts of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda.

Countless streets, schools, hospitals, towns, halls and many other backdrops are named after Abad Santos. But very few know that he was concurrently the Secretary of Commerce and Agriculture during the Commonwealth regime of President Manuel L. Quezon. Even fewer people know that Quezon designated him as the acting President when the latter had to go on exile to the United States during World War 2 at the height of Japanese atrocities.

Ricardo Cepeda as Jose Abad Santos

Born on February 19, 1886 in San Fernando, Pampanga, he grew up with nationalist fervor brought about by the movements against colonial Spain and new imperialist America.

Chosen by the Americans in 1904 as one of Filipino youths seen as a future leader when the Philippines eventually would become independent, he attended Santa Clara College in California, took Bachelor of Laws at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and his Masters of Laws at George Washington University.


No American girl captured his attention and fancy, as his heart only beat for local beauty queen and Centro Escolar University intern Amanda Teopaco.

The most moving phase in Abad Santos’ life, nicknamed “Sengseng” by his parents, was during his execution by Japanese soldiers upon the orders of High Commander Kiyotake Kawaguchi in Malabang, Lanao del Sur on May 2, 1942.

Abad Santos could have easily saved his life if he agreed to collaborate with the Japanese, but he chose to hold on to his integrity and honor until the very end.

Book author and the movie’s executive producer Desiree Cua Benipayo

As he was given a few minutes to talk to his son Jose Abad Santos Jr. (nicknamed Pepito) before he was shot to death, he muttered the now-classic lines, “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.”

Inspirational book and movie
Through the Philippine World War 2 Memorial Foundation (PhilWar), a movie on the life of Abad Santos has been produced based on the book – Honor: The Legacy of Jose Abad Santos – written by Desiree Ann Cua Benipayo, who is also one of the executive producers along with husband Mario Abad Santos Benipayo, a grandnephew of the former Chief Justice.

Young director Bani Logroño, a 25-year-old graduate of the International Academy of Film and Television in Cebu, has been commissioned to do the project under Spyron-AV Manila Productions.

In an interview with The Manila Times after the first screening of the premiere at the AFP Theater on February 24, the young director – whose works include the documentary, “Unsurrendered 2: The Hunters ROTC Guerillas” and “Manila 1945: The Rest of the Story” – said that it is his advocacy to helm World War 2 documentaries “aimed toward inspiring the next generation of heroes in the Philippines through historical education for the youth.”

Asked if they also aim for commercial theater run as Filipino audiences seem to crave for heroic films as proven in the box-office and critical success of “Heneral Luna,” both director and author-executive producer said that their goal is to show the movie in campuses and maybe special curated screenings nationwide.

Director Bani Logroño

“It’s expensive to get a commercial theater run, we have no budget for that. It would be good, why not, but the present generation getting to know Jose Abad Santos thru screenings in the campuses for them to be inspired and perhaps emulate his honor and integrity until the end is a mission fulfilled for us,” Benipayo told The Manila Times.

Actor’s honor
In a separate interview before the screening, actor Ricardo Cepeda (Richard Go in real life) said that it’s really an honor for him playing Abad Santos in the movie.

“My father admired Jose Abad Santos so much. He was his hero. He always talked about him. So growing up I looked up to JAS too. But it wasn’t until I took on the role that I got to know the man deeply,” he said.

Although by common-law arrangement Cepeda is now related to the Abad Santoses (partner Marina Benipayo is a JAS grandniece and sister of co-executive producer Mario Abad Santos Benipayo and also plays Amanda Teopaco in the movie), he said that he had to audition for the role.

“When I learned about this project I really wanted to play the role, practically pushing myself to land the character. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had to trim down kasi hindi naman daw buff [muscular]si JAS,” Cepeda, who also became a gym instructor besides being a model-actor, said.

“Imagine echoing the classical lines, ‘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.’ That to me, is indeed a great honor,” he added.

He put back his talent fee to the production as associate producer. He stressed that it’s really to show the movie around campuses that is their goal, echoing Logroños words.

His second daughter, Sachi, by Snooky Serna, is also deeply involved in the production.

“She’s always with me during the entire production – as production staff, helping as writer, a strong support behind the cameras,” he volunteered the information. Sachi smiled in agreement to her father’s revelation to The Times.

Reenacting the scenes of this documentary includes noted character actor Alex Medina as the teenage Jose Abad Santos, who said that his character is totally different from his current ABS-CBN teleserye “The Good Son” as Anthony Moreno and in the previous “The Greatest Love” as Alexander Sobrevista; Miss Tourism International 2013/2014 Cebuana Angeli Dione Gomez as the teenage Amanda Teopaco; Dan Sheneill as Pepito Abad Santos; Daniel Abad Santos as Pedro Abad Santos; and Ethan Jacob Benipayo as the young Sengseng.

As Logroño and resource person Michael “Xiao” Chua of De La Salle University (who is now a columnist of The Manila Times) said, Honor: The Legacy of Jose Abad Santos has all the elements of a story that millennials can relate to at the same time learn from – scenery, romance, food, drama, family, suspense, humor, overseas education, idealism, assertion of beliefs and principles.

The movie is kumpletos rekados, so to speak. Absorbing visuals are incorporated into the story, including rare vintage photos and film, modern motion graphics and animation, with modernized and classical rendition of the Kapampangan folk song “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” as background music.

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