Women and War

Filipina workers, warriors, and survivors of World War II

"Every war is a war on women." (1943) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

"Every war is a war on women." - M. Evelina Galang

World War II in the Pacific (1941-1945) and the three-year Japanese occupation of the Philippines caused massive devastation and loss of lives throughout the motherland. Filipinos and Filipinas were forced to face issues of patriotism and loyalty; coping and survival; and cultural identity. But no matter what their class or age were, Filipinas did their share in keeping family, society, and country together during this time. Women engaged in whatever means of livelihood was available to them so they could provide food for their children. They rendered charity and social work; or joined the guerrilla movement as spies, nurses, or soldiers. A few continued to write and document the nation's ordeal. And after the war, former comfort women came out with their story of victimhood and survival, and continue to fight for justice to this day.

Workers/Writers (1943) by Maria Luna-LopezFilipinas Heritage Library


World War II created conditions for the emergence of new Tagalog writing. Tagalog was made the national language, and Tagalog classes were held. Writers in English had to learn to write in Tagalog, although some of them, such as Estrella D. Alfon, Paz Latorena, Ligaya Victorio Reyes, Veronica L. Montes, and Kerima Polotan were able to contribute essays or short stories in English to the PHILIPPINE REVIEW. Others like Mercedes Garcia also wrote feature and opinion articles for the Spanish newspaper, LA VANGUARDIA. All publications came under the supervision of the Manila Shimbunsha, the propaganda arm of the military government. Essentially, Philippine literature in English during the Japanese occupation had no readership base even among the already small, educated middle class. Like many things that were taken for granted before the war, reading and writing had become a luxury. And the battles ruined many cultural artifacts, including women's writings. The Ilongga writer Magdalena Jalandoni lost thousands of pages of writing when the Archbishop's Residence in Jaro, where she brought her works for safekeeping, was destroyed. Writings in Spanish and other languages that were in the National Library were also lost in the Battle for Manila in 1945. In the national effort towards reconstruction, many Filipino writers, including women writers, were able to write about the war only after the war. A number of literary pieces by women were memoirs or biographies. Even women who were not writers by profession, such as former comfort women or descendants of war veterans, felt the need to put their or their mother's or father's wartime experiences in writing.

Genoveva Edroza-Matute (2009) by UnknownFilipinas Heritage Library

Genoveva Edroza-Matute (b. 1915) taught Filipino for almost 50 years, retiring as Dean of the Filipino Department at Philippine Normal College. Her short stories such as "Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti" were often featured in textbooks for elementary and high school. Her works are social realistic; Sa Anino ng EDSA (1995) is a collection of short stories on the People Power Revolution, while Sa Ilalim ng Araw na Pula (2001) is a fictionalized version of her life during the Japanese occupation.

Liwayway Arceo (1944) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

Liwayway Arceo (b. 1924) wrote fiction, essays, journalistic pieces, radio and TV drama, and biographies (of saints) in Tagalog. In 1943, her short story "Uhaw ang Tigang na Lupa", which is about lost love, was named Pangalawang Pinakamabuting Akdang Pilipino. She has produced more than a thousand short stories and 50 novels. In 1944, she starred with Carmen Rosales and Norma Blancaflor in the Japanese propaganda movie, Tatlong Maria.

Bilingual Filipina Writer (c. 1984)Filipinas Heritage Library

Born in Orani, Bataan in 1902, Nieves Baens-del Rosario was one of the first women lawyers of the Philippines. As an officer at the Department of Labor for decades, she helped draft many labor laws and was instrumental in the enactment of the Women and Child Labor Law. She was a member of various local and international organizations, and for seven years was president of Panitik ng Kababaihan, a civic organization of Filipino women writers. Aside from Erlinda ng Bataan, her works include ten other novels and hundreds of short stories, poems, and essays written in English or Filipino.

Lydia Villanueva-Arguilla (1960-70)Filipinas Heritage Library

Among the intellectuals who joined the guerrilla movement was the writer and painter Lydia Villanueva-Arguilla (b. 1914). Her husband, the fictionist Manuel Arguilla, worked with the Japanese Propaganda Corps but leaked out intelligence to the guerrilla leader, Colonel Yay Panlilio. He was killed by the Kempeitai in Fort Santiago in 1944.

After the war, Arguilla opened the Philippine Art Gallery on Azcarraga Street (now Recto Avenue), Manila, one of the first galleries in the country that was dedicated to displaying, collecting, and promoting Filipino modern art.

First Lieutenant (1943-45) by Marking's GuerrillasFilipinas Heritage Library

Lydia's name appears in this roster of Marking's Guerrillas, with her position amended to First Lieutenant. A guerrilla camp was even named after her.

Warriors (1946) by Philippines Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library


Like the country's previous colonizers, the Japanese faced strong opposition from the Filipinos. Very early on, Filipinos from all walks of life organized, joined, or supported the guerrilla movement against the Japanese, choosing not to wait for the Americans to continue the resistance. Historians estimate that one in ten guerrillas who served in WWII was female. There might have been more, although many were probably not recognized as officially serving because of their gender and the non-combatant nature of their services. Filipinas took on various roles and tasks in the guerrilla movement. Many of them served as medical aides or nurses for Filipino and American guerrillas and prisoners of war. Women also served as messengers and spies, and as fighting warriors in both guerrilla and Huk battalions.

Women's Auxiliary Service (1949) by AnonymousFilipinas Heritage Library

Josefa Borromeo Capistrano and other women organized the Women's Auxiliary Service (WAS) in 1943. Its mission was to make sure that guerrilla fighters in Mindanao had food and shelter. Performing hospital and dispensary work, WAS members also administered first aid and treated the wounded. They organized entertainment programs for their patients and encouraged the townspeople to observe health rules. They also sewed, procured, and washed clothes for the officers and men as well as those confined in hospitals. Likewise, WAS members learned methods of reconnaissance, the use of firearms, and self-defense. Some members served as spies, and at least 10 were known to be captured and killed for guerrilla activities.

Capistrano, who became a labor leader after the war, refused to be awarded a medal for her war efforts until the WAS became an official military unit of the republic. In 1963, the organization was renamed the WAC (Women's Auxiliary Corps) and recognized as an official military branch of the Philippine Army. The WAC was disbanded in 2013, after more than 50 years of service.

Forgotten Guerrilleras (12 October 1946) by Philippines Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library

One guerrillera of WWII was Ana Omega of Leyte, a schoolteacher who formed her own guerrilla unit and served as an intelligence officer against the Japanese Imperial Army. The government's non-recognition of Omega and other women guerrillas reflects the experience of women revolutionaries like Espiridiona Dionisio, sister of Andres Bonifacio and wife of Teodoro Plata. Dionisio never received any pension or support from the government, not as a dependent of veterans of the 1896 revolution nor as a revolutionary herself (she worked as a secretary, spy, and utility girl for the Katipunan).

Mammy (1945-51)Filipinas Heritage Library

Valeria "Yay" Panlilio was a Filipina-Irish-American journalist and broadcaster who came to Manila before the war. She fled the city to escape the Japanese after her loyalty to Carlos P. Romulo and the Americans was exposed. On the mountains of Rizal Province, she met Major Marcos "Marking" V. Agustin and ended up helping him lead his army of guerrillas. She handled the paperwork such as reports, letters, and propaganda materials, and gave advice in decision-making. She took care of the sick and wounded, and managed the camp while the fighters were in battle. "War was our marriage, and the guerrillas our sons," she wrote.

Panlilio's autobiography, The Crucible, originally published in 1951, is a riveting account of guerrilla life on the Sierra Madre mountains in WWII. It details the guerrillas' hunger and illnesses, the tortures and killings that befell them, as well as their triumphant battles. It also serves as a biography of Marking, whom she described as a great hero, a legend. But more importantly, it documents the lives of women in the war: how they were regarded with suspicion and dislike; how they were treated as second-class citizens and sexual objects; but also how brave they were and dedicated to the cause. "It is true women are soft," she wrote. "It is also true that women can be the most bloodthirsty and cruel of creatures. I want to be neither. It is enough to do my duty."

Colonel Yay (27 November 1945) by PHILRYCOMFilipinas Heritage Library

Inclusion of Yay Panlilio in Roster of Recognized Guerrilla Unit

Affidavit (03 December 1947) by George CaldwellFilipinas Heritage Library

Affidavit submitted by former US Army captain, George Caldwell to the US Government vouching for the services of nurse Juanita Kagahastian during World War II. After the war, veterans like Kagahastian had to produce documents like this to be able to claim compensation from the US government for their wartime service.

A guerrilla resistance movement was already in its planning stage even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, founded in 1930, was getting ready for war at the same time that the United States Armed Forces in the Far East was rushing its war preparations that year. In October 1941, the PKP established a coordinating center in San Fernando, Pampanga for guerrilla activities.

In March 1942, Felipa Culala alias Kumander Dayang-Dayang organized a successful rescue operation for eight guerrillas who had been arrested and jailed by the Japanese in Candaba, Pampanga (mapped out here). Inspired by the battles won by Dayang-Dayang's troops, the PKP convened in Nueva Ecija later that month to form the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon. Culala was elected as one of the four members of the Military Committee of the HUKBALAHAP, heading the Division of General Affairs which handled supplies and maintenance. She was the only woman in the group. Later she was accused of theft and abuse of power, leading to her execution at the firing squad by the Huk leaders in 1943.

The Huk Amazons (1952) by Philippines Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library

Celia Mariano, a former school teacher and examiner at the Bureau of Civil Service, joined the PKP just before the war broke out in 1941. She and her comrades organized her parents' farm in Tanay, Rizal as a base for guerrilla activities. She was then assigned by the Party as educator of guerrillas and villagers in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, and she subsequently served as the editor of Katubusan ng Bayan, the revolutionary newspaper. Later, as education secretary, she supervised the Huk committees in Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, and Pangasinan. Among her students was Remedios Gomez, alias Kumander Liwayway.

Mariano continued to work in the underground movement after the Liberation until she and her husband were captured by government forces in 1952. By that time, the Huk had been reconstituted as the armed wing of the Party and renamed Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB).

Kumander Liwayway (1950-70)Filipinas Heritage Library

Remedios Gomez of Mexico, Pampanga is one of the more well-known Amazons of WWII. The daughter of a village leader and former town mayor, she officially joined the Hukbalahap after her father was tortured, killed, and displayed in public by the Kempeitai and their family fell in certain danger. As Kumander Liwayway, she treated wounded and sick guerrillas before commanding Squadron 3-V in Tarlac. She engaged in combat operations, procured food and supplies for the movement, and served as a conduit between the townspeople and guerrillas.

Mameng (1948) by UnknownFilipinas Heritage Library

Local movie directors, actors, and actresses were utilized in the creation of propaganda films, such that Dawn of Freedom (1944) was co-directed by Gerardo de Leon and Tatlong Maria (1944) was starred in by Carmen Rosales, Liwayway Arceo, and Norma Blancaflor.

During the war, Rosales' first husband, Ramon Navales, was killed by the Japanese. Rosales joined the guerrilla movement afterwards, choosing Pangasinan as her base. In Sta. Rosa, Laguna, she was said to have been involved in the killing of a MAKAPILI, civilians who secretly pointed out guerrillas to the Japanese Imperial Forces.

Rosales played a woman guerrilla in two postwar movies, Guerilyera (1946) and Batalyon XII (1949). In honor of the heroine, a barrio in the town of Rosales in Pangasinan was named Carmen.

Survivors/Civilians (1943-44)Filipinas Heritage Library


When WWII in the Pacific broke out in December 1941, Filipinos immediately joined the army or the communists to resist Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Others fled Manila and sought refuge in the provinces. In the early days of the occupation, Filipinos were killed, slapped, beaten, tortured, and forced to bow in front of sentries, leading to a strong anti-Japanese sentiment. Stories of rape, looting, disappearances, and murder abound. With most of the men leaving to join the guerrilla movement, women were left to fend for themselves and their families, and tend to the home. War proved to be an equalizing measure; rich or poor, man or woman, Filipinos lost lives, livelihood, and property. At the same time, poor and privileged women and men alike contributed what they could to the war effort.

Civic Leader (c 1930)Filipinas Heritage Library

A social worker, educator, and organizer from Dingras, Ilocos Norte, Josefa Llanes Escoda organized the Girl Scouts of the Philippines in 1940. Her commitment to humanitarian causes brought her to Camp O'Donnell in Capas,Tarlac to attend to the needs of the prisoners in 1942. "Time and again," wrote her biographer, "she turned down offers of lucrative positions, having decided to devote her time and efforts to underground work for the duration of the emergency." She was arrested and imprisoned by the Japanese military who grew suspicious of her work in helping war prisoners. Her death was placed in January 1945.

Recollections of a Civic Leader by Liliane ManahanFilipinas Heritage Library

Mary E. Mendoza recalls the teachings of Josefa Llanes Escoda, whom they fondly called "Mrs E."

"From Chaos to New Dawn" (1942-44) by Nippon Philippines, Nos. 13-14Filipinas Heritage Library

The text accompanying this photograph from a Japanese serial in the early 1940s says that the Americans left the Filipinos poor and miserable in the war, and that the Japanese will usher in a better period for the country that was now part of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Neighborhood Associations (1942-44) by Nippon Philippines, Nos. 13-14Filipinas Heritage Library

Neighborhood associations were formed through the Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI) "for [the] mutual benefit and protection of all families in the neighborhood." However, the associations also served to better monitor and control the movement of civilians, many of whom supported or joined the guerrillas.

Cooperatives (05 September 1942) by La VanguardiaFilipinas Heritage Library

"An advantage of the [neighborhood association] system," according to the Japanese, "is the creation of cooperatives among families and groups that makes production easy." Many of those involved in economic production were women. The image shows young seamstresses working in a clothing cooperative.

The National Federation of Women's Clubs (October 1943) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

The National Federation of Women's Clubs of the Philippines was organized by the Women's Club of Manila in 1921, at the height of the country's struggle for independence from the United States. Even before the war, women's clubs served to inspire women to participate in national development through charity and social work. These expectations continued during the war (and after). Thousands of children all over the country were accommodated at no charge in NFWC playroom classes to keep mothers free to work in or out of their homes.

The Volunteer Aid Social Committee (July 1944) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

In April 1942, around 100 Manila socialites formed the Volunteer Aid Social Committee "to lighten the load of the needy and the suffering." For the most part former members of the Philippine Social Service, the Central Committee of the Girl Scouts, and the Junior League of the Philippines, these young women launched a number of social rehabilitation projects that included benefit shows, visits to prisoners' camps and convalescent homes, and programs for war widows and orphans. They provided money and nursing services to hospitals and health centers and established their own free clinic on Herran Street. In this building loaned to them by the Assumption College sisters, they opened a playroom for children of poor working mothers as well as classrooms for learning crafts and First Aid.

Food Production (October 1942) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

In the war, women were responsible for producing food for everyone, including the occupying forces, while the men were out fighting. Women farmed, cooked, and thought of ways to stretch the meager resources through food preservation. The domestication of women was celebrated and encouraged in wartime Japanese magazines: "Soldiers move on their stomach", the magazines say, and so the heart of a husband will be won when the wife is a good cook. "To be able to prepare palatable dishes using local materials is a task assigned to women -- Filipino Women. To learn the fine points in culinary art is to make yourself, your home and your country happy and prosperous."

Ketchup Making (October 1942) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

Women make catsup out of tomatoes.

Making Coconut Candy (October 1942) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

Women preserve coconut by turning them into candy.

Victims of Atrocities (1945) by John Tewell Collection, Retrato Collection of Filipinas Heritage LibraryFilipinas Heritage Library

Women were not spared from atrocities. All throughout the war women and girls were injured, raped, tortured, and brutally killed. Photo shows a woman recovering from a bayonet wound, 1945.

Making Up for Lost Lives (31 August 1946) by Philippines Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library

Among the legacies of World War II are the children fathered by foreign soldiers with local women. Some Filipinas and their children were able to immigrate to the United States, but many families were also abandoned or left unrecognized. Women's organizations persistently point out the increase of incidences of sexual violence against women and children in military camps or bases, militarized areas, or war zones.

Babies for Sale (12 October 1946) by Philippines Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library

The Philippines Free Press reports on the selling of babies of American fathers and Filipina mothers. White-skinned and blonde-haired babies were sold at a higher price than babies with dark skin and kinky hair.

Workers (1943-44)Filipinas Heritage Library


When the war broke out, establishments and schools closed, and majority of the people lost their jobs. Women, especially, were forced to find food and other resources outside the home. Many of them engaged in buying and selling various items like jewelry, cloth, or food such as dried fish, fruits, and vegetables. Meanwhile, in its campaign for the creation of a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan encouraged the civilian population, including women, to give what they could in building what they called a "New Philippines." Japanese-run magazines were filled with articles on how women can contribute to the economy by assuming both traditional tasks (cooking, sewing) and jobs that were not traditionally taken on by women (bus driving). With food getting scarce in the cities, many families went to the provinces where they survived on farming and fishing, producing food not only for themselves but also for the Japanese soldiers who sequestered the country's agricultural resources, and for the guerrillas who fought in the mountains. Women professionals served their country in many other ways. Filipina nurses and doctors continued to help civilians, soldiers, prisoners-of-war, and guerrillas despite the loss of their hospital and the scarcity of food and supplies, as in the case of Bruna Calvan, Carmen Lanot, and Guedelia Pablan in Bataan.

The Farmer (July 1943) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

With the men joining the military or guerrilla forces, the responsibility of trying to keep the economy alive in an agricultural country fell largely upon the women. Women have been tilling the land since the beginning of time, but especially during the war they were left to tend to their family's farms and were also made to work in plantations that were being run by Japanese companies. The image shows a woman farmer carrying locally-grown cotton to be used for making threads and cloth, goods "which will find a ready market within the Co-Prosperity Sphere."

Cotton Farming (31 October 1942) by La VanguardiaFilipinas Heritage Library

The cultivation of cotton on a grand scale was launched in eight provinces in Central Luzon (Pangasinan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bataan) through farms that were supervised by nine Japanese companies.

Mrs Duran (22 May 1943) by La VanguardiaFilipinas Heritage Library

This brief article lauds the wife of Pio Duran, director of the Bureau of General Affairs of the Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI) and founder of the Makabayang Katipunan ng mga Pilipino (MAKAPILI), for sharing the work in the creation of a "New Philippines." Apart from fulfilling her duties at home, the article says, Mrs. Duran makes time to inspect the sack factory installed in their San Juan residence where sacks for corn, copra, and rice are produced.

Spinning and Weaving (08 December 1943) by Manila Sinbun-sya December 8 Anniversary Rotogravure SupplementFilipinas Heritage Library

Filipinas are shown busily spinning thread or weaving deep-sea nets, the latter at the Bureau of Public Welfare. Many of these workers were former school teachers.

Spinning and Weaving (February 1943) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

Abaca thread is used to make fishing nets.

Women Founders of the New Philippines (1942) by Shin-Seiki (Bagong Araw-New Era)Filipinas Heritage Library

Among the so-called "Women Founders of the New Philippines" in this article in the Japanese magazine Shin-Seiki were stenographers, teachers, dentists, seamstresses, tobacco rollers, and bus conductors.

"Not to be Outdone" (1942-44) by Nippon Philippines, Nos. 13-14Filipinas Heritage Library

Women were also asked to take on jobs that were traditionally assigned to males, such as police work.

The Filipino Woman Works (15 October 1942) by La VanguardiaFilipinas Heritage Library

This article romanticizes the fact that Filipinas, including "modest" nurses who serve "late into the night" in Japanese military hospitals, workers in cooking oil factories, and "pretty" bus drivers, do their part in building the "New Order."

The Fight For And The Liberation Of Manila - 1945 - Macarthur, Carl Mydans, 1945-02, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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"Still in the Making" (November 1946) by Philippines Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library

Many women, even those not professionally trained, worked as nurses or caretakers alongside the United States Army or for the local guerrilla forces. Wartime nurses later built the core of the professional nursing labor force after the war.

Our Lolas (2000) by LILA PilipinaFilipinas Heritage Library

Survivors/Comfort Women

During WWII, jugun ianfu or “comfort women” were used by the Japanese Imperial Army in military brothels in Asia. Kidnapped, forcibly detained, and repeatedly raped, most of the women were girls aged 10 to 20 years. In 1991, Kim Hak-sun of Korea testified to being a comfort woman during WWII. In March of the following year, a wartime medical certificate bearing the names of 19 women from Iloilo surfaced, bringing to light that women were also sexually violated by the Japanese military in the Philippines. In July 1992, the Task Force for Filipina Victims of Military Sexual Slavery was formed, and later in September, Maria Rosa Henson came out as a former comfort woman. Many other women, who later came to be known as “Lolas,” followed Henson’s lead. Documented cases of jugun ianfu in the country are in the hundreds but the actual number may reach about a thousand. Aside from the physical and psychological damage that were directly inflicted on them, many victims suffered being ostracized and abandoned by family and friends once the rape was known. Some, such as Gertrude Balisalisa who was a law student when she was abducted by the Japanese soldiers, also lost their livelihood and future prospects as a result of the rape. Organizations like the Liga Para sa mga Lolang Pilipina or LILA Pilipina continue to help former comfort women and their families seek recognition, apology, and retribution from the Japanese government.

Lola Rosa (1992-97) by LILA PilipinaFilipinas Heritage Library

Maria Rosa Henson of Pasay City was gathering firewood when she was raped by Japanese soldiers at the beginning of the war. Fleeing to Pampanga, she joined the HUKBALAHAP, finding food and medicine for the guerrillas and acting as a messenger. During one of her missions, she was captured by the enemy and brought to a military garrison in Angeles City. As a 14-year-old comfort woman, she was raped by 12 to 20 and sometimes, 30 Japanese soldiers every day for nine months until she was rescued by Huk guerrillas.

After the war, Henson raised three children as a single mother, working as a laundrywoman and then in a cigarette factory. Since she went public with her story in 1992, she had actively fought for justice and indemnity for Japanese wartime sex slaves, joining marches and hearings, and filing a lawsuit in Japan. In 1994, she released Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny, then the only autobiography written by any of the hundreds of thousands of known comfort women in Asia. She once said that remembering was the best revenge.

Credits: Story

Text and Research: Faye Cura
Digital Imaging: Andre Angeles
Images from the collections of Filipinas Heritage Library, including the Roderick Hall World War II Collection

Thank you to Prof. Ricardo T. Jose and Ms. Sharon Cabusao-Silva of LILA Pilipina

This presentation is a simplified version of the WOMEN AND WAR exhibition which run from February 2 to March 10, 2019 at the Ayala Museum, Makati City, Philippines.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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