Red letter day


    THURSDAY, September 21, 1944. Today is a red letter day. I saw American planes over. More than 100 flew over this a.m. at 9:30. Came back over at 10:30. Then at noon some bombing and shooting heard down the road from here and something set on fire. About the same time I got a letter from my darling wife dated July 8, 1943. Oh! my darling, how I hope I’ll be able to be with you all soon. I love you so much. I am still in the dysentery ward and am now taking quinine again. My Edema is going down now, and of the excitement this a.m. my spirits are going up.” – US Army Capt. George Brundrett, POW of the Japanese in Cabanatuan, the Philippines []

    Seventy-five years ago, the Rizalian Archipelago was under belligerent occupation, toiling under the double burden of a fascist-imperialist armed force and a puppet regime. Jose P. Laurel in Manila placed the Philippines under martial law and suspended the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, assuming all powers of government and exercising such functions personally. His Proclamation No. 29 also divided the Archipelago into “nine Military Districts, seven to correspond to the seven Administrative Districts created under Ordinance No. 31, dated August 26, 1944; the eight, to compromise the City of Manila; and the ninth, the City of Cavite and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Palawan.”

    Worse, Laurel, succumbing to pressure from Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo, proclaimed a state of war existed between the Philippines and the United States and Great Britain. Thus, by September 23, the Filipinos were under martial law and in a state of war (Proclamation No. 30). In the same week elsewhere, General MacArthur was planning his “reconquest of the Philippines” and instructed the verbal transmission of his top secret information to Commonwealth President Osmeña in the US mainland. []

    In the American capital, Carlos P. Romulo, Resident Commissioner of the Philippines to the United States, spoke on the floor of Congress on “Philippine Rehabilitation and Filipino Naturalization Bills.” To wit: “The present destiny of the Philippines lies in the contested Pacific, but its future remains here with you, and as a Filipino content to know that the Commonwealth of the Philippines is safe in your hands…Independence was won also by the Filipino who fought and died, on Bataan, and by those who today are valiantly on opposing Japanese domination in the Philippines.”

    “Today we find ourselves on the threshold of victory. We are about to recover the Philippines. The world will indeed be watching what happens there as the final work begins in America’s great democratic experiment. From the start America based its premise in the Philippines upon the human platform. Its framework was built by the Americans who planted the concept of democracy in the Philippines. Its foundations rest deep in Bataan.” []

    A red letter day in a hectic month. September 14, 1944, Operation Dragoon (Allied “Champagne Campaign” in southern France) concluded; September 15, the US Marine 1st Division landed on Peleliu, Palau in the Pacific; September 17, some 20,000 US and British paratroopers launched Operation Market Garden in Nijmegen, Eindhoven, and Arnhem in the Netherlands; September 19, Finland concluded its Continuation War against the Soviet Union via an accord with the USSR and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (promising to immediately “dissolve all pro-Hitler organisations {of a Fascist type} situated on Finnish territory, whether political, military or para-military, as well as other organisations conducting propaganda hostile to the United Nations, in particular to the Soviet Union, and will not in future permit the existence of organisations of that nature”); and September 20, the Battle of Monte Pulito concluded with the Allies (UK, India) freeing the neutral Republic of San Marino from Axis (Germany, Italy) occupation. []

    The Battle of San Marino was part of the Italian Campaign of the Second World War, and in the Philippines September 20 is supposed to be a red letter day, as early as 1958, being Josefa Llanes Escoda Day, according to Presidential Proclamation No. 533 (“a tribute to her patriotism and her contributions in the fields of social work and the girl-scouting movement”). Ms. Llanes Escoda, “outstanding patriot and civic leader, was killed by the enemy during the last war for her underground activities and aid given to war prisoners and allied internees in military and concentration camps.” [Carlos P. Garcia, President of the Philippines]

    The Philippines’ Florence Nightingale (Founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, Executive Secretary of the Philippine Anti-Leprosy Society and organizer of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs of the Philippines) gave food and medicine to Filipino and American POWs (San Fernando, Pampanga; University of Santo Tomas, Manila; Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija; Los Baños, Laguna) and assisted her husband (Antonio Escoda) and the guerrillas, earning for her the distinction as one of the greatest heroines of the Pacific War. [Fidel V. Ramos, President of the Philippines, Proclamation No. 1214, s. 1998]

    Josefa Llanes Escoda was a World War II Heroine, thus, Proclamation No. 58 declaring 20 September 2016 as a special (non-working) day in the Municipality of Dingras, Province of Ilocos Norte. Escoda (aka Pepa), noted Senate Bill no. 1845 (c. 31 May 2018, filed by Sen. Ana Thereisa Hontiveros-Baraquel), was imprisoned by the Japanese in 1944 in Manila’s Far Eastern University. “The actuations of Tony and Pepa during those tragic days of the Japanese occupation are now part of the annals of supreme heroism, patriotism and self-sacrifice. Like very numerous heroes and heroines of the Japanese East Asia War, their graves are unknown.” [Biography of Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda written by Mrs. Pilar Hidalgo Lim]

    Heroine indeed. “Ladies Group leaders performing similar civic assistance to POWs at Camp O’Donnell Mrs. Cuenca mentioned are Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda, Mrs. Pilar Hidalgo Lim (wife of Gen. Vicente Lim) and Miss Lulu Reyes, a prominent social worker of Ermita well known to OSP student officers of Class ‘41 that boarded with her.” [June 16,1942, WWII Diary of Commodore Ramon Alcaraz] Escoda (along with Jose Abad Santos and Vicente Lim) is featured in the 1,000-peso New Design Series Banknote.

    This year, September 20 is Josefa Llanes Escoda Day (Founder’s Day) and Day 6 of Girl Scout Week. Thus, the Escoda Memorial Hymn: “O thou great founder champion of girlhood’s cause, Come we in homage share as now we pause, Grateful are we to thee in all humility”

    “We’ll pray for thy repose in God’s own home. Here are thy children blest by the love and care, Girl Scouting marches on lured by thy hand, Faithful and true we’ll be in all activity Escoda mother dear honors to thee.”


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