Josefa L. Escoda
|Josefa L. Escoda|
|Born||September 30, 1898|
Dingras, Ilocos Norte
|Died||January 6, 1945|
|Parents||Mercedes Madamba and Gabriel Llanes|
Josefa Llanes Escoda, also known as the "Florence Nightingale of the Philippines" was a war heroine, suffragette, great civic leader and social worker. She was a well-known Filipino women’s right advocate who also became one of the founders of the Mga Batang Babaeng Tagapagmanman ng Pilipinas or Girl Scouts of the Philippines.
Josefa Llanes Escoda was born on September 20, 1898 in Dingras, Ilocos Norte. She was the eldest child of Gabriel Llanes, and Mercedes Madamba. She had only one brother named Florencio and five sisters named Luisa, Elvira, Rosario, Purita and Eufrosina.
Josefa (or Pepa, her nickname as a child) grew up with an instilled idea of the true Christian service. Her mother was said to be a sweet, loving woman who taught her children the importance of serving the people. This amiable character honed by her mother manifested in many parts of Pepa’s life. During her elementary days, Pepa was known to be a gay, naturally active and precocious student. She also had unyielding importance for education.
Josefa graduated as valedictorian in Dingras Elementary School and salutatorian in Laoag Provincial High School. After finishing her secondary school, she went to Manila to study at Philippine Normal School (now Philippine Normal University) where she also graduated with honors in 1919.
Her perseverance was further proved when her father died during the influenza epidemic that swept the country in 1918. She brought her six siblings in Manila and took care of them. She took the evening class at University of the Philippines for a high school teacher certificate (HSTC) and gained it in 1922. For a short while, she taught at the Jose Rizal College, University of Manila, Far Eastern University, and Philippine Women's University. She eventually gave up teaching and joined American Red Cross (Philippine chapter). The American Red Cross granted her a scholarship and she went to the USA to undergo intensive training at New York School of Social Work. She gained her social work certificate in 1925. She also finished her masteral degree in Sociology in Columbia University.
While in United States, Josefa joined a group of foreign students who supported wholeheartedly an International House project in New York. During her free time in the International House, she accepted speaking engagements. It was also her practice to wear Filipiniana during her lecture tours to arouse foreigner’s interest in Philippines.
During her first trip to the USA, she met Antonio Escoda, a reporter from the Philippine Press Bureau. After their return to Manila, they got married and were blessed with two children, Maria Teresa and Antonio Jr.
On Public Service
When Josefa came back to the Philippines to resume her teaching duties in 1926, she worked at the Tuberculosis Commission of the Bureau of Health. She also served in the Textbook Board, the Board of Censors for Moving Pictures, and the labor Board. In 1908-1932, she served as the executive secretary of Philippine Anti-Leprosy Society and was affiliated with the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.
In the field of social work, Josefa’s devotion, responsibility and unquestionable leadership were shown in her great accomplishment. She founded the Boy’s Town for the underprivileged boys of Manila. She initiated a successful campaign which called for the provision of lunch and rest rooms for women workers and the installation of other facilities for their convenience. She worked hard for the establishment of free nursery classes in Manila where children were served free soup and a glass of milk. She worked for the improvement of health and sanitation in rural areas, the modernization of the prison and penal system, the suppression of vices and the extension of the benefits of adult education to the rural folks.
On Women’s Rights
Josefa was also an active member of the suffragette movement in the Philippines. She was elected as the secretary of the General Council of Women which was created to coordinate the activities of the women suffrage workers. As a suffragette, she believed that:
“The modern woman is no longer the wife that clings; she now helps the husband. The women’s demand for independence is motivated by their desire to help their husbands in governmental affairs which always required the moderation and wisdom of women.”
Josefa’s efforts was rewarded when Act 4112 was approved on December 7, 1933, granting the right to vote to Filipino women and making them eligible to all public offices.
With the help of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, she was again sent to the United States for Girl Scout training. Upon returning to the Philippines in 1937, she founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. The GSP was recognized as a national organization in May 26, 1940 under Commonwealth Act No.542.
Josefa was also one of the ‘moving spirits’ behind National Federation of Women’s Clubs during its formative stage. She was the first elected treasurer of the federation, later promoted as the executive secretary, a position she held for nine consecutive years.
World War II
When the World War II broke out, Josefa and her husband associated themselves with Volunteer Social Aid Committee (VSAC) and enlisted aid for the prisoners of war. Josefa even witnessed the Death March and she was in fact the one who distributed multi-vitamins, food and clothing to the prisoners. A brave woman as she really was, she took a great risks in listing the names of the prisoners in Camp O’Donnel and in helping the American internees at the University of Santo Tomas and Los Baños. In Manila, she housed the stranded women and students who were unable to go back to their respective provinces following the outbreak of the war.
It was in June 1944 when her husband was imprisoned in Fort Santiago. Two months later, she was also arrested and thrown into the dark cells of Cell No. 16 of the same fort. Antonio Escoda was court-martialed for the crime of treason and sentenced to death on November 24, 1944, along with General Vicente Lim. She was offered freedom in December 1944, but her loyalty to her husband was so strong she preferred to die with him in prison.
Josefa was last seen on January 29, 1945. She was then apparently taken and held in one of the Far Eastern University buildings occupied by the Japanese. It was presumed that she was executed. It was also assumed that her body lies in a common grave in the North Cemetery or Chinese Cemetery together worth others who was executed.
In recognition of her outstanding achievements and dedicated service to humanity, she was named Distinguished Alumna in the field of social service, and a diploma of honor in recognition of her signal achievements was conferred on her posthumously in 1951 by the Philippine Normal College. The American Red Cross posthumously awarded silver medal, the biggest honor given by the organization.
In May 1948, the U.S. Army and Navy awarded Josefa and her husband posthumously the Medal of Freedom with gold leaf, for her services to the Filipino prisoners of World War II. The Armed Forces of the Philippines awarded her the Philippine Legion of Honor Medal.
The Girl Scouts of the Philippines pays homage to Josefa Llanes Escoda every September 20 by celebrating her birth anniversary with activities that would create further awareness of her martyrdom and contribution to youth development.
A street and a building have also been named after her and a monument has been dedicated to her memory. She is also depicted on the 1000-peso bill as one of three Filipinos martyred by the Japanese Armed Forces.
- de Guzman, Jovita V., Vicente A. Santiago, Remedios T. de Leon and Teresita E. Erestain. Women Of Distinction; Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and the Present. Philippines: Bukang Liwayway, 1967.