The Angels of Bataan and Guerrilleras- Contributions of Filipina Women as Healers and Fighters during World War II
by Isaiah Bautista and Victor Jaramillo
When discussing the Philippines’ involvement in World War II, it is essential to recognize the contributions of Filipina women who served as healers and resistance fighters. On December 31, 1941, 25 Filipina and 77 American nurses arrived in Bataan and established hospitals to care for soldiers, civilians, and even Japanese prisoners (Elfried and Norman122). However, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippines, American nurses were ordered to evacuate further south to Corregidor while Filipino nurses stayed in Bataan. Despite these orders, some Filipino nurses followed head nurse Josie Nesbit to Corregidor after witnessing her “steadfast determination” to stay behind with the Filipino nurses (Wieskamp 46).
Then on April 9, 1942, around “60,000 - 80,000” Filipino and American soldiers surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during the Battle of Bataan and started the Bataan Death March, which was a violent and deadly 65-mile-long journey from Mariveles in the Bataan Peninsula to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac province. (“Battle of Bataan”). For the next three years, many POWs lost their lives to starvation, dehydration, extreme weather, violence from the IJA, and diseases such as malaria and dengue. The nurses who stayed behind in Bataan and cared for POWs during the march were dubbed the “Angels of Bataan.” Three notable Filipinas from the Angels of Bataan were Carmen Lanot, Bruna R. Calvan, and Guedelia M. Pablan, a pinay doctor who received her medical degree at Santo Tomas University. (Ritt 346). While the bombings of their hospital and convent required them to move to fish ponds, they were determined to provide healthcare and other necessities to soldiers and civilians. Every month, Carmen Lanot would travel across Manila Bay on a banca (narrow canoe) to drop off resources such as quinine and rice. Dr. Pablan risked her life to secretly provide Americans and the guerrillas living in the mountains with resources such as quinine to treat malaria (Ritt 346). After a Japanese captain suspected her of assisting the guerrillas, Pablan and Lanot ceased their journeys to the mountains. Instead, they sent trustworthy friends to the mountains or notified the guerrillas at times that they could safely visit the nurses. Pablan also encouraged the civilians and her male technicians to “join the guerrillas” and assist them in any way possible (Ritt 347). Even after the liberation of POWs, the three Filipina nurses decided to stay in Bataan and establish their hospital in a school building.
The experiences of Filipina guerrillas who fought the Japanese in the frontlines, known as guerrilleras, are critical pieces of information to be told as well. The battle and resistance they contributed in opposition to the Japanese largely gave rise to the victory against occupation and imperialism in the Philippines. Remedios Gomez-Paraiso, known as Kumander Liwayway was a major figure of the guerrilleras during WWII. Liwayway was a Filipina warrior who fought and defeated many Japanese forces throughout battles in the Philippines. She challenged most people’s “notions of what a Huk guerrilla fighter, let alone a commander” looked like (Nemenzo). Liwayway often went to war wearing “lipstick and pristine get-ups while brandishing her weapons with polished nails and fashionable hair updos…” (Salinas 85). In 1942, Kumander Liwayway’s father, Basilio Gomez was tortured, displayed to the public, and executed, inspiring her to pursue the Hukbalahap resistance movement and avenge her father’s death. As all women are, she was assigned to join the medical team. However, she eventually was given a squadron that she would lead in the battle that made her famous: The Battle of Kamansi. Though hugely outnumbered and ordered to retreat, Kumander Liwayway’s squadron continued to fight until the Japanese troops retreated. Liwayway eventually “tracked down the Japanese officer who killed her father. She found and cornered him, and got her revenge” (Nemenzo). After the war, Kumander Liwayway eventually gave birth to a son and married a husband who was later killed in a rebel camp assault during the Cold War era. Remedios Gomez-Paraiso eventually moved away to the mountains, where she would grow old to raise her child as well as her grandkids before passing away at the age of 94/95.
“Battle of Bataan: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. Accessed June 15, 2023. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/topics/battle-bataan-death-march.
E., Norman, and Elfired S. “The Angels of Bataan.” National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8340120/. Accessed June 15 2023. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.14321/rhetpublaffa.16.1.0029.pdf.
Nemenzo, Ana Maria. “Kumander Liwayway: A Feminine Warrior - Positively Filipino: Online Magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora.” Positively Filipino | Online Magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora, March 31 2021, www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/kumander-liwayway-a-feminine-warrior.
Ritt, Sergeant Carl. “Filipino Nurses on Bataan : Ajn the American Journal of Nursing.” American Journal of Nursing, journals.lww.com/ajnonline/Citation/1945/05000/Filipino_Nurses_on_Bataan.5.aspx. Accessed June 15 2023.
Wieskamp, Valerie N. The Nurses of Bataan: Liberating Wartime Heroes from Melodrama. Accessed June 16, 2023.
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