Lest we forget our unsung founding mothers
(Editor’s Note: The author is a history researcher at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.)
We have often attributed the attainment of our independence to men like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, society being more focused on exalting male heroes.
Lest we forget, these men would not have been successful in their aspirations without the support of their wives and family members.
History does not give justice to the women who dedicated their lives to our country, including those whose prowess in combat was much admired.
The Ilongga Teresa Magbanua, or Nay Isa, earned the title “Visayan Joan of Arc” for leading the revolutionary army in battle in Barrio Yating, Pilar, Capiz.
The Bulakeña Trinidad Tecson, dubbed the “Mother of Biak-na-bato,” was initiated in the women’s chapter of the Katipunan and became famous in the battlefield.
Patrocinio Gamboa, known as the “Heroine of Jaro,” became one of the revolutionary leaders in Iloilo and served as an intelligence worker during hostilities with the Spanish colonizers.
Agueda Kahabagan, or Henerala Agueda, was the only woman general of the Army of the Filipino Republic. She was a fierce combatant fighting alongside men in the battlefields in Laguna.
There are also unsung heroines of the Philippine revolution who should be given due credit—Marcela Marcelo, or Selang Bagsik of Malibay (now part of Pasay City), who died in the Battle of Pasong Santol in Imus, Cavite, in 1897; Valeriana Elises, who accompanied her husband, Gen. Pantaleon Garcia, in his battles in Cavite; and Gregoria Montoya, who avenged the death of her husband and died bravely in the combat zone.
Off the battlefield
But Filipino women’s participation in the revolution was not confined to hand-to-hand combat.
Melchora Aquino, known as Tandang Sora, became a legend for risking her life in feeding and sheltering revolutionists and giving medicines to wounded soldiers. For this, she was deported to Guam in 1896.
Other women, scions of rich families, donated money to finance the revolution. Among them were Matea Rodriguez of Pampanga and Rosario Lopez of Negros.
There were the women who rallied behind and supported their husbands in the fight for freedom—Salome Siapoco, wife of Gen. Mariano Llanera, and Agueda Esteban, wife of Col. Mariano Barroga.
Another little-known heroine was Rosario Villaruel, the first Filipino woman member of the Masons, who was arrested with other Ilustrados suspected of engaging in Masonic activities that were then considered antifriar.
The Red Cross served as a venue for women to participate in the revolution by treating wounded soldiers and collecting donations of food and clothing for the revolutionaries and their families.
Hilaria del Rosario, the first wife of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, was the organizer and president of the Filipino Red Cross Society. Other Red Cross volunteers were Praxedes Fajardo, Adriana Sangalang Hilario of Pampanga, and Nazaria Lagos, who earned the title “Florence Nightingale of Panay.”
In July 1893, a year after the Katipunan was founded, its women’s chapter was organized.
The women who were initiated into the secret society were limited to the wives, daughters and other close female relatives of the members.
Among them were Marina Dizon (cousin of Emilio Jacinto), Josefa Rizal (sister of Rizal), Angelica Lopez and Delfina Herbosa (nieces of Rizal), and Gregoria de Jesus (Bonifacio’s wife).
De Jesus, the Lakambini (Muse) of the Katipunan, had to endure much suffering and faced many dangers while accompanying the soldiers in battle at the outbreak of the revolution.
Josefa Rizal was elected president of the women’s chapter of the Katipunan. She also joined the Masonry, which espoused liberalism, through the Logia de Adopcion where she used the name “Sumikat.”
Trinidad Rizal, another sister of the national hero, was also a member of the Masonic Lodge and, along with Josephine Bracken and Paciano Rizal, was active in the revolution in Cavite. Marina Dizon of Binondo presided over the women’s initiation rites, kept the records, and provided orientation for the new members about the constitution and teachings of the Katipunan.
We owe the flag that was unfurled during the declaration of Philippine independence in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898, to a woman, Marcela Agoncillo, best known as the “maker of the Philippine flag.”
For the motherland
As we celebrate the 113th year of Philippine independence, let us also commemorate and pay due respect to the sacrifices of our founding mothers for the cause of freedom.
History has shown Filipino women to be tenacious and strong-willed. Despite the many obstacles in their path, their determination enabled them to fight for freedom, not only for themselves and their families, but also for the motherland.
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has honored some of these eminent women posthumously, by installing a marker reminding every Filipino of their heroism.