Women have been influential in Philippinehistorysince before our first Independence Day. Yet year after year, we continue to revere the same few fellows whose stories we know by heart. Though remembering our forefathers is necessary to our national identity, there’s no reason we should continue to overlook an entire century’s worth of heroic women.
What follows is a list that merely scratches the surface. There are strong Filipinas everywhere—in the board room, at home, at church, in the mosque, at school—who contribute to our world in concrete and lasting ways. We are large, we contain multitudes. But for now, here are a handful of women who have fought or are fighting for the freedom we celebrate today.
These pre-colonial indigenous healers of the spirit and body consisted mostly of women. Anthropologist Dr. Zeus Salazar notes that the babaylan was “a specialist in the fields of culture, religion, medicine, and all kinds of theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon of nature.” These skills made her an indispensable leader in the community—and a likely ancestor to that friend of yours who can do anything.
The Women of the Spanish Revolution
As is true with much of the world’s history, women are largely invisible in the primary texts. But thankfully, someone had thegood sense to take note of Teodora Alonzo and Leona Florentina.
Teodora, the mother of Jose Rizal, particularly angered Spanish friars long before inflammatory Facebook posts were a thing. For speaking out, she was jailed for over two years. Leona defied social expectations by having a child out of wedlock and marrying beneath her class. She gave birth to Isabelo de los Reyes, who is described as being one of the Revolution’s “fiercest leaders” as well as the “‘father’ of trade unionism.”
Captain Nieves Fernandez
This former school teacher defied traditional gender roles by being the only known female guerrilla leader in World War II. Leading 110 men, she defeated 200 Japanese soldiers using only agricultural tools and guns made from gas pipes. The Japanese army placed a 10,000-peso bounty on her head, but the only injury she suffered was a single bullet wound in her right forearm. (Yeah, that bullet was probably the one that got hurt, too.)
A fixture in today’s fight for gender equality, the Director of UP’s Center for Women’s Studies is at the forefront of many influential discussions in academic and political realms. But regardless of how resonant her voice is when it comes to reproductive rights, LGBT issues, and sexism, she makes room for Filipina voices, regardless of class and sexuality, to be heard.
Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo
This professor is also an ardent advocate of home-based workers. In a culture that idolizes the haves, and ignores the contributions of the have-nots, Rosalinda uses her stature to empower the women of the working poor. Her innovations in microfinance have changed the face of female poverty in the Philippines.
On second thought: what’s more inspiring than our granted independence is how others, like them, have used it. Happy ‘Independents’ Day might’ve been the better holiday after all.