The Roles of Cabatuan Women during
World War II
By Shella Marcela 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.
permission from the Center for Research and Publication of the
University of San Agustin.
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,
Ms. Fe. V. Grio
and Dr. Lucrecia Murga
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.
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.
this paper aims to determine the roles played by Cabatuan women
during World War II, as well as the importance they gave to these
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.
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.
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).
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
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
December 8, 1941, war was declared against Japan.
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
On August 30,
1943, the Japanese penetrated the barrios of Baluyan, Tigbauan Road,
Sulanga and Pagotpot, all in the
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.
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
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
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.
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
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).
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
As Medical Aide
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
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.
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
Dr. Jose Ma. Roldan recruited volunteers to the
medical team. There were many medical students from
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
Grio, Fe V.
the first municipal mayor of the town; she was a teacher before and
after the war.
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.
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.
teacher, niece of then Mayor Juan Garrido; a student when the war
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