In the course of our history, women have played significant roles. Before the coming of the colonizers, they made their presence felt by becoming leaders in society or the barangay. The women of that time served as babaylan, the spiritual leader in the community. They also held other important positions such as members of the council of elders. Indeed men during that time had a high regard for women and believed in their capacity to undertake their role in society.
Unfortunately, when the Spaniards came and ruled to the country, the role of women was no longer as strong as it was before. Women became submissive and lost their courage to express their feelings and rights. Maria Clara as an ideal was introduced in society, an image of women having low self esteem and being conservative - woman who just followed what is dictated to her. Still, there were other women brave enough to stand for their rights and were determined to prove something to society.
Some of the influential Filipina women most especially during the outburst of Philippine Revolution are the following:
Melchora Aquino: Mother of the Katipunan
Melchora Aquino de Ramos (January 6, 1812 - March 2, 1919) was a Filipino revolutionary who became known as "Tandang Sora" ("Tandang" is derived from the Tagalog word matanda, which means old) in Philippines history because of her age when the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896.
Aquino, daughter of a peasant couple named Juan and Valentina Aquino, never attended school. However, she was apparently literate at an early age and talented as a singer. She performed at local events as well as at Mass for her Church. She married Fulgencio Ramos, and they had seven children. Ramos died when their youngest child was seven, and she was left as a single parent of their seven children.
In her native country, Aquino operated a store, which became a refuge for the sick and wounded revolutionaries. She fed, gave medical attention to, and encouraged the revolutionaries with motherly advice and prayers. Secret meetings of the Katipuneros (revolutionaries) were also held at her house. Thus, she earned the name, "Mother of the Katipunan" or revolution. When the Spaniards learned about her activities, she was arrested and deported to the Mariana Islands.
After the United States took control of the Philippines in 1898, Aquino, like other exiles, returned to live there until her death at the age of 107. Her remains lie in her own backyard, now developed as a public cemetery called the Himlayang Pilipino.
Teresa Magbanua: The Visayan Joan of Arc
Nay Isa as followers fondly called her was a good example of woman with substance. She was born on October 13, 1868 in Pototan, Iloilo to Judge Juan Magbanua and Alejandra Ferraris.
She was one of the first to join the revolutionary forces when the revolution broke out in Iloilo in late 1898. Her husband and her uncle, General Perfecto Poblador, strongly opposed her joining the revolution because “she was a woman”. Her determination, persistence and ability to fight finally overcame their resistance and General Poblador gave her command of a bolo battalion. Nay Isay proved to be a forceful commander in her first encounter in the Battle of Barrio Yating, Pilar, Capiz early in December 1898. She also fought at the Battle of Sapong Hills near Sara. In both battles, she demonstrated her capacity was equal to that of other Filipino leaders. Her men called her “generala” for being the “fightingest” woman in the Visayan Islands.
She participated in the battle against the Americans in Iloilo City on February 11, 1899 and in Balantang-Tacas-Jibao-an line in March of the same year. In the famous battle of March 10 in Balantang where around 400 Americans were killed or wounded, she demonstrated gallantry and heroism. When the revolutionary government’s capital in Santa Barbara fell, Nay Isa engaged in guerilla activities. She impressed the enemy and the people with her daring and superb horsemanship. The military superiority of the enemy and the deaths of her brother Elias and Pascual eventually led her to surrender. During World War II, the Japanese forces occupied Panay Island. Nay Isa once more rallied to the defense of the nation. Although she could no longer fight the enemy through armed combat, she actively helped in giving supplies to the guerilla forces and more importantly to support and inspire her countrymen in their struggle for freedom. After the war, she migrated to Mindanao and lived with her sister Maria in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur. She died on August 1947 at the age of 78.
Gregoria De Jesus: Lakangbini
Gregoria de Jesus (15 May 1875 – 15 March 1943), also known as Aling Oriang, was the founder and vice-president of the women's chapter of the Katipunan of the Philippines. She was also the custodian of the documents and seal of the Katipunan. She married Andres Bonifacio, the supremo of the Katipunan, and played a major role in the Philippine Revolution. She is regarded as "The Mother of the Philippine Revolution" by Filipinos.
Gregoria de Jesus was born in the city of Caloocan, in the Filipino province of Rizal to a Catholic middle-class family. Her father, Nicolas de Jesus, was a carpenter who later served as a gobernadorcillo.
In March 1893, she married Andres Bonifacio at the Catholic Church of Binondo. A week later, they were married again in the presence of the Katipuneros, who did not approve of their marriage in a Catholic Church. On the evening of the same day, the women’s chapter of the Katipunan was formed, and she was appointed its vice-president and the custodian of the Katipunan documents. She was designated the code name "Lakangbini" (Tagalog for goddess or Muse) and swore to remain loyal to the Katipunan's holy purposes. The Spanish police usually came unannounced, and Gregoria used to gather all the documents and drive her car all night and return only when it is safe.
On 19 August 1896, the Katipunan was exposed and its secrets were revealed by Teodoro Patino, a dissatisfied Katipunero. The Spanish forces reacted quickly to halt the revolution. Many Filipinos were arrested, jailed, and shot, but Andres and Gregoria were hiding. The Spanish government was able to tighten its surveillance over the Katipunan. The remaining Katipuneros gathered and planned an attack on a Spanish gunpowder storehouse. With an army of almost 800 men, the Katipuneros were successful in their first attack, and were encouraged to advance to Manila, but the Katipunan powers were defeated by the Spanish forces, and hundreds of the Katipuneros were killed and captured. Furthermore, an inner conflict between Andres and Aguinaldo, another leader of the Katipunan, had weakened them. On 8 May 1897, Andres was captured by Aguinaldo's officers, and was sentenced to death.
After Bonifacio's death, Gregoria was able to escape capture. She left to the Pasig mountains and it was there that she met Julio Nakpil, a commander of the Katipunan troops in Northern Philippines. The two fell in love with each other, and were married in a Catholic church on 10 December 1898 in Manila.
After the end of the Philippine Revolution and after peace was restored in the Philippines, Gregoria lived with her husband and six children in a house with a well-known Filipino philanthropist, Dr. Ariston Bautista, and his wife, Petrona Nakpil. The doctor took good care of her and her children and helped raise them and educate them.
Marcela M. Agoncillo (1860-1946)
Maker of the Filipino National Flag Enshrined in Philippine history as the maker of the Filipino flag, Marcela Mariño Agoncillo was born in Taal, Batangas on 24 June 1859 to Francisco Mariño and Eugenia Coronel. Marcela was reputed to be the prettiest in Batangas so she was fondly called “Roselang Bubog” and like any daughter of a rich couple, a maid or an elderly relative always accompanied her. She was sent to study at the Sta. Catalina College run by the Dominican nuns in Intramuros, Manila. It was in this school that she was trained well. She learned Spanish, music, crafts, and social graces expected from a Filipina of social stature. A noted singer and one who occasionally appeared in zarzuelas in Batangas, Marcela attracted many suitors but it was the rich young lawyer, Don Felipe Agoncillo, who won her heart. The two got married and had six daughters: Lorenza, Gregoria, Eugenia, Marcela, Adela (who died at the age of 3), and Maria. One with a heart for her nation, she stood by her husband in defending their poor town mates against the corrupt Spanish authorities. In December 1897, the Agoncillo family crossed path with General Aguinaldo and his party who arrived in the country as exiles under the conditions of the Pact of Biyakna- Bato. Months after, Aguinaldo decided to return to the Philippines to resume the fight against Spain, it was then that a flag that would symbolize the Filipino aspirations was decided to be made and Doña Marcela was tasked to do the work.
Doña Marcela acceded to the request and sew the flag with the help of her daughter, Lorenza, and Delfina Herbosa Natividad, Rizal’s niece who was married to one of Aguinaldo’s generals. Five days after, the flag beautifully embroidered in gold, with the stripes of blue and red, and a white triangle with the sun and three stars was made. Years later on account of the flag, Doña Marcela would say: “In the house at No. 535, Morrison Hill, where I lived with my family, exiled from our country on account of the national cause, I had the good fortune to make the first Philippine flag under the direction of an illustrious leader General Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy. It took me five days to make the national flag, and when completed, I myself delivered it to General Aguinaldo before boarding the transport McCulloch… General Aguinaldo is the best witness who can give the information whether or not that flag was the first to be displayed in Cavite at the beginning of the revolutionary government against the government of Spain in these islands” General Aguinaldo would later say about the flag: “The first Filipino national flag was made by the hands of the Agoncillos in Hong Kong. It was the flag I took with me in Cavite when I returned from my exile and was slowly unfurled at the balcony of the Aguinaldo residence at Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898.”
In 1907, few years after the fall of the Philippine Republic and the American regime in the country was established, Doña Marcela and her children returned to the Philippines poor. Their family funds had run out because of the heavy expenses incurred by Don Felipe’s diplomatic activities in Europe and in the United States. But with fortitude, her family recovered from poverty incurred during the revolution. Don Felipe was in the government service. On September 29, 1941, her husband passed away and she was left to rear her children through another year of devastating war, this time with the Japanese. They suffered like other Filipinos caught in the war with scarce commodities and food supplies. Doña Marcela, however, had not changed. Like she used to do during the revolution against Spain, she taught her daughters to always share, saying: “if it is hard to give, it is harder to ask.” When their house in Manila was burned down, she took her children back to Taal and lived in their ancestral house. On Ascension Day, 30 May 1946, a year after the Philippines was finally freed from the Japanese, Doña Marcela died at the age of 86. To fulfill her last wish, he body was brought back in Manila and interred alongside her husband at the cemetery of La Loma.
As demonstrated by these heroic women, Filipinas has always been a force to reckon with. It was only during the Spanish period that this image was drastically changed. Whether by tactic or tradition, the Spaniards tried changing the brave into the coward. But as the famous saying goes, “a wolf dressed as a sheep will always be a wolf,” no matter how hard the Spaniards tried to change women’s perspective, lalabas at lalabas din ang tunay na kulay ng isang Pilipina. Although if we look at it, in general no one wants to be stripped of their due respect. To come from a tradition where women are well respected and valued with an abrupt colony that came from nowhere and treat women unjustly without reason is very hard to accept. This is how these daring Filipinas felt during the outbreak of colonization, which is now, at present gradually changing.
It’s about time that Filipina women break the stereotype image that has been attached to them in the past, for women empowerment is the key for progress. “The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in the council of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race." —Susan B. Anthony