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War Heroine Maria Orosa’s Grave Unearthed at Malate Catholic School

The rediscovery of Maria Orosa’s grave marker was an accident
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons/National Quincentennial Committee, Republic of the Philippines
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The grave of Maria Orosa, the Philippines' foremost food technologist credited for inventing banana ketchup, calamansi juice powder, and the miracle food in World War II known as soyalac, was recently unearthed at Malate Catholic School.

According to Frankmar Cabeltis, campus ministry coordinator and member of the school’s historical committee, the rediscovery of Orosa’s grave marker was an accident, but it isn't confirmed whether her remains are buried in the area. 

Matthew Westfall, project sponsor of the Malate Grave Project working in partnership with the University of the Philippines, says that based on existing reports, Maria Orosa was buried in another nearby mass grave, located at the current vacant lot at the corner of Remedios and Mabini streets. 

"Her remains are not at the site. All we have unearthed is a recent memorial marker. This second mass grave site, not part of our current project, is reportedly the burial location of over 70 individuals killed during the Liberation of Manila on or around 13 February 1945 on the Remedios Hospital grounds, now the Malate Catholic School," said Westfall. 

Maria Ylagan Orosa

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Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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Six months ago, an American national came looking for the grave of his ancestor, which he knew was within the campus. When he was directed to the site of his ancestor's supposed burial site, it had already been buried beneath years of renovation work, according to Cabeltis.

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“The great Luzon earthquake of 1990 did extensive damage to the school and destroyed the original buildings and monuments,” said Cabeltis. “When the school reconstructed the buildings, the memorial sites were inadvertently buried and forgotten.”

“When the American relative went looking for the grave of his ancestor, he also communicated with other relatives of the people buried there. They collaborated with the Parish of Malate and archaeologists from the University of the Philippines Manila.”

Cabeltis explained that the site was a mass grave, where dozens of Filipino and American soldiers and civilians were buried.

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How Maria Orosa became a war hero

When World War II  reached the Philippines, Orosa joined the Marking’s Guerillas, which was one of hundreds of guerilla forces formed against the Japanese. She was designated the rank of captain and earned the respect and admiration of her comrades.

As captain in the guerilla group, Orosa made use of her expertise as a scientist to help Filipinos and Americans. She risked her life smuggling food into prison camps to feed Filipino and American prisoners of war. One of her food inventions proved useful for this: Soyalac. It was considered a miracle food because of its complete nutrition. Soyalac saved the lives of thousands of Filipino and American soldiers who would have died of starvation at the University of Santo Tomas.

On February 13, 1945, during the intense American bombardment in the Battle of Manila, Orosa was hit by shrapnel. At the time, she was working at the Bureau of Plant Industry building in Malate. She was taken to the Malate Remedios Hospital, which was a few blocks away. Unfortunately, while she was being treated, another shelling hit the building causing another shrapnel to hit her, piercing her heart.

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More than 70 people died with Orosa on that fateful day at the hospital. Her remains and those of the others are believed to have been buried at the yard of the Malate Catholic School, but this has not been confirmed by archaeologists. To honor her legacy, the government named the street in Manila after her. It is the same area where she fell in 1945. In her honor, a marker was installed at the Bureau of Plant Industry in San Andres, Manila.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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