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Just in case memory is misty

/ 05:02 AM December 20, 2021

Recently the Central Bank announced the re-design of the P1,000 bank note, replacing the portraits of three hero-martyrs — Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, Girl Scouts of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda, and Gen. Vicente Lim — with an image of the Philippine eagle, the national bird of the country. Some historians have raised a number of objections to the proposed change, citing a lack of respect for greatness and nobility. Central Bank officials say the Monetary Board decided to start a “flora and fauna” series, which does not explain why the trio of martyrs was targeted for replacement.

Our distinguished Monetary Board members are as follows: chair, Benjamin Diokno; members: Carlos Dominguez III (as I recall when he was agriculture secretary, he carried his own garment bag off the plane in Jakarta); Felipe Medalla, Peter Favila, Antonio Abacan Jr., V. Bruce J. Tolentino, and Anita Linda Aquino. They are familiar with history but let me refresh their memories and that of our people.

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In December 1941, Jose Abad Santos was sworn in as the fifth chief justice of the Supreme Court, succeeding Ramon Avanceña. He was also concurrent secretary of finance and of agriculture. When President Manuel Quezon called on his Cabinet members to proceed with him to Australia, Abad Santos asked to stay behind. By virtue of a Letter of Authority issued by Quezon, he would in effect be the acting president. Accompanied by his son Pepito, the chief justice was captured in Cebu by Japanese troops and presented with a number of demands all of which he turned down, saying that compliance would be tantamount to treason.

Abad Santos was sentenced to death by firing squad in May 1942. He gently told his son, “It is a rare opportunity for me to die for our country. Not everyone is given that chance.” An enemy officer would say he was a man every Japanese would respect. In paying tribute to Abad Santos, President Diosdado Macapagal would cite him as “the greatest martyr in the Filipino race, next only to Rizal.”

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Dubbed as the Filipino “Florence Nightingale,” Josefa Llanes Escoda was born in Dingras, Ilocos Norte, the eldest child of Mercedes Madamba and Gabriel Llanes. After graduating from the Philippine Normal School with a teacher’s degree, she was sent as a pensionado to the United States, finishing at Columbia University with a master’s degree in social work. Upon returning to the Philippines, she became the moving spirit in organizing the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, becoming its first executive director. As a suffragist, she fought for women’s rights and participation in government, dedicating much of her time and efforts advancing the cause of social justice in the country.

During the Japanese occupation, she and her husband Antonio Escoda worked with the underground, providing medicine, food, clothing, to Filipino and American prisoners of war and internees in concentration camps. They were also the link between guerilla units. She was arrested in August 1944 after the Japanese secret police became suspicious of their “social work,” and was imprisoned in Fort Santiago where her husband had earlier been detained along with Gen. Vicente Lim. Josefa Escoda was last seen alive on Jan. 6, 1945, severely beaten and weak. She is presumed to have been executed by her captors.

Gen. Vicente Lim was the first Filipino to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point. Because of his dark complexion, colonial origins, and ignorance of fellow cadets about the Philippines, he was known in the cadet corps as the “Cannibal.” In the Class of 1914, he placed No. 77 out of 107.

During the early stages of the Pacific War, General Lim commanded the all-Filipino 41st Division. In Bataan, the division inflicted some of the heaviest casualties on Japanese forces. Of their bravery and heroic actions, Lim would always give credit to his officers and enlisted men: “They are the ones who did it all. Mine is only to inspire and lead them.” After the surrender in April 1942, he would be part of the Death March, and was later held prisoner in Capas, Tarlac. Upon release, he carried on with underground work, and at one time had himself confined at the Cancer Institute of the Philippine General Hospital to avoid serving under the puppet regime. In an aborted plan to link up with a submarine that would take him to Australia, his transport would be intercepted by Japanese patrol boats. Taken prisoner he was held at Fort Santiago where he was tortured and later executed.

The remains of all three were never recovered.

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TAGS: heroes on banknotes, jose abad santos, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille, World War II Filipino heroes
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