Philippine Kulot Heroes
When we think of a spy, we probably think about the men in black suits, probably with their cool, sci-fi material pen cameras. Or maybe we think of undercover girls fighting in six-inch heels.
But spies have existed even way back, and they were the ones you most probably won’t even suspect of.
After all, they’re a spy.
One kulot Filipina named Josefina Guerrero became a war hero during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines by being a secret courier. She held important documents between the Philippine guerillas and the American forces against the Japanese.
Her biggest weapon? Leprosy.
Josefina, born in 1917, was stricken with Leprosy during the time when medication was hard to come by. Because of the war, her treatment stopped and her condition worsened. Because of the stigma that came with leprosy, her daughter was even taken away from her. Instead of yielding to death, she pushed herself to aid the guerillas, despite their initial protests.
She was only in her early 20’s when she took on this very risky position. She would often hide messages in her hair and even between her socks.
Because of her Leprosy, the Japanese soldiers who usually conducted full body searches, would avoid her so she was able to get away. Over time, her role became bigger and more significant. She was able to map out fortifications and gun emplacements on the Manila waterfront, which the American bombers used to take out the Japanese defenses.
Her most dangerous, and highly important mission, was to carry a map of minefields guarding Manila to the Americans. They will help them safely get to Manila as they end the three-year Japanese occupation. Despite her health, she walked 25 miles to the town of Malolos, hired a boat, and walked another 8 miles to her destination.
When the war was finally over, Josefina entered a leprosarium. The nurses were scarce but the Americans sent her medical supplies and packages. She was also given a visa and since then lived in America where she strived to forget her history in the war (even to the point of changing her name) because of the trauma.
Although she wasn’t acknowledged in her death for her heroic contribution in the war, her name has been recently getting its much deserve recognition.
Another kulot hero that we want to celebrate is Magdalena Leones, also dubbed as the Lioness of Filipino Guerilla Agents.
Magdalena, born in 1920, was a child of a Filipino missionary in the Cordilleras. Before the war broke out, she was a teacher studying to become a nun. Her fearlessness was embodied even at a young age as she was one of the Filipinos who did not surrender after the fall of Bataan. Because of this she was imprisoned for 5 months.
However, her time spent in prison was not in vain as she took this time to learn Nihonggo or the Japanese language. This later on became her main weapon in saving countless lives.
After getting out of prison, she witnessed the execution of young Filipinos which prompted her to do something. She went from town to town getting Filipinos out of danger. During that time, moving outside your town was prohibited, but because of Magdalena’s confidence, she was able to convince the Japanese soldiers in Nihonggo that they had just come from a wedding.
Magdalena eventually also became a part of the USAFIP-NL. She was in charge of exchanging intelligence amongst resistance leaders and procured medical supplies despite the Japanese checkpoints.
By the time she was 25 years old, she was captured 3 times, but was able to get out because of her quick thinking, thus her nickname “The lioness of Filipino Guerilla Agents.”
She also joined as part of the Philippine Army and was made a corporal. She continued gathering information and was part of the Medical Company and the Signal Corps towards the end of the war.
Because of her bravery, Colonel Volckmann recommended that Magdalena Leones receive the Silver Medal, “for gallantry in action in Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 27 February to 26 September 1944.” The silver medal is the United States’s third highest military decoration. She was the fifth woman and the only Asian woman to be awarded the Silver Medal.These stories of Magdalena and Josefina, these narratives of bravery, are worth celebrating. These show what we Filipinos are capable of, and that when fighting for the right things, we have so much heroism within us.