Heroes From History: Valeria Panlilio

Valeria Panlilio

Valeria Panlilio was a spy and guerilla fighter for the Allies during the Second World War. Commonly referred to as “Colonel Yay,” she is considered to have been the brains behind the “Marking Guerillas,” a notorious resistance group in the Philippines which fought against the Japanese occupation during the war. She was born in Denver, Colorado to an Irish-American father and Filipino mother. As an adult, she left the United States and moved to the Philippines to become a journalist. She worked as a news reporter for the Philippines Herald. When the war broke out, she was enlisted as a U.S. intelligence agent for the Allies and fed them information about Japanese movements in the Philippines.

Yay before WWII
Valeria “Yay” Panlilio before WWII

Valeria Panlilio was part of the U.S. military’s S-2 intelligence unit during WWII. She worked as a radio broadcast operator for the KZRH radio station. Her official job at the station was to broadcast Japanese propaganda to support the occupation. Unofficially, she used her position at the radio station to send intelligence reports to the Allies about Axis activity in the Philippines. She would send coded messages detailing Japanese troop movements using the radio station, and she also fed false information to the Japanese intelligence officer at the station about Allied movements. However, the Japanese military would eventually find out someone was feeding the Allies information from the radio station, putting Panlilio in danger of being exposed.

She repeatedly requested the U.S. Army transfer her to the fight in Baatan, but was consistently denied and ordered to remain in Manila to gather intelligence on the occupation there. Eventually, suspicions of her mounted to the point where the Japanese tried to have her arrested. With the threat of her cover being blown, and a desire to get more involved in the fight, Panlilio eventually decided to strike out against the Axis on her own terms. Locals sympathetic to the resistance helped her escape capture and flee into the mountains. There, she joined the Marking Guerillas and began fighting directly on the ground in the Filipino resistance against the Axis. Panlilio became an influential figure in the resistance and even married Marocs Agustin, leader of the Markings.

Panlilio and Agustin
Valeria Panlilio and her husband, Marcos Agustin

In the Markings Guerillas, she was sometimes referred to as “Mammy Yay” due to her vital role. She was second-in-command of the group, handling critical operations involving training of new members, treating the sick and wounded, and coordination of anti-propaganda. Yay created and strategized the dissemination of media to counter the propaganda coming from the Axis-controlled mainstream media during the Japanese occupation. This helped the resistance keep morale up as the Second World War raged on and people began to feel all hope may be lost of ever defeating the Nazis and the Empire of Japan. There were many dark times during WWII when hope for the Allies seemed slim, and it was difficult to keep spirits high.

Panlilio became known as “Colonel Yay” as she also led fighters into combat on the island of Luzon. Female guerilla fighters were referred to as “guerrilleras.” Due to the harsh realities of the Second World War, women across Europe and Asia often had to pick up a rifle and enter the battlefield. From France under Nazi occupation, to the Philippines under Imperial Japanese occupation, men, women, and children were pulled into the fray to stand against the forces of darkness. Panlilio was one of those people pulled into fhe fight during the darkest hours before the dawn when fire and rage threatened to consume all of Humanity.

Yay Panlilio with camera equipment
Yay Panlilio (left) was a journalist and reporter before, during, and after WWII.

She survived the Second World War and eventually returned to the United States to resume her work as a journalist there. She wrote her autobiography, “The Crucible,” and detailed her time as a spy and guerilla warfighter. She was quoted as saying: “It is true women are soft. It is also true that women can be the most bloodthirsty and cruel of creatures. I want to be neither. It is enough to do my duty.” After the Axis powers all surrendered and Panlilio laid down her arms, she returned to civilian life as a hero. She was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom for her service and settled down in New York. Eventually, she passed away in January of 1978.

Heroes like Yay Panlilio remind us of the duty of all humans to be at the ready to stand against the forces of darkness whenever and wherever they arise. I am sure she would have preferred to live her life as a journalist and reporter, informing people about the news in peace without fear of death or capture. However, as humans, we do not always get to choose when we are called upon to serve and protect Humanity from the forces of darkness. Evil always finds a way to rise up again, no matter how many times it is beaten back down. It is the duty of all of us to remain vigilant and at the ready for when we are called to serve in whatever capacity that is required of us. After all, a wise man once said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

What do you think of Valeria “Yay” Panlilio? Have you ever heard of her? Also, what skills do you have that may be of use during a time of crisis? How do you think you would help during Humanity’s darkest hours?


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All posts by The Pen and Sword are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Published by Louis

I am a freelance writer from the United States.

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