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Señor Moments | General Paulino Santos: His journey through history

An officer and a Gentleman,
A man for all seasons
A man for the ages.

His journey through history took him to our country’s three colonization eras.

He was born in 1890 during the Spanish era. Spent his boyhood, early adulthood during the American Commonwealth years; and his final years as the benevolent leader of the settlers in Southern Mindanao; then died in 1945 as a Japanese army Prisoner of War in the mountain jungles of the Mountain Province.

To me, who just celebrated his 76th birthday last week, one of the most amazing facts about Gen. Santos, my grandfather, was that he was only 55 years old when he died in August 1945. Only 55 years old! And yet he accomplished many achievements for the love of his country, in his loyalty to our Flag. Only 55 years old – but a legend, a hero that we pay honor today.

Yet, I think, if he was alive today and saw all our Santos relatives who came from distant lands, who braved the COVID-19 scare; if he heard all the accolades or saw his statue at the Town Plaza; or, saw the Welcome sign reading “Gen. Santos City” he would wonder – what’s all this? And he would say:” I was just doing my job.”

Let me retrace his “Journey Through History”, the title of his biography, written by my mother, Rosa, his eldest, Isabel and myself, his eldest grandchild.

In telling you his story, I will quote from this book – using his own words, the words of his contemporaries, and of course, the words of his family, especially the three authors.

His early years

Paulino was born in the Ilocano- half of Camiling, Tarlac on June 22,1890 – during the Spanish colonial period. He was the youngest of six in a family of hardy, Rural Ilocano stock. His grandfather and uncle founded the Town’s Irrigation System and we’re among the builders of Camiling’s Catholic Church.

When Paulino was 8, in 1908 the Spanish colonial rule was ended when the Americans defeated them in the Battle of Manila Bay.

At 16, Paulino graduated with a 7th grade certificate – which enabled him to get a Teaching job. But he remained poor.

So he tried his luck in Manila – with practically no luck earning 7 peso a month, working 14 hours a day.

Military years

So at 18, he enlisted in the Philippine American Military. In 1914, he got his first break – he topped the Constabulary Officer’s School graduation class of American and Filipino soldiers.

In 1916, 3rd Lt. Santos was transferred to Mindanao and Sulu.
His Legend, his journey through History starts in 1917 – at the battle of Bayang Kuta, Lake Lanao. Here is the first hand account of the skirmish with Moro insurgents are reported in ” The Story of the Philippine Constabulary” by Lt. Col Harold, Hanne Elarth, Editor, (Globe Printing Co., L. A., Calif. 1949, pp. 118):

When, therefore, the remnants of the Ampuan-Agaos and other Lanao outlaw bands the authority of the Bayang cotta under Amai Lumamba and challenged the authority of the government, it was deemed important that they be dealt with promptly and decisively.

Colonel Waloe came to Lanao to take personal charge of the operation. The Constabulary forces under his command in this engagement were Captain Minor L. Stephens, five Lieutenants and 134 soldiers. Two mountain guns were borrowed from the Army, and in support, available at Waloe’s call, were two companies of Scouts under Major Beck.

The Moros, numbering more than five hundred, occupied a group of well-constructed and strongly fortified cottas at Bayang, on the shores of Lake Lanao. Around these forts they had constructed elaborate obstructions of bamboo and barbed wire to prevent the troops from the placing scaling ladders.

Colonel Waloe opened the attack with his mountain guns, and after several hours the high explosive shells half cleared a path through the obstructions surrounding the nearest cotta. When he ordered an assault, a gallant young Filipino lieutenant pleaded for the honor of leading the platoon which was to place the scaling ladders. The request was granted. The assault was successful, the first cotta was stormed and some thirty of its garrison were slain; but one soldier was killed and the lieutenant and five men were wounded. The officer was Lieutenant Paulino Santos.”

For his gallant conduct in this fight, he was awarded eighteen years later the Medal for Valor

Love and duty

After suffering a near-fatal spear wound in his neck, Paulino took a medical leave, headed back to Bulacan, to marry his long time sweetheart Elisa Angeles.

The bureau of prison years

As National Director of Prisons, Col. Santos vastly improved the penal system by instituting reforms such as the prisoner’s rehabilitation by learning useful trades, craft and farming while serving out his term. This would ensure that he when he was finally released from prison, he could be capable of earning a living.

Observing that most of the irregularities and anomalies stemmed from the procurement of supplies and the inefficient and wasteful management of the Bilibid mess hall, the hospital, the distribution of uniforms and environmental sanitation, Col. Santos introduced reforms in the management and personnel to make the delivery of these vital services more efficient and economical. He also did away with the party cliques among prison employees and inmates.

With a firm yet compassionate hand he rectified these anomalies. He infused new blood in the penal colonies — Iwahig, San Ramon (later Davao and Muntinlupa) by hiring technical experts jn crafts (wood carving and furniture making), agriculture and animal husbandry, making them self-sufficient, a tremendous boost to the Philippine Government.

All these earned him the respect, love and admiration not only by prison officials but also by the prisoners — so much that he walked the prison ground without bodyguards or weapons.

During the seven years that Col. Santos served as Director of Prisons, the family lived in an old Spanish house within the prison walls. The way to their quarters was a wide staircase which at the top to the left led to the rooms for the director and to the right for the assistant director, then Manuel Alzate, and later major Eriberto Misa.

The Davao penal colony

Undoubtedly, Col. Santos’ most outstanding achievement as the Director of the Bureau of Prisons was the founding of the Davao Penal Colony on January 21, 1932 — the first of its kind to be established by a Filipino director of prisons. Davao Penal Colony consisted of 28,816 hectares of public land mostly unexplored and virgin forest in the municipalities of Capalung and Tagum, province of Davao.

Under the competent and innovative leadership of Supt. Pablo Norona, development of the Colony progressed apace — so much so that Col. Santos felt he could now move on to pursue his other long range plans for the Bureau: the modernization of Philippine penology and the relocation of the Bilibid Prison from its cramped quarters on Azcarraga St. to a considerably larger site outside Manila.

To this end, he arranged to go on a study and observation tour of penitentiaries in the United States.

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