Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Micah Patricia Rivera's paper on women

Sorry, boys, but the best papers were about women, and most of the good papers were by women too! So what can we do.

This one is very well organized, so sit up and take notice.


Filipino Women During the Spanish Colonial Era

by Micah Patricia Rivera

The roles of Filipino women have undergone numerous alterations because of the diverse ethos that penetrated the inherent Filipino customs through hundreds of years. During the three centuries of Spanish rule in the Philippines, the Filipino woman of influence and power was transformed concurrently with the conversion of the country’s social system into a male-dominated society. The shy, self-effacing and vulnerable image of a woman emerged as they were immortalized in literature by the writers of that era.

The incessant oppression of the Spaniards ignited various uprisings and awakened the patriotism of many Filipinas. Before long, women were seen playing crucial duties both in battle and behind the trenches, fighting for the liberty of their motherland.

A. Changes during Spanish Colonization

1. The Christianization of the Filipinos

The dawn of Spanish colonization paved the way for the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines. Spain brought with her not only the power of the sword but also the influence of the cross. It is widely recognized that one of the main objectives of Spain’s conquest was to introduce the Gospel to pagan nations. The missionaries believed that by doing so, they would merit eternal salvation (Alzona 21).

Religion took a vital part in Spain’s interaction with the native people for the Spaniards regarded baptism into the New Faith as a sign of adherence to their power. Many Filipinos were successfully converted to Christianity. The pageantry of the church had a wide appeal, supported by the integration of Filipino social customs into religious observances. The new religion appeared to be similar to their pagan beliefs such as God, who was comparable to their Bathala and the Christian saints, who resembled the spirits that they prayed to. What attracted the native Filipinos even more were the huge cathedrals, grand altars and festive celebrations that the friars presented to them (Alip 113).

Women were the ones greatly influenced by the changes brought about by the New Faith. Alzona records that the niece of Cebu’s supreme leader, Chief Tupas, was the very first Christian here in the Philippines. Not long after, women who came from other distinguished clans were also drawn to the new religion and baptized into Christianity (22).

There was resistance to this introduction, however, and this came from women as well. The babaylans and catalonans deemed Christianity as a hindrance in the performance of their vocation. They refused to embrace the new religion and held on to their customs and traditions. These babaylans and catalonans were forced to flee to the mountains where they could continue practicing their native religion.

2. Political Status of Women

In order to strengthen their colonization, Spain introduced a new form of government and with this, the important roles held by women in the political field were particularly affected. Men completely took over, acquiring positions such as cabesa de barangay and gobernadorcillo, the highest position a Filipino could occupy. They overshadowed the women who, until that time, enjoyed their own authority in pre-colonial society. Apart from those who were born into influential Filipino families (principales) or those who were married to men with high ranks, the Filipina did not possess any political power.

The Spanish law limited women’s rights. Married women were not permitted to deal with their personal possessions and to involve themselves in trade and commerce without their husband’s approval. They were denied the right to occupy any public position aside from the position of a teacher (Alzona 39).

On the other hand, Filipino women participated in the economic progress of their communities. They managed farms and retail shops in provincial towns; only a few engaged in large-scale businesses. Women in the rural areas were also involved in the field of agriculture. They were usually wives, daughters or relatives of farm workers who helped in the numerous tasks around the farmlands (Alzona 37).

B. Women in Colonial Society

1. The Changes in the Position of Women

Men and women had an egalitarian relationship in the early Philippines, enjoying equal privileges in all aspects of living. The two genders were given the opportunity of having an education and of practicing his/her profession. Man regarded woman as his partner who had her say in both domestic and public issues.

In the colonial setting, young girls were sent to colegios or beaterios where they studied not to be learned citizens but to be pious, upright, and humble ladies who would later take their role as mothers and wives (Alzona 28). Women who finished schooling were allowed to teach once they received a license from the government. However, most Filipinas were not able to go to school; thus, their functions in the community were limited to those of managing the household, and rearing their children. A great part of their time was dedicated to visiting churches and praying lengthy novenas.

In his book, Alip states that the Catholic faith marked a development in the lives of Filipinos. As Hhe pointed out, that, “It raised the position of women and exalted motherhood. These changes explained why Filipino women enjoy more rights and privileges than the women of most Oriental countries” (115). There are still prevailing beliefs that the Spanish colonization raised the social standing of women, confirming the preceding statement. However, Lorna S. Torralba-Titgemeyer comments otherwise in her paper, La Mujera Indigena (The Native Woman). She says that the arrival of the Spaniards abolished the honored position of the Filipino woman and replaced it with the new Filipina shaped into the perfect lady as perceived by society.

2. Women According to the Writings of Men

Our national hero, Jose Rizal, criticized women for permitting themselves to be deceived by the friars. He states in his Letter to the Women of Malolos that Filipino women had the misguided conception that showing respect to friars, to the extent of kissing their hands, was the way in which they could manifest their strong faith (Alzona 35).

Apolinario Mabini wrote in The Philippine Revolution, “One of the greatest virtues recognized in a brave and honorable man was the respect for women because the behavior which protects the chastity and the life of one who is weak shows greatness of heart and nobility of soul” (Camagay 12). In addition, Emilio Jacinto reminds Filipinos, “Do not look at woman as a mere plaything but rather as a partner…treat the women’s weakness with utmost respect” (Jacinto’s “Teachings of the Katipunan” as quoted by Camagay 11) These statements from Mabini and Jacinto confirm the notion that women are indeed weak and should therefore be shown consideration.

Andres Bonifacio, on the other hand, recognizes the Filipino women’s competence when he writes in his essay that even before the Spanish colonization women were already literate (Camagay 11). Camagay states, however, that Bonifacio’s statement still suggests the opinion that women became unwise during the time of the Spaniards.

Although our heroes were evidently concerned about the degradeding status of women, their writings still reveal the undeniable view of the Filipino woman as someone inferior.

C. Women in the Philippine Revolution

1. How Women Started to Take Part in the Fight for Freedom

For years, many Filipino women struggled to break through the roles that had been delineated for them. They shunned the Maria Clara image that Rizal portrayed in his novel, Noli Me Tangere. For as much as Maria Clara was the epitome of perfection in the Spanish era, she also served as a sign of women’s submission to the rule of men. Although a lot of Filipinas never rose above these expectations (Balangue-Apilado 49), there were still those who made a mark in history for their efforts of going against the norm and proving the real competence of the female gender.

The start of the consciousness of an “alternative order” was the result of the institution of Logia de Adopcion, the first masonic lodge for women. This organization paved the way for the women to recognize the ailing system of the Spanish reign, particularly the Christian church. Some of these women were Trinidad and Josefa Rizal, the sisters of our national hero, who were once faithful to the church but later refused to attend mass because of the exploitation of the friars (Camagay 14).

The acknowledgment of the Filipino woman’s worth in the pre-Hispanic times was also restored in the foundation of Bonifacio’s Republika ng Katagalugan. The Katipunan, which was formerly exclusive for men, was opened to women not only to avert the enemies’ focus but also to expand the membership of the association (Martinez-Sicat 174). These women, who were commonly close relatives of katipuneros, involved themselves in the uprising and voluntarily presented their assistance. The duties assigned to them were not limited to simply feeding the katipuneros and sewing flags. They performed the risky tasks of transporting guns and ammunitions from one town to another, stashing them in their skirts and tricking the guardia sibil that they were carrying food.

As Policarpio puts it, “Certain it is that women were not silent spectators of the great drama that was to overthrow the Spanish rule.” Apart from being nurses and messengers, the Filipino women also fought alongside their fathers, brothers and/or husbands. They donned men’s clothes and faced combat armed with a rifle and a bolo (21). The women of Ilocos, as told in Apilado’s essay, participated in real warfare in the Battle of Batac in 1900, wherein the forefront of the guerilla troops was a row of women. One account claimed that women were actually shot, as if in a firing squad, and their bodies were left on the ground as the combat ensued.

2. Women of the Revolution

Even before the Revolution began, women already showed active participation in numerous uprisings. Perhaps the most distinguished among them is Gabriela Silang, wife of Diego, who was one of the major forerunners of Bonifacio’s revolution. This heroine of Ilocos led armies into battle and carried on her husband’s causes despite threats to her own life. Later, when she was arrested, she faced the ultimate sentence during the Spanish rule; she was hanged.

Another woman who gained prominence for her contributions in the Revolution was Melchora Aquino or Tandang Sora. She was an old lady who owned a small store where tired and hungry soldiers often found relief. Her house was used for the clandestine meetings of the Katipunan. Because of these, the katipuneros called her the “Mother of the Revolution” (Policarpio 21).
Trinidad Tecson, on the other hand, was considered the “Mother of Biak-na-Bato” for her services in periods of war. She participated in several battles, dressed as a man, and never showed “proverbial female weakness” (Policarpio 24). Aside from taking part in battle, Trining likewise nursed the injured soldiers and collected the dead bodies of men in Biak-na-Bato and burned them.

The abovementioned personalities were some of the few women who are presently given great recognition for their commitment to the Filipinos’ fight for freedom. Equally important, however, are women like Cresenciana Sanchez San Agustin de Santos, the first Filipino volunteer nurse who served in a hospital in Cavite and Agueda Kahabagan RuiseƱor, a woman soldier who acquired the position of a general (Alzona 55).

Other revolutionary women rarely seen in historical records are Patrocinio Gamboa, a Filipina from Western Visayas who carried out intelligence tasks for the rebels in the war against the Spaniards; Teresa Magbanua, a revolutionary leader who won several battles in Iloilo despite having only a small number of men and weapons; and Nazaria Lagos who treated wounded soldiers by applying her skills in folk medicine (Locsin-Nava 62-63).

Most Filipinos of those times thought battle was not something a woman should engage in. Nevertheless, these brave women continued to take part in the uprising and found ways to offer their services for their motherland.

D. Arrival of Americans in the Philippines

1. The Role of Women in the American Era

The coming of another colonizer posed a new threat for the Filipinos in their endeavor to attain sovereignty over their own nation. When the Filipino-American War broke out, women found themselves in the midst of another struggle. The war stimulated the patriotism of the Filipinas, whose assistance became even more indispensable. A great number of them signed up in the army to defend their country in war. Others stayed behind the trenches to sew uniforms and nurse the sick and wounded soldiers.

The humanitarian missions of these women were organized by the establishment of Asociacion de Damas de la Cruz Roja, which was spearheaded by General Emilio Aguinaldo’s wife, Mrs. Hilaria Aguinaldo (Policarpio 30). This Red Cross association solicited contributions to support the war and bring gifts to the soldiers. The members labored tirelessly, going from one town to another, to collect food, clothes, matches and cigarettes for the men in the battlefront. The beneficiaries of these benevolent works were not only Filipino soldiers but also American and Spanish captives (Alzona 57).

The Revolution of 1896 and the Filipino-American War illustrated the innumerable selfless acts that the women performed for their beloved nation. These acts attested to their strength, which at the same time opposed the assumed frailty of the women under colonial rule.

When the war finally ended, Filipino women, led by Miss Constancia Poblete, founded Liga de Paz in 1901 to help create a harmonious relationship between Filipinos and Americans. As soon as peace was restored, they focused their concentration on social work and education (Policarpio 36). Under American rule, Filipinas gradually took their place in political affairs as educators, as administrators and later as politicians themselves.


Filipino women did not have an established position in the government during the Spanish colonial rule. Not unlike the prominent communal functions they had in the pre-colonial era, most Filipinas were deprived of their right to practice their preferred occupation and were regarded inferior to men. They, nonetheless, managed to demonstrate leadership and service during the course of the Revolution. Their participation in the uprisings, as well as in the restitution of peace, carried on even after the arrival of other colonizers.

The commitment of Filipino women to the nation’s endeavor to achieve independence refutes the impression of women as fragile and powerless individuals. Furthermore, it proves that the Filipino woman has been essential in Philippine history and in leading our country to what it is now.

Works Cited

Alip. Eufronio. A Brief History of the Philippines. Manila: Alip and Sons, 1972.

Alzona, Encarnacion. The Filipino Woman: Her Social, Economic and Political Status. Manila: Benipayo Press, 1933.

Balangue-Apilado, Digna. “The Women of Ilocos During the Revolutionary Era.” Review of Women’s Studies. Thelma B. Kintanar, ed. Quezon City: University Center for Women’s Studies, University of the Philippines, 1996. 41-52.

Camagay, Ma. Luisa T. “Women in the Text and Reality.” Review of Women’s Studies. Thelma B. Kintanar, ed. Quezon City: University Center for Women’s Studies, University of the Philippines, 1996. 11-18.

Dery, Luis Camara. Remember the Ladies and Other Historical Essays on the 1896 Philippine Revolution. Las Pinas, Metro Manila: M & L Licudine Enterprises, 2000.

Hilario-Soriano, Rafaelita. Women in the Philippine Revolution. Quezon City: Printon Press. 1995.

Locsin-Nava, Ma. Cecilia. “Teresa Magbanua: Woman Warrior.” Review of Women’s Studies. Thelma B. Kintanar, ed. Quezon City: University Center for Women’s Studies, University of the Philippines, 1996. 61-65.

Martinez-Sicat. “The Filipino Woman And/In The Filipino Rebel.” Review of Women’s Studies. Thelma B. Kintanar, ed. Quezon City: University Center for Women’s Studies, University of the Philippines, 1996. 173-182.

Policarpio, Paz. “The Filipino Women During the Revolution.” Review of Women’s Studies. Thelma B. Kintanar, ed. Quezon City: University Center for Women’s Studies, University of the Philippines, 1996. 19-40.

Torralba-Titgemeyer, Lorna S. La Mujer Indigena: The Native Woman. Austrian-Philippine Homepage. 1 March 1997.

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Ching said...

Go Micah! :) Wow, aren't my schoolmates great in English? Micah and I both graduated from CSR Makati. (She's from batch 2004, and I'm from 2005.) Congratulations, Micx, if you're reading this! Miss you! :)

micah =) said...

Thanks Ching! miss you, too.
And i miss English 10 as well. I still consider it one of the best subjects I have taken. You're lucky you got in Ma'm Aguilar's class. You're in good hands, Ching.

Anonymous said...

Wow! For a student, your great but for a suggestion, can you please add informations on your findings?