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Filipino Heroes of WWII



It is often stated that it is the victors who write history. Certainly, in the war against Japanese aggression, Allied victory is attributed almost entirely to the American effort, and to a lesser extent the contribution of the Australians and British. Indeed, the might, courage and sacrifices of US personnel in particular should always be honoured.


However, the Asian people of occupied countries did not just accept their fate. I refer, in particular, to three situations when Asians rose up against the aggressors and despite great odds, made a difference, and I dedicate this article to their heroism, sacrifices and commitment to the ideals of freedom and humanity.


At that time, the Philippines was on its way to independence whilst Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo were under British control. The Philippines was quickly overcome by the Japanese, the debacle of the defence of Singapore is known, and although North Borneo was undefended by the British some of its people found the courage to strike back.


I have a personal interest in these events as my family has links to both Sulu and North Borneo. My father, Johnny Funk, was a member of the underground at Sandakan. His father was Chinese and linked to the family of the great Hong Xinqua, leader of the Tai Ping revolt against the British and Manchu Qing rulers of China. While my paternal grandmother, Agnes Wise, was the daughter of a Kadazan woman and a minor British official. My mother, Lilian, was born in Jolo, her father, Guy Strattan, went to the Philippines from Kansas, USA during the Insurrection Period after the Spanish-American War. Guy Strattan loved the people of Sulu and stayed on becoming the first American Governor of Sulu; he also fought with Alejandro Suarez and the guerrillas of Sulu against the Japanese, as did his teenaged son, Washington. My maternal grandmother was a Tausug woman named, Amina. My grandparents kept their Faiths, he a Christian, and she a Muslim. In those days, people had good will and respect for each other, It was before jihad came to the south of the Philippines and brought destruction and suffering to the people. My mother, Lilian, was also a member of the underground at Sandakan.




On January 2, 1942 the Japanese invaded mainland North Borneo (now Sabah, Malaysia)at Mempakul on the west coast. Prior to the invasion, British authorities in Singapore had first advised the North Borneo Chartered Company (administrators of the land), that they could not defend them, then later advised that they should just surrender.


Some of the residents of Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) rejected such a weak course of action. Secretly, the multi-racial band of Chinese, Eurasians, Sikhs, Filipino, indigenous people and the islanders of Sulu and off the coast of Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, MALAYSIA) North Borneo plotted to overthrow their captors.


The leader of the Kinabalu Guerrillas (as they came to be known) was Albert Kwok a Chinese from Kuching, Sarawak. Kwok also contacted the guerrillas of Sulu, whose military leader was Alejandro Suarez. The go-between for both parties was Lim Keng Fatt, a Chinese businessman from Jesselton who introduced Kwok to Imam Marajikim of Sulu who was pro-American.


Details about Kwok’s medical training are unclear. Maxwell Hall states that he studied Chinese medicine at Shanghai, joined the Chinese Red Cross and travelled extensively throughout China and escaped as the Japanese invaded Shanghai (p27). Whilst Captain Hamner states that Kwok claimed that he was an MD with the Model Division of Cantonese troops in 1937. Later, Hamner states that he worked as ‘a medical orderly’.


Kwok’s activities in intelligence gathering in China also remain unclear as Maxwell Hall states ‘He was sent to meet the Japanese as the invasion spread south and was appointed to be an intelligence officer of the Chinese government.’ (p27) However, Hamner states that ‘no reports were ever sent to anyone on the G2 work he claimed to be doing between 1938 and 1941.’


Whatever the realities of Kwok’s medical qualifications and duties with the Chinese Army, there is no doubt about his patriotism and intelligence work in North Borneo. Both these factors were to lead to his death, a death which defined his bravery.


Kwok set about building a network of locals to attack the Japanese. Already, there existed an Overseas Chinese Defence Association whereby important Chinese saw to it that their community did not get drawn into a net of service to the Japanese. Kwok drew all the leading Chinese into his plan. One who became the lynchpin of Kwok’s organization was Lim Keng Fatt, who was a partner in a very successful trading firm in Jesselton.


Through his business dealings, Lim Keng Fatt met Imam Marujikim of Sulu. Imam Marujikim had joined the Filipino guerrillas under the military command of Lieutenant-Colonel Alejandro Suarez. As Imam Marujikim’s cover was as a dealer in sugar, it was natural that he would visit Kwok’s coffee shop in Jesselton. It was also natural that he and Lim Keng Fatt would have business dealings with each other. Thus, Lim Keng Fatt and Imam Marujikim became friends and as they shared the same desire to be rid of the Japanese, they joined the Filipino guerrillas operating around Tawi-Tawi with the west coast of North Borneo through the conspirators of Jesselton. These conspirators came to be known as the Kinabalu Guerillas.

(to be continued)