Women’s History Month Spotlight: How a Teacher Became the Biggest Threat to Japanese Occupation

Posted on: 2024-03-26 10:44:48
Nieves Fernandez Child Help Foundation

During the Second World War, the Japanese invaded the small nation of the Philippines and caused havoc for the nation. The local population wasn’t even allowed to own businesses. They were promptly shut down.

However, they made the biggest mistake when they turned their eyes towards Nieves Fernandez’s school in Tacloban province of the Philippines. On the front, Nieves Fernandez appeared as a harmless school teacher. But her motherly instinct turned into a vengeful force when the Japanese army threatened to take her students as ‘comfort women’.

A fire raged within her that threatened to burn down their force. Nieves Fernandez wasn’t going to silently bend to their demands. Instead, she formed an anti-Japanese guerrilla group of 110 men.

The group conducted numerous stealth attacks against the Japanese Imperial Force. Nieves herself trained the armed force to silently kill the soldiers with a bolo knife. She also showed them how to make shotguns out of gas pipes and makeshift grenades using gunpowder and nails.

In the dark of the night, Nieves Fernandez donned an all-black gear to render herself invisible and walked barefoot to not alert the ears of the Japanese. The Japanese authorities were so threatened by her that they placed a bounty of pesos 10,000 on her head, but she was never captured.

When America arrived in 1944, their job was made much easier thanks to the efforts of Fernandez’s resistance group. She liberated numerous villages in the province, completely wiping out the Japanese presence in the area.

“When the Japs came, no one could keep anything,” Fernandez told a reporter from the Lewiston Daily Sun in November 1944. “They took everything they wanted. They had ways of persuading, like giving you scalding hot baths and freezing cold baths alternately, with never a rest, never any food, never any water except the soapy water in the baths.” In this photo taken by Stanley Troutman in 1944, Fernandez demonstrates to an American soldier how she silently kills Japanese soldiers.

Nieves Fernandez with an American Soldier Child Help Foundation

Nieves Fernandez lived to see the liberation of her homeland in 1945, but what happened to her after that is shrouded in mystery. This newspaper article from 1944 in The Lewiston Daily Sun is the only evidence of her existence that survives to this day. Fernandez’s resistance group killed almost 200 Japanese soldiers and freed numerous comfort women.

Ben Thompson made a digital comic of Nieves Fernandez as part of his Badass series of blogs and books. Nieves Fernandez also became the subject of a painting and an article by Nicole Gervacio for the South Seattle Emerald, stating that she "resonates because of her unquestionable braveness, ferocity, and boldness", adding that she "contradicts the stereotype of the submissive woman: leading her men into hostile situations and fighting alongside them to take back their land."

We at Child Help Foundation respect brave figures like Nieves Fernandez who risk their lives to make sure their people are safe. Nieves Fernandez is an excellent example of a headstrong woman, who didn’t let gender define her boundaries. Child Help Foundation respects this spirit and hopes to instil the same spirit in the next generation. Child Help Foundation has helped 53,426 people on the crucial subject of gender equality.

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