Heritage
5 Famous Spies Who Made Philippine History
Most of them were women.
IMAGE U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS OFFICER GAETANO FAILLACE/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Last year, Peter Eisner authored a book called MacArthur’s Spies, accompanied by the subhead “The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II.” Here, the author chronicles the secret lives of three American personalities in detail, taking readers behind the closed doors of the world of espionage in the Philippines.

From providing shelter and supplies to the displaced to rallying the guerrilla forces, these spies altered the course of World War II in their own ways.

Inspired by Eisner’s book, we take a look back at the spies who made Philippine history.

1. Patrocinio Gamboa

Known as the “Heroine of Jaro,” Gamboa hailed from a prominent family in Iloilo—which served as the perfect cover for her position in the revolution during the Spanish regime. As an intelligence agent, she raised funds for the movement and tended to the injured as a Red Cross nurse. One of her most crucial contributions was taking the Philippine flag to the inauguration of the revolutionary government in the Visayas. She managed the feat by hiding the flag under her garments.

2. Josefina Guerrero

The story of Josefina Guerrero (née Veluya) is unlike any you’ve ever heard of. Celebrated in Manila society in her youth, Guerrero was married to a wealthy student, who studied medicine at the University of Santo Tomas. But just as the war was reaching its peak, Guerrero contracted leprosy, which caused her husband to take their two-year-old daughter and leave her.

Thinking herself on the verge of death with little to lose, she volunteered as part of the resistance movement and worked with U.S. forces in what she thought were the last years of her life. She reported Japanese activity and shockingly provided the American troops with information of a vital secret tunnel with the information she obtained from infiltrating her camp.

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Later on, her unfortunate disease proved useful to her profession. She took on a bigger role and became a courier, since the Japanese soldiers did not inspect her, a leper, thoroughly.  

When the war ended, the U.S. government awarded her a Medal of Freedom for saving the lives of numerous American soldiers. She later moved to Louisiana and sought treatment. After another failed marriage and another change of name—she was known to her friends as “Joey Leaumax”—the venerated hero died at the age of 68.

In 2016, Guerrero's biography called The Leper Spy, written by Ben Montgomery, became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

3. Chick Parsons

Posted by Jj Ong on Tuesday, August 22, 2017

One of Eisner’s main characters was Chick Parsons, an American expat, who, before the war, was recognized for his polo skills and accepted as an esteemed member of Manila society. His life-threatening tasks were to rally the guerrilla forces around the archipelago and provide them with medical supplies, weapons, and radios. His presence alone was hope enough for these men and women, as it was to them a sign that MacArthur will keep his promise. “It was touching to observe the gratitude of the men for the supplies,” Parsons wrote in a letter to President Manuel L. Quezon, which was uncovered by Eisner. “It showed them that they were not abandoned, that their efforts were known to and appreciated by General MacArthur—it gave them new life.”

Even before the war, he was already a spy for the American government, stationed in Manila with his family. (One of his grandchildren is T&C cover subject Maria Parsons). When war broke out, he took his family back to the U.S. and returned to the Philippines to take his place in the war. Later, he became one of the “main organizers” of the forces on the ground.

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4. Claire Phillips

While Phillips was not technically a spy, her valiant efforts during World War II would not go unnoticed. Born in Michigan, Phillips was both a performer and proprietor of the club “Tsubaki” located close to Manila Bay.

Her employees would gather information from Japanese soldiers—names, units, and sometimes, ship assignment—and at the end of the night, Phillips would collect that information and slyly transport it to American contacts in Bataan.

5. Magdalena Leones

Another valuable female spy in Philippine history, Leones joined the guerillas under the Philippine American military in her 20s. Before that, she was on her way to be a nun. Appointed as Corporal Leones, the heroine was awarded the Silver Star award for her contributions in World War II, making her the only Asian to have received the award.

A private person who kept to herself, Leones worked as an intelligence officer and in the course of her service, was arrested by Japanese soldiers three times. She risked her life several times, transporting vital supplies and data. She was also credited with successfully taking down Japanese planes in Tuguegarao. One of her most popular contributions to the war was gathering radio parts, which allowed the faction to communicate with General MacArthur and eventually made the Leyte landings happen.

After the war, Leones moved to the U.S. and kept her historic escapades a secret, even from her family. She died in California in 2016, at the age of 96.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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