Josefa Llanes-Escoda was among our first women to engage in social work. This work aims to help the poor, the sick, and other unfortunate people. She also started Girl Scouting in the Philippines. She lost her life during the war while helping hungry prisoners and wounded soldiers in prison.
Parents and Education
Josefa Llanes was born in Dingras, Ilocos Norte, on September 20, 1898. She was the eldest daughter of Gabriel Llanes and Mercedes Madamba. She finished her elementary and high school studies in Laoag. Then she went to Manila and studied in the Philippine Normal School, where she graduated with honors. She next entered the University of the Philippines and got a high school teacher certificate.
The young teacher was soon chosen to go to America on a scholarship. In 1922 she was sent by the government to study in a school for social work in New York City. From there she went to Columbia University to get her Master of Arts degree.
Josefa readily made friends. She loved to help other people. This trait fitted her to be a social worker.
Upon her return to the Philippines, Josefa Llanes was appointed head of the home service of the Philippine branch of the American Red Cross. Her work was to know the problems of people who were in need and to help them.
She also served with the Philippine Anti-Leprosy Society and in the tuberculosis section of the Bureau of Health.
Josefa was soon recognized as a leader in welfare work. This energetic woman started the Girl Scout movement in the Philippines. She became the editor of the Child Health Magazine. She successively became the secretary and president of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. She also found time to work for women suffrage.
Josefa planned and carried out different projects for the welfare of women and children. She organized schools for women who wanted to learn handicrafts. She started health clinics for children. She asked the government to put up playgrounds for them.
Josefa and World War II
Josefa married a newspaperman, Antonio Escoda. He was one of the editors of the Manila Daily Bulletin. When World War II began, all Americans in the Philippines were captured and kept in prison camps by the enemy. As the war dragged on from year to year, the prisoners suffered. They lacked food, medicine, and clothes.
It was dangerous to help the Americans, for the Japanese authorities imprisoned those who helped them. But Josefa Llanes-Escoda was not afraid. As social worker, she was not allowed to visit the Santo Tomas prison camp. She secretly brought food and medicines to prisoners.
Josefa had helpers who also brought food, medicines and money to prisoners in their camps in Los Banos and Capas. The Japanese authorities suspected her of helping the prisoners. They watched all her movements.
Josefa also cheered the prisoners with news of the victories of the Americans in the war. Her husband was a leader of the guerillas. She got the news from him.
Then in 1943 her husband was arrested by the Japanese secret police. He was thrown into prison. Friends advised Josefa to hide, but she refused. She said, “Who will help the poor prisoners now that my husband is in prison? I must stay here to carry on our work.”
So she stayed in Manila. In August, 1943, she was also arrested by the Japanese police and imprisoned in Fort Santiago. During her last days, she shared her prison cell with a nun who came out of the prison alive. To this nun Josefa told her dreams and plans for the future after the war had ended. Among her plans was to extend the Girl Scout movement, to organize more clubs for women, and to build more community kitchens.
Fate did not allow Josefa to realize her dreams. She never left her prison cell alive. She was killed there in bombing of Manila in 1945.
After the Americans freed the Philippines, the American Red Cross awarded a silver medal to Josefa Llanes- Escoda. This medal was to honor her even after her death. It is the highest honor given by the American Red Cross to men and women who have best served their country and fellowmen.