General Paulino Santos was born in Camiling, Tarlac on June 22, 1890 to Rosa Torres and Remigio Santos. He was educated in Spanish-run schools from 1897 to 1900, and in American-run schools from 1901 to 1907. He became a municipal teacher in 1907, serving as such until 1908. That year, he tried to join the United States Navy in Cavite. Unable to, because of a moratorium on the enlistment of natives at the time, he proceeded to Manila. He got employed at a Tondo factory of aerated water, working everyday for seven pesos a month.
A year later, he enlisted in the Philippine Constabulary. He was assigned to its First General Service Company. In 1912, he was promoted from private to supply sergeant, serving as such for two years. Simultaneously, he strove to upgrade his skills and knowledge by pursuing his studies. His perseverance paid off, for he soon finished high school.
In 1913, he passed the entrance examinations to the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio, then known as the Constabulary Officers School. In 1914, he graduated, not surprisingly, as class valedictorian, and was commissioned third lieutenant in the regular force in February of the same year. Thereafter, his rise through the ranks was swift: second lieutenant in 1917, captain in 1918, major in 1923. He was adjutant of the Headquarters, of the Philippine Constabulary before retiring as lieutenant colonel in 1930.
As soldier, Santos served in the Lanao campaign in 1916, where he sustained wounds from a Moro spear, and in the Bayang Cota campaign in 1917, where he was wounded anew, but this time by bullets. It was in the latter campaign that he demonstrated extraordinary courage and leadership.
As government cannons were bombarding the Muslim bulwark of Lumamba, then 2nd Lieutenant Santos led his platoon in penetrating the formerly secure redoubt, through an opening made in the barricade, and immediately erected a ladder to scale the first kota. Immediately, he and his men engaged its defenders in a bloody hand-to-hand combat, killing 30 of them, and thus preserving the lives of government soldiers. For this exceptional military feat, Governor General Frank Murphy bestowed on him, the medal of valor, the highest military award, for “gallantry in action”, just before the inauguration of the Commonwealth government in 1935. He was named President Quezon’s aide for the inaugural ceremony.
He served as ex-officio Justice of the Peace at large for the Provinces of Lanao and Sulu, and then Deputy Provincial Treasurer of Lanao, before finally becoming Provincial Governor of Lanao. He was appointed Director of the Bureau of Prisons in 1930, serving thus until 1936, founding the Davao Penal Colony in 1932 and transferring the Bilibid Prisons from its old site to a new one in Muntinlupa, Rizal.
In 1936, he was recalled to military service through his appointment as Brigadier General and Assistant chief of staff of the Philippine Army by President Quezon. Before the year’s end, however, he was named Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army with the rank of Major General.
In 1937, President Quezon gave him the difficult and dangerous task of minimizing, if not eliminating the problem of Moro piracy in the south through the destruction of the pirates’ kotas, particularly Kota Dilausan, in Lanao. His term as Army chief of staff ended in December 1938. In January 1939, he was named general manager of the National Land Settlement Administration. He served in this capacity until 1941, when World War II broke out.
In 1939, as NLSA chief, Santos led the first group of 200 migrants from Luzon and the Visayas who transformed the primeval Lagao area in Koronadal Valley into a productive and progressive colony of six communities. Being the man of action that he was Santos usually stayed with the men in the field, constantly exhorting them to give their best to the arduous task with discipline and high purpose.
During the Japanese Occupation, he was picked by the Japanese-backed civilian government to serve as manager of the Koronadal and Allah Valley projects. In 1943, he became commissioner for Mindanao and Sulu. A year later, against his better judgment and convictions, he accepted the post of commanding general of the Philippine Constabulary. Before the Japanese surrender in 1945, he was taken prisoner and commandeered to the North, first to Nueva Vizcaya, and then to the Ifugao mountains in the Mountain Province, where the Japanese forces had retreated.
According to official Army files, he died of pneumonia in 1945. However, what truly caused his demise remains unknown. It is said that during the last three months of his life, he was made to eat only rice and kangkong, thereby weakening him until he contracted the fatal illness. It was his aide, Juan Ablan, who buried him without a casket in a crude, shallow pit in the sitio of Tammangan, barrio Wangwang, Hunduon town.
General Santos was married to Elisa Angeles of Bulacan, with whom he had seven children. For his pioneering efforts in the Koronadal and Allah Valleys, the town of Dadiangas was renamed after him when it was made a city on September 5, 1968.
In his honor, a historical marker was unveiled on September 5, 1981 in General Santos City, Cotabato.
About the diary: Typescript, Paulino Santos diary excerpts, in the Hoover Institution Archives.
The typescript starts with this note:
The following portions of the late General’s diary were selected for their value in studying the Philippine’s foremost land settlement project on Mindanao. Other portions were selected for their historical interest. Only that material which deals with purely routine matters was excluded from this copy.
Attorney Amado Munda, secretary to the late General Santos, kindly presented the General’s diaries to Dr. Karl Pelzer, Agricultural Adviser to the ECA in the Philippines, and Clifton Forster, Public
Affairs Officer of the United States Information Service in Davao, to be copied for transmittal to Stanford and Yale Universities.
Another note immediately follows:
To be placed with General Santos diary
Extract from a letter from Clifton Forster, Public Affairs Officer, USIs, Davao, Philippines (October 11, 1950)
… Undoubtedly you have a great deal of material pertaining to the
collaboration issue in the islands during the last conflict. One of the
most controversial figures was (and is) General Paulino Santos who became commander of the Philippine Constabulary under the Japanese regime. General Santos received much of his training in the US and was considered a top-flight military man here before the war. It was largely due to his initiative, supervision and planning that the first extensive government resettlement project on Mindanao became a success. President Quezon placed Santos in charge of the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) in Cotabato Province. The war found Generel Santos on Bataan. Then came the surrender and Santos appeared to be, at least from newspaper accounts, a collaborator, Some say he became pro-Japanese because he was anti-American. Others will tell you that he was never anti-American but always served his country first, General Santos died of starvation during the last days of the war and today he continues to be the subject of considerable controversy…..
A note on the preparation of Gen. Santos’ diaries. His secretary, Rafael C. Aquino, in a memoir written in 1977, says that
Since we arrived, I became the inseparable companion of the General and found little time for many paper work which I did only after our tours of inspection in the morning and during “siesta” in the afternoon including his diary…
I did nothing on the boat except to record the activities of General Santos which consisted mainly of inspirational talks and dissertation on the establishment of utopia-like communities in both the Koronadal and Allah valleys that all went into his diary…
The University of Notre Dame of Dadiangas, in which the General Paulino Santos Sr. Museum is located, has several diaries of the author on display, some apparently being pocket notebooks and others, desk diaries.