This month is International Women’s Month. And to the unfortunate surprise of the Urban Roamer himself, this site has not done any content related to this occasion for the past 11 years. Not this time.
Thus today’s Urban Roamer feature takes to Ermita in Manila. Right along Padre Faura Street stands the Girl Scouts of the Philippines National Headquarters, where one can find not only the offices of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (if it wasn’t obvious enough) but also a monument of founder who herself is one of the most iconic women in Philippine history: Josefa Llanes Escoda.
Born in Dingras, Ilocos Norte on September 20, 1898, Josefa Llanes was an academic achiever, having received honors in high school in her hometown and college at what is now Philippine Normal University, where she graduated with an education degree in 1919. She afterwards became a social worker for the Philippine Chapter of the American Red Cross, which in turn granted her a scholarship for further studies. Thus she took up and finished a master’s degree in Sociology at Columbia University in 1925. It was around this period when she got married to a journalist of the Philippine Press Bureau named Antonio Escoda, with whom she would have two children.
In the Philippines, she became a prominent voice in advocating women’s rights in the country. She pushed for women’s suffrage and for women to have a greater role in government. She was keen on promoting the Philippines too. While in America, she was wearing the Philippine apparel of the baro’t saya to arouse foreign interest in the country.
As an educator and social worker, she sought ways to promote the welfare of the Filipino people, especially the women. So when she learned about the Girl Scout movement which was growing around the time, she was determined to bring the movement over to the country.
Now girl scouts in the country was not a novel idea. In fact, there were girl scouts in the country, organized by American servicemen as far back as 1918. However, these girl scouts were part of the Girl Scouts of America as the country did not have a scout organization of its own, being a US colony and all.
What made Josefa attracted to the Girl Scout movement is something that can only be based on conjecture; she may have been impressed with the idea of teaching women at a young age how to serve their community and the country in general. It must also be noted that around the time she was considering the idea of girl scouts in the Philippines, the threat of war went from imminent to real and there was a greater need than ever to be prepared for what was to come, the training for which scouting can provide.
Josefa Llanes Escoda returned to America in 1939 precisely to learn and be trained in the scouting movement. The Boy Scouts of the Philippines, which was already established 3 years prior, provided her support during the training. Upon her return, she wasted little time in setting up what would become the Girl Scouts of the Philippines with the help of fellow civic leader and women’s advocate Pilar Hidalgo-Lim, and other civic groups.
The Girl Scouts of the Philippines would be officially established with the enactment of Commonwealth Act No. 542 on May 26, 1940. However, it was forced to temporarily cease operations by 1942 when the Japanese invaded the country in the midst of World War II. Regardless, Josefa and her husband Antonio continued to serve the country. She organized a group of volunteers who braved the dangers of occupation to do various works such as ferrying messages between war prisoners and their families, recording the names of those imprisoned in Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac, provide essential items to students stranded in Manila during that period as well as, covertly, to those imprisoned in camps, and organize community kitchens across the city.
Suffice to say, the Japanese officials got word of Josefa’s activities and were none too pleased. They had her husband Antonio arrested in June 1944, and she herself would be arrested two months later. Antonio would be executed by the Japanese at Fort Santiago where the couple were imprisoned, though no records remained regarding the details of his execution such as the exact date.
Josefa Llanes Escoda would last be seen alive on January 6, 1945 as she was taken by the Japanese inside Far Eastern University looking very weak and beaten. It is thought that she was executed in the campus, then eventually buried in an unmarked grave in either La Loma Cemetery or the Manila Chinese Cemetery, both areas known to be where the Japanese forces bury those they have executed during the war for resisting their rule.
Despite the death of Josefa Llanes Escoda, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines carried on and resumed after the war. In 1946, it was accepted as a “tenderfoot member” (equivalent of being a junior member) of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). It would eventually rise to become a full member 2 years later.
For her invaluable contributions as a civic leader, women’s rights advocate, and mother of the Philippine girl scouts, Josefa Llanes Escoda has been honored in various ways, from being immortalized in Philippine currency to at least 2 streets in the City of Manila named after her. But perhaps the most special is the aforementioned monument dedicated to her memory.
Apart from the monument, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines National Headquarters is a testament to the growth of the organization into what it is today. Consisting of three buildings, the complex actually has a number of facilities available for use such as an auditorium, training facilities, a social hall dedicated to Josefa Llanes Escoda, and a dormitory available even for non- Girl Scouts.