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Sharpshooters and spies: The unsung Filipina heroes of war

Sharpshooters and spies: The unsung Filipina heroes of war

  • What does a nun in training, a movie star and a journalist have in common? They were all women who fought in the historical wars of the Philippines
Unsung Filipina Heroes Heroines header nolisoliph

History is written by the victors—and those victors are often men. So much of history has glossed over or completely ignored the contributions that women have made in favor of the men writing it. 

The women who were emphasized in the history books mostly took on roles that were “better suited” to the fairer sex, like caregivers and medics. While those are definitely important parts to play, it would be a crime not to recognize the generals, spies and soldiers who got their hands dirty in times of war. 

Januaria Constantino Keller

Before World War Two, Januaria Constantino Keller was a bonafide movie star. She was a darling of the screen and acted under the stage name “Carmen Rosales.” When her husband died at the hands of the Japanese, she went underground and joined the resistance group Hukbo Laban sa Hapon as a sharpshooter. 

Keller would disguise herself as a man, often sporting a fake mustache to conceal her identity. After the war, she went on to star in the 1946 film “Guerilyera,” a movie that dramatized her life as a freedom fighter. 

Magdalena Leones

Magdalena Leones was an intelligence agent (read: spy) and the only Asian woman to be awarded the Silver Star Medal for her efforts during World War 2. Before the war broke out, she was a schoolteacher studying to become a nun. 

She taught herself how to speak Nihongo while being imprisoned for refusing to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army. She transported vital information through Japanese controlled territories, as well as supplies like radio parts and medical supplies. 

Valeria “Yay” Panlilio

Yay Panlilio was another Filipino intelligence agent that was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom for her contributions to World War 2. Prior to the war, she was working as a journalist for The Manila Tribune. 

When the war broke out, she worked as a radio broadcaster that would include secret codes in her broadcasts—which the Japanese forces hunted her down for. She successfully evaded capture by hiding in the Sierra Madre mountains and eventually became the second-in-command of Marking’s Guerilla forces. 

Felipa Culala

Felipa Culala led and organized one of the first guerilla forces against the Japanese. Under the moniker of “Dayang-Dayang” she led a detachment of 35 men in the Battle of Mandili—one of the first successful attacks against the Japanese Imperial Army. 

Due to her success on the battlefield, she earned a spot in Hukbalahap’s military committee as the only female high-ranking member of the organization. 

Marcela Marcelo

Prior to joining the revolutionary movement against the Spaniards, Marcela Marcelo lived a comfortable, well-to-do life. When her husband was arrested by the Guardia Sibil, she joined the revolutionary forces as a fighter—and eventually—a general. 

She earned the title “Selang Bagsik,” due to her expertise in handling a bolo on the battlefield. She gave her life for the liberation of the Philippines after dying in a battle against the Spanish forces. © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.


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