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The Roles of Cabatuan Women during World War II

By Shella Marcela Villanueva

Villanueva, Shella Marcela. "The Roles of Cabatuan Women during World War II." Augustinian 3, 1. Iloilo City: University of San Agustin-Center for Research and Publications, 1999.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Research and Publication of the University of San Agustin.


The Filipino woman played different roles in the various phases of Philippine history. Yet, in accounts relating the struggle of the country for its freedom, however, Filipino women are often unrecognized.   Moreover, “most of the writings about women have been done by men who have plumbed the depths of feminine thinking... and have proclaimed that women are shrouded in mystery” (Carpio, 1997).

Ms. Fe. V. Grio and Dr. Lucrecia Murga


In commemoration of the centennial of the declaration of Philippine Independence, it is but proper that the Filipino woman’s role in history be highlighted. This is an opportunity to make everyone aware of her contribution to what the country is today.

This paper, therefore, is an attempt to present history from the woman’s perspective, to understand her roles as only she could see and the significance of these roles she played.

Specifically, this paper aims to determine the roles played by Cabatuan women during World War II, as well as the importance they gave to these roles.



Cabatuan is located 24 kilometers from Iloilo City on the western portion of the province of Iloilo. In this study, Cabatuananon refers to the residents of the said municipality.

The background and supporting data included in this paper were gathered through library research and interview of some key women in the town of Cabatuan, Iloilo. Informants were identified through referrals of the president of the Cabatuan Historical Society.

In the interview, some women of the municipality of Cabatuan, Iloilo were asked to relate their war experiences, with emphasis on the particular roles they played during the war. The sisters, Mrs. Ascencio and Ms. Grio, were interviewed together. The three other informants were interviewed individually.   Another major source of information was the autobiography of a war veteran.



Women have played major roles in each phase of the history of the country. 

During the pre-Spanish period, the ancient Malay tradition of equality between men and women existed (Rojas-Aleta, et al., 1977: 13).  Among the early Filipinos and even among non-Christian minorities, no marked preferences were manifested for either a male or a female child (Infante, 1969: 14-15).  In the family then, the woman, like her brother, was entitled to inheritance, and among the Tagalog speakers, the husband referred to his wife as ang aking maybahay (the lady of my home), which may be indicative of her equality with the master of the house  (Hidalgo-Lim, 1967: 38-39).

During the Spanish period, the law underlined man’s superiority and the woman’s limited capacity to act (Rojas-Aleta, 1977: 13).  Because of this, the Filipino women began to take the “supporting” role in society.  Only a few of them were noted in history books: Agueda Kahabagan, woman general of Laguna; Trinidad Tecson, fighting war nurse of Bulacan; Teresa Magbanua, the Visayan Joan of Arch (Zaide, 1961:  302), Gabriela Silang, Melchora Aquino, and Gregoria de Jesus (Rojas-Aleta, 1977: 14), among others.  These women contributed their share in the struggle to gain the Filipinos’ freedom from the Spaniards.

When the Spaniards were in the verge of defeat amid the resistance of the Filipinos, the Americans entered the colonization race.  The Americans joined in the fight between the Spaniards and the Filipino forces and with the negotiations between the two parties, the Filipinos “long for peace and are willing to accept government under the United States” (Agoncillo, 1977: 280).  The American authorities took over the government and prepared the country for self-government.  Before the end of the ten-year preparatory period that the Americans required before granting the country its independence, Japanese naval bombers attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. On December 8, 1941, war was declared against Japan.


Japanese Occupation in Cabatuan

When it was learned that the Japanese were coming, many families, particularly from the city, evacuated to Cabatuan.  Because of this, the town officials organized the people.  Female teachers were recruited to participate in the campaign for food production and first-aid training.

On August 30, 1943, the Japanese penetrated the barrios of Baluyan, Tigbauan Road, Sulanga and Pagotpot, all in the municipality of Cabatuan.

Because of the news, many of the families evacuated from the town because the guerrilla members had warned them that they would burn the town to avoid its occupation by the Japanese.

The Japanese set up garrisons in the barangays of Tiring and Tabucan in Cabatuan and near the water dam in Maasin, as well as in neighboring towns.

Many families evacuated the town proper or the poblacion to go to the barangays or the mountains to hide and to elude the Japanese.  The Japanese soldiers were notorious for conducting  juez de cuchillio, so called because anyone they met— men, women, children, aged persons and animals— they would bayonet or cut off the heads with samurai swords (Cabatuan Historical Society, 1977: 16).  Lucrecia Murga recalled an incident that happened towards the end of the world war: “In our farm in Bulay (a barangay in the municipality of Cabatuan), there were many members of the Janiga and Parreño families who evacuated there.  At first we were living near one another, but later on we (including her sister, Lucia Murga) left the barrio and went back to the town because we learned that the Japanese were retreating.  I heard the news that when the Japanese retreat, everyone should be careful not to be caught on their way because they will kill everyone.  The Japanese were on foot because the retreat point then was the mountainous portion of Ma-asin (a neighboring town of Cabatuan).  The Japanese passed by Pavia and went through Bulay.  At that time, the Jainga and Parreño families hid themselves in holes dug for that purpose but then a child cried.  The passing Japanese soldiers heard the baby so that they came to investigate.  They massacred all the people there, the women were sliced in two daw ginpakas, (from the Jaingas, there were many and the Parreño sisters daw gin pakas), and the heads were cut off.  Lucky for us we had a place to go but for them they did not have any alternative, thus it happened.”


Roles of Women

The women then played various roles in the family.  Some were wives-housekeepers, others worked particularly as teachers, and the younger women were either staying at home helping their mothers or were studying.

As Housekeepers

With the evacuation from the town, most of the women interviewed said that they continued to do their domestic roles such as maintaining the home as a daughter or wife should.  According to Mrs. Asencio, her family evacuated to the mountainous portion of Panay because her husband was a military man who was said to have come from “an occupied territory” and might be mistaken for a Japanese sympathizer.  She asserted that the guerrilla fighters from the town who knew their family might not harm them but for the people who did not recognize them, they might be considered a danger.

In the mountains, she maintained the house, where she also delivered her child.  Considering that provisions were scarce during the Japanese occupation, she would send somebody to Puyas, a barangay in Cabatuan where their family owned property, to get things they needed.  She would barter the sugar, ginamos (salted shrimp), and dried fish to the Bukidnon (or residents of the mountains) in exchange for bananas and camote (sweet potatoes).

Evangelina Villanueva (nee Garrido) was a young student then when Mayor Juan Garrido, her uncle who stayed with her family, was beheaded by the Japanese.  Her family evacuated to the town proper and went into hiding.  As a young student at that time, she worked in their evacuation place by helping her mother and her siblings in the household chores.

Ms. Grio, who had been a teacher before the war, also moved with her family from the poblacion to Puyas, a barangay where the Grio family had tracts of land and a sugar mill.  She helped in the house by entertaining and providing food for the members of the army (guerrilla forces), who would stay in their place.  Their stay in the place would last for a week or more.  She said that they gave everything for free because the army did not earn any “salary” anyway.  Their tinawo, or workers, were mobilized to slaughter animals, like pigs or cows, as a source of viand not just for the family but also for the visiting military personnel.

Some of the food stuffs produced were also bartered with the goods, such as dried fish which were peddled around by traders.  When the condition was relatively safe, peddlers continued to sell their goods, and food was a commodity that could easily be exchanged for things that they needed.

Aside from the fact that these women performed tasks that many of them would have delegated to the house helpers before the war, they also had to cater to the needs of the family themselves, as well as those of the visiting Filipino soldiers that came along.  Entertaining and procuring food for their needs were relatively difficult then, considering the war condition.  According to Torio (1989), history sorely missed the story of non-fighting men and women who provided housing and logistical support to transient guerrillas.


As Medical Aide Volunteer

Lucrecia Murga, who was a student then, volunteered to be trained in first aid.  According to her, it was Rose Belisario, an experienced Girl Scout and trained first-aid volunteers to care for the sick and wounded.  Murga described her as having been “trained under Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda, the head of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines before the war, who also became a heroine in her own right, serving the country until the Japanese arrested and killed her.”

There were twenty or more who heeded the call for volunteers and the training was done in the town.  Some of them were evacuees to the municipality.  There was even a graduation ceremony for the trainees in first aid.

After the Japanese forces had landed, one of the important garrisons which they put up was near the water dam in the mountainous portion of Maasin.  The guerrilla or Filipino fighters raided the garrison but considering their lack of weapons and training, many of them were wounded.

Dr. Jose Ma. Roldan recruited volunteers to the medical team.  There were many medical students from Manila responded to the call and so did trained women first aiders like Lucrecia Murga, and their trainer, Ms. Belisario.  Since Ma-asin is a neighboring town of Cabatuan, they reported to a barangay near the dam where they set up a makeshift hospital for the wounded Filipino military fighters.  Since they lacked provisions, it was also the role of the women to go around the villages to look for materials to be used.  They went around and asked families for any supplies they could spare.  Cotton mosquito nets were cut and boiled to be used as bandages.  Guava leaves were collected and boiled and were used as antiseptics.

In the makeshift hospital, the women were often so tired that they would just pass out, only to wake up beside dead soldiers.

When the soldiers decided to transfer, the first-aid group moved to another barangay in Janiuay, also a neighboring town of Cabatuan.  During the move, the women had to help carry and aid the wounded as they crossed mountains and streams.  There was a case of a soldier who had appendicitis and was operated on without anesthesia, and due to lack of equipment, the doctor operated on the patient using an ordinary knife and a fork.

The makeshift hospital was monitored by the Japanese because the latter had observed movements from a surveillance helicopter.  The place was bombed and they tried to hide in foxholes which were flooded by water.

The group later on moved to Patong-Patong and was joined by other Cabatuananon women like Oping Tarazona, Salvacion and Trinidad Patrimonio, Maria Alcalde, a nurse from Sta. Barbara, and Inday Nava of Iloilo. After a while, the group was disbanded.


As Food Production Campaigners

Even with the news that the Japanese were coming, teachers in the municipality were advised to conduct food production drives to prepare for whatever eventuality.  When the Japanese finally came, many teachers moved away with their families from the center of the town to the barangays where they were not in direct contact with the Japanese soldiers.

Like other teachers, Ms. Grio performed other tasks aside from the domestic ones.  One of these was to campaign to the residents of Puyas, the place where they stayed, to continue to their production of food.  Food production was important in places which were relatively peaceful.  The food products were not only for local consumption but were also sent to other places where some other members of the family had evacuated.

According to Ms. Grio, the food supply produced during the war was sufficient for their consumption, particularly at that time when the family also owned a sugar mill that continued to produce sugar they needed.


As Teachers

Aside from being a wife and mother, Mrs. Asencio also played the role of teacher and coordinator of the activities of the people in their evacuation area.  Since they moved to the mountainous portion of the island, they lived with the bukidnon, or the mountain dwellers.  She took it as her responsibility to teach them proper hygiene, which they had ignored.  She also taught the local residents about the preparation and preservation of food other than what they were used to.  Because of this, there were 42 members in her household then.


As Couriers

Being a girl or a woman during the war had some advantage in the efforts against Japan.  After the health volunteer group was disbanded, Lucrecia Murga joined the Civil Government of Governor Tomas Confesor, himself a Cabatuananon.  Her role was to carry messages from Confesor, who had established the seat of his civil resistance government in the mountains of Bucari in Leon, to the people in the Japanese occupied Iloilo City.

One of the missions which Confesor gave to women was to transmit messages.  Ms. Murga at that time was to give a message to a certain Espeleta and the family of his wife, Rosing Grecia, that they should vacate the city because of the plan to bomb it.  As a young woman, Murga easily passed the scrutiny of the Japanese and she kept Confesor’s message close to her body to avoid detection.  In one incident, she was able to board one of the Japanese vehicles bound for Iloilo City, with Japanese soldiers guarding both sides of the said vehicles.

Women were also delegated to procure office materials and transport these secretly to the camp of the civil government which coordinated the resistance effort of the islands of both Panay and Romblon.  Murga was accompanied one time by Angelina Gallana to buy contraband goods like typewriter ribbons, reams of bond paper and other office supplies.  They would ride a cart pulled by cows and pretend that they would go to the city to barter the products from the rural area for dried goods such as dried fish, salt, etc.  On the way home, they would keep the materials they had bought under the containers of bartered items.

Women in the town were designated to monitor enemy movements, like the number of Japanese military personnel and tanks present, as well as the movement of troops.  They would notify resistance fighters of the information gathered.

Murga mentioned that she was among the first to enter the city after the American Air Force planes bombed the retreating Japanese soldiers (this was before they had landed).  Together with Mr. Orica, a relative, they rented a calesa from Cabatuan to the city, bringing rice and other foodstuff to her brother and his family residing in Quezon Street.  The road from Pavia to the city was littered with dead Japanese soldiers and destroyed armored cars loaded with sugar, rice and other provisions intended for the Japanese’ retreat to the mountains of Ma-asin before they surrendered to the American forces.

According to Padilla, “in accounts about wars and revolutions, history has been kind(er) to men than to women...  Although women may have contributed significantly to the war effort, their heroic deeds and sacrifices remained unsung, unappreciated and sometimes unrecorded” (1995).  This is thus to document the contribution of the women in their effort to fight the Japanese invaders in Cabatuan during the Second World War.



Women during the war had contributed their share in the effort against the Japanese.  They continued to fulfill their roles in the house and did domestic tasks and provided for the needs of their families and the guerrilla fighters as well.  Some of them also work as first aid volunteers, message couriers and even purchasers of office supplies for the Civil Government.

The implication of the roles played was such that domestic roles and support functions such as efforts for food production were taken for granted and more importance was given to active participation, as in the role of medical volunteers and couriers during the war.

These contributions of women were often taken for granted by the great majority of the populace, but somehow, the researcher believes that these “supporting” roles they played had contributed much in the psychological assurance of the fighting men that they have a wife, sister, mother or daughter to go home to and take care of their needs, and relieve their aches resulting from their wounds.

As a whole the war did not result to a redefinition of gender roles when it comes to women in Cabatuan, Iloilo but rather the roles they played were viewed as supplements because of the need of the time of what they have done before the war to what they are still doing today.




Asencio, Cardidad G.

Former vice-mayor; daughter of the last municipal president and first municipal mayor under the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. She was married to the late Salvador Asencio during the war.  Her husband was a member of the military.


Grio, Fe V.

Daughter of the first municipal mayor of the town; she was a teacher before and after the war.


Murga, Lucrecia T.

Doctor in Linguistics; former Dean of La Consolacion College, Bacolod and Colegio de San Jose, Jaro, Iloilo City.  She was a first aid volunteer during the war.


Padilla, Sinforoso.

President, Cabatuan Historical Society, first mayor of Cabatuan under the Republic of the Philippines; joined the guerrilla with the rank of lieutenant and for three years was the Intelligence Officer of the 63rd Infantry Regiment, 6th Military District.


Villanueva, Evangelina.

Retired teacher, niece of then Mayor Juan Garrido; a student when the war broke out.





Agoncillo,  Teodoro A. and Milagros C. Guerrero.  History of the Filipino People.  5th ed Quezon City:  R.P. Garcia Publishing Co. 1977.


Cabatuan Historical Society. Cabatuan: Its History and People.  Makati, Metro Manila: Bookhaven, Inc., 1977.

Carpio, Rustica C. “Unveiling a Woman”.  Manila Bulletin, Vol. 292, No. 7, April 7,  1997:11


Hidalgo-Lim, Pilar., “Women’s Suffrage Since 1937,’’ Summer Cultural Series.(Manila:)  University of   Santo Tomas, 1967, pp. 38-39.


Infante, Teresita R. Women in Early Philippines and Among the Cultural Minorities.      Manila:  University of Santo Tomas, 1969.


Rojas-Aleta, Isabel, Teresita L. Silva and Chrstine P. Eliazar.  A Profile of Filipino Women:  Their Status and Role.  Manila, Philippines: Capitol Publishing House, Inc., 1977.


Torio, Tita S. “Women in Local History: Focus on Iloilo” (a Preliminary Study).  Papers on the First Local Conference on Ilonggo Culture and History.  Center for West      Visayan Studies, Monograph Series No. 2, 1990.


Zaide, Gregorio F. Philippine History: Development of our Nation. Manila: Bookman, Inc, 1961



Unpublished Materials

Padilla, Sinforoso A. Cabatuan and Sinforoso Padilla, An Unpublished Autobiography.