Courage in the Face of Adversity: Josefa Llanes-Escoda

For the month of March, Belle de Jour Power Planner is celebrating the lives of…

For the month of March, Belle de Jour Power Planner is celebrating the lives of different women in our current online campaign, “Women Beyond Borders.”  Let’s be inspired by their stories of breaking barriers and making their dreams happen.

Josefa Llanes-Escoda is popularly known as the woman on the one thousand-peso bill. You may also recognize her as the founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. What not many know, however, is that she played a pivotal role in offering aid to Filipino soldiers in World War II.

Pepa, as she was fondly called, completed her education degree in the Philippines. She later flew to New York to obtain her degree in social work. In 1926, she flew back to her homeland to jumpstart community work.

Together with her husband, Antonio, Pepa began a movement that paved the way for various humanitarian causes and the empowerment of countless Filipinas.

While traveling around the US and Europe for social work initiatives, Antonio and Pepa got wind of Germany invading Poland. In fear that the war would extend to Asia, the couple immediately took action in preparing their countrymen.

Pepa gathered the 800 National Federation of Women’s Clubs across the country to educate and prepare women of their duties and roles amidst the imminent threat of war.

In addition, Pepa and Antonio mobilized troops and worked undercover to help prisoners of war connect with their families in Manila. But their heroic acts came to a halt when Japanese soldiers learned of these hidden transactions. Antonio joined General Vicente Lim to Samar, where they were supposed to join General Douglas MacArthur; however, they were captured in Batangas and executed by Japanese forces.

Knowing that her own arrest was imminent, Pepa sent the following message to a friend:

“If you survive, tell the people that the women of the Philippines did their part in making the ember sparks of truth and liberty alive till the last moment.”

Pepa was arrested in August 1944 and executed less than a year later. Despite her tragic demise, her courage and audacity to fight for the country are worth emulating, even today.

On the 20th of September, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines pays tribute to Pepa for her contributions in our country’s sovereignty. She also fought for the Filipinas’ suffrage at the time where only men had the right to vote.

In September 2018, Google featured Josefa on their homepage in commemoration of her 120th birth anniversary–a worldwide recognition of her martyrdom for the Filipinas and our country.

Josefa Llanes-Escoda’s legacy lives on in every Filipina. May her life and example inspire us to fight for what we believe is right and empower others to do the same.



Journaling questions:

Here are some questions that you can reflect on and journal. You can also use these as conversation starters with your friends:

  1. Pepa was not alone in fighting for her country—she and her husband Antonio collaborated in nation-building. Is there someone in your life whom you can partner with in pursuing your dreams? How has he or she made a difference in your life?
  2. Pepa’s life proves her willingness to forsake comfort and familiarity for the sake of the country and its people. How far are you willing to go to achieve your life’s purpose? What sacrifices are you willing to make to attain it?