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Filipino Heroes of WWII (continued)

From Imam Marujikim, Lim Keng Fatt learned of the activities of the Filipino guerrillas, their success in holding Tawi-Tawi and the neighbouring islands close to the west coast of North Borneo.


The people of Sulu are proud and independent, they are loyal to the Sultan of Sulu. They never capitulated to the Spaniards, and my mother told me that Grandfather Strattan said that they only accepted the Americans after the US stated that, unlike the Spaniards, they did not come as conquerors and that the US would grant the Philippines its independence. The US kept its promise and the Commonwealth of the Philippines was formed in 1935.


Thus, this was a likely alliance and Kwok prevailed upon Imam Marujikim to take him to Tawi-Tawi to meet Suarez and his fighters. Kwok arrived at Bato Bato on 20 April, 1943. At first, Suarez was wary of him, but when Kwok treated Mrs Suarez, who was ill, successfully, a bond was formed.


Kwok actively joined in the fighting with the Filipino guerrillas. This cemented his position with Suarez who wrote testaments to Kwok’s service dated 18 April 1943, and 11 May 1943 when Kwok set off to return to Jesselton.


Meanwhile, the guerrillas of Sulu suffered some disasters with the burning of towns at Bato-Bato, Bongao and Siasi. Nevertheless, they remained determined to fight on and good news came when they learned that they may get some assistance from Kwok’s network. On hearing this, Suarez sent Lieutenants Kaluang, Moro Ragusan, Sgt. Imam Marujikim, and Private Gurabi to Borneo.


‘A month later, the group returned bringing with them Dr. Kwok and $10,000 in British North Borneo currency, clothing, quinine and other supplies. Dr. Kwok was inducted into the Sulu guerrilla organization and commissioned as 3rd Lieutenant by Col. Suarez.’ (Espaldon,1997).


Kwok stayed on to fight with the guerrillas. This time Kwok was appointed a 3rd Lieutenant, and formally recognized as Intelligence Officer for the West Coast of North Borneo as from 1 July 1943. He was to submit an intelligence report regularly. Imam Marujikim was also appointed to assist Kwok in the intelligence work. However, Kwok was also advised against attacks on the Japanese, and to keep his activities to organizing the network and intelligence gathering of Japanese movements on the west coast of North Borneo.


Although Kwok agreed to these restrictions, events overtook his promise and he made a decision which was to seal the fates of this band of brave patriots.



Kwok’s plans for a revolt were well known, and although the Japanese had spies everywhere the Japanese did not learn of them. Major Chester, a British Intelligence Officer, had sent Lim Keng Fatt to tell Kwok and the other leaders that their planned revolt was too soon, unfortunately, Lim Keng Fatt did not return to Jesselton in time with the message.


To understand Kwok’s fateful decision, it is necessary to examine Japanese policies against the Chinese in particular. On 13 June 1942, the Japanese had proclaimed their dissatisfaction with Chinese opposition to their invasion. The Chinese were on notice that their movements were being watched. The proclamation was a threat.


Then in 1943, the Japanese planned to conscript Chinese youths into military service at places on the West Coast where they needed added defence against the islanders of Sulu. The Japanese wanted to stop any communication between the people of Borneo and the islanders, and the plan was under way by September 1943.


Even worse, was the Japanese plan to force Chinese girls to act as prostitutes to lure men into military service. Finally, the Japanese were recalling members of the prewar Voluntary Force to discern if they would serve as a garrison under the Japanese officers.


These factors determined Kwok to act. On the night of Saturday, 9 October, 1943 Kwok issued the order, the following day referred to as The double Tenth, is significant in chinese history. There were 100 men on land, with little or no experience or training, but they were imbued with a spirit of courage and independence. However, this would prove to be insufficient against the superior forces of the Japanese and the greatest hope of arms and men from Sulu never materialized.


As my focus is on the Filipinos who supported the Kinabalu Guerrillas, I will not detail the disaster which ensued, but give an outline of the outcome.


The Guerrillas were successful at first, then the Japanese threw their might at them . They were bombed from the air and pursued by Japanese troops. People who helped them (or even suspected of helping them) were dealt with savagely. Eventually, Kwok and his remaining guerrillas were cornered in the mountainous region near Ranau. There was no sign of help from the Sulu guerrillas, nor did the local farmers join in the fight. The final blow was when the Japanese threatened to massacre the villagers if the guerrillas did not surrender.


Defeated, these brave men surrendered to their fate. Kwok claimed all responsibility for himself; he was tortured in all ways possible, but said nothing. He was beheaded together with the other leaders. The rest were killed by firing squad.


The sea operation was led by Orang Tuah Panglima Ali of Suluk Island. The failure of the revolt on land resulted in reprisals on the Suluk islanders, including Binadans, Bajaus, and Matanami in the north. Opposite Jesselton are Gaya, Udar, Sepangan, Sinjatan, Manukan, Mamutik, Suluk. Further south are the Danawan and Tiga islands.


Orang Tuah Panglima Ali was captured, goaled then eventually executed. His people on Suluk Island were machine gunned and their houses set alight. When the British went there in 1945, only women and children remained; the eldest boy of eleven years, had been installed as the headman. Executions were also carried out at Udar and Danawan islands. Many women and children were sent elsewhere to work in the rice fields, where they were treated brutally, few survived. The people of the Matanani Islands endured a longer period of extermination, women and children were not spared.


In his report Captain J. A. Hamner stated: ‘In Feb. 1944 during a conversation with Lim Keng Fatt I was given the following information:

The guerrilla organization of which he and Lt. Kwok were two of the leaders does not have as its primary aim assistance to the Allied cause and the driving out of the Japanese. It is definitely a ‘Free Borneo’ organization, having as its chief objective the removal of British North Borneo from British control. This is to be accomplished either by winning complete freedom or by what they believe possible, the United States taking over the country and administering its affairs. There is definitely a strong anti-British feeling throughout the area and many natives of the Lahad Datu area, now cooperating with Suarez and willing to assist Americans in any way, are not willing to assist the British.’


The guerrillas of Sulu continued their defence of their homeland. With liberation, when the Americans landed they did not have to fight: the guerrillas, at great cost in blood, had already defeated the enemy. Their proud record is stated by Dr Espaldon in his book on page 181: ‘It was estimated that before the guerrilla offensive the enemy on Jolo Island numbered over 6,000. In his book a Diary of Defeat , Akiyoshi Fujioka, a Japanese soldier lucky enough to make it back to Japan after the war, estimated there were about 3,400 Japanese soldiers in the final phase of the guerrilla offensive in the Jolo island campaign. Of this number, less than 3 per cent made it back to Japan alive. More than 97 per cent were lost on Jolo island, a death rate believed to be hardly equalled anywhere during the entire course of the war.’












Espaldon, Ernesto M., With the Bravest: The Untold Story of the Sulu Freedom Fighters of World War II, Makati City: Espaldon-Virata Foundation, 1997.


Hall, Maxwell, Kinabalu Guerrillas: An account of the Double Tenth Rising against the Japanese Invaders in North Borneo, The Union Press, Hong Kong, 1962.






Hurst, Doreen, SANDAKAN 1942-1945 Stories of the local people who

                           Heroically helped the Australian PoWs (2009)



Note from the author:


I strongly recommend that readers obtain a copy of Maxwell Hall’s book because it gives such a comprehensive account of Japanese behaviour during their occupation of North Borneo.



I also urge readers to encourage the publishers to reprint Dr Espaldon’s book, because it gives an excellent first-hand account of the heroism and sacrifices of the people of Sulu.