JOSEFA LLANES ESCODA
(1898 - 1945)
Great civic leader, social worker, suffragette and war Josefa Llanes Escoda or Pepa, as she was affectionately called, was on September 20, 1898 in Dingras, Ilocos Norte. She was the child of Gabriel Llanes, a music teacher, and Mercedes Madamba, sweet and loving woman who instilled in the minds of her children true Christian idea of service. Her only brother was Florencio, and five sisters were Luisa, Elvira, Rosario, Purita, and Eufrosina.
As a child, Pepa was gay, naturally active, and precocious. In her school days, she never let a day pass without reading her books studying her lessons. At the time Josefa was in the grade school, strong typhoon hit her hometown. Although the townfolks had forewarned of the impending calamity, Josefa insisted on going to school that day. Her mother stopped her, but she stubbornly said, "I'll not let the weather keep me away from school."
She finished her elementary grades as valedictorian. From Dingras, she went to Laoag where she obtained her secondary certificate. After graduation from high school at the age of 16, she persuaded her parents to allow her to study in Manila at the Philippine Normal School (now Philippine Normal College), where she became popular for her energy firmness and determination. Two years after, she graduated with honors.
In 1918, her father died during the influenza epidemic swept the Philippines and killed thousands of Filipinos. Knowing difficult it would be for her mother to take care of the six Josefa took them to Manila. She studied in the evening for a high school teacher's certificate which she acquired in 1922 from the University of the Philippines. For a short white, she taught at the Jose Rizal College, University of Manila, Far Eastern University, and Philippine Women's University.
Immediately after graduation from U.P., she gave up teaching joined the American Red Cross (Philippine Chapter) as a social worker. Before long, the Amesican Red Cross granted her a scholarship to United States where she enrolled at the New York School of Social Work to undergo intensive training in social welfare. For satisfactory work, the school awarded her the social worker's certificate in 1925.
In the United States, Josefa's hard work, intelligence, and model behavior earned praise for her and for her country. She showed her leadership anew when she joined a group of foreign students who supported wholeheartedly an International House project in New York. During her free time in the International House, she accepted speaking engagements. She spoke with eloquence. On her lecture tours to many states; it was her practice to wear Filipina dresses to arouse interest in the Philippines.
Pepa represented the Philippines at the Women's International League for Peace in 1925. Here, she met Antonio Escoda, a good looking and capable reporter from the Philippine Press Bureau whom she married later. Their marriage was blessed with two children, Maria Teresa and Antonio, Jr. In the same year, Columbia University conferred on her a master's degree in social work.
Upon her return to the Philippines in 1926, she resumed her teaching duties as a lecturer in sociology at the University of the Philippines and at the University of Santo Tomas. She entered government service by working at the Tuberculosis Commission of the Bureau of Health. At the Bureau, she was the editor of the Health Messenger. She also served in the Textbook Board, the Board of Censors for Moving Pictures, and the Labor Board. In the Philippine Anti-Leprosy Society she served as its executive secretary. She was also with the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.
Mrs. Escoda was an active member of the suffrage movement in the Philippines. Being best prepared in the tremendous job of binding together the clubwomen of the Philippines she was elected secretary of the General Council of Women which was created to coordinate the activities of the women suffrage workers. As a suffragette, she believed that "The modern woman is no longer the wife that chugs; she now helps the husband The women's demand. for independence is motivated by their desire to help their husbands in governmental affairs which always required mans moderation and wisdom of women
All the labor and efforts of the organized women and the help of so many meu were crowned with su;aoass: on December 7, 1933 when Act 4112 was. approved granting the right to vote to Filipino women
Through the intiative of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines officials and the approval of Dr. Jose Fabella, then Commissioner of Health and Public Welfare, Mrs. Escoda was sent to the United States for girl scout training. On her return to the Philippines in 1937, she founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. Despite all the initial articles which Mrs. Escoda had to meet, her efforts were rewarded on 1940 when Pres. Manuel Quezon approved Commonwealth Act No. 542 creating the GSP as a national organization.
Mrs. Escoda was also a moving spirit behind the National Federation of Women's Clubs during its formative stage, She was the elected treasurer of the federation, and was later promoted to executive secretary, a position she held for nine consecutive years. In 1941 she succeeded Mrs. Pilar Hidalgo Lim as the federation's national president, a position she held until her death.
In the field of social work, Mrs. Escoda's devotion, responsibility and unquestionable leadership were shown in her great accomplishment. She founded the Boy's Town for the under-previleged boys of Manila. She initiated a successful campaign which called for the provision of lunch and rest rooms for women workers and the installation of other facilities for their convenience. She worked hard for establishment of free nursery classes in Manila where children were served free soup and a glass of milk. She worked for the improvement of health and sanitation in rural areas, the modernization of the prison and penal system, the suppression of vices and the extension of benefits of adult education to the rural folks.
Her innate courage and deep devotion to duty was put to a supreme test when World War II broke out. She and her husband associated themselves with the Volunteer Social Aid Committee or VSAC enlisted aid for the prisoners of war. She witnessed the Death March, for she was one of those who distributed tablets to the prisoners. This intensified her eagerness to keep prisoners supplied-with food, medicine, and clothing. She took risks, in listing the, names of the prisoners in Camp O'Donnel and helping the American internees at the University of Santo Tomas, Los Baños. In Manila, she housed the stranded women and students who were unable to go back to their respective provinces following outbreak of tha war.
In J;une; 1:944, her husband was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Santiago and two months later, on August 27, she was also arrested and thrown into the dark walls of Cell No. 16 in the same fort. However, she could have left the prison had she wanted to, for she was offered freedom in December, 1944, but her loyalty to her husband was so strong she preferred to die with him in prison.
Though suffering from inhuman torture inflicted by the enemies, Mrs. Escoda remained serene and composed. She was last seen on January 6, 1945. She was then apparently taken and held in one of the Far Eastern University buildings occupied by the Japanese. It was presumed that she was executed.
In recognition of her outstanding achievements and dedicated service to humanity, she was named Distinguished Alumna in the field of social service, and a diploma of honor in recognition of her signal achievements was conferred on her posthumously in 1951 by the Philippine Normal College.
Josefa Llanes Escoda, the "Florence Nightingale of the Philippines," died a heroine. A street and a building have been named after her and a monument has been dedicated to her memory.