Apart from being known for her beauty, feminist and First Carnival Queen Pura Villanueva-Kalaw also pioneered in the field of literature. She established the Philippine Women Writer’s Association and encouraged the youth to write and be educated. She also wrote the first book on cooking (Camacho, 2000). At 20 years old, she had already felt the plight of the Filipino women, and in 1906, declaring “What a man can do, a woman can do as well,” she established the Asociacion Feminista Ilonga (National Historical Institute, 1996). Encouraging women and the youth to write in her generation, Kalaw ensured the right to education that all should have, especially with the educational opportunities the Americans had presented.
In April 1938, the Sakdalista women formed the Samahang Makabayan ng mga Babaing Pilipina (Patriotic League of the Filipino Women) was established, noted to be possibly the only women’s organization focused on national welfare and freedom. For this group, the traditional motherly and domestic role of a woman did not contradict the fight for independence. However, they believed that there should not be any discrimination between men and women. Bibiana Tuazon was an example of the Sakdalistas’ conservative views on women. She was described to be demure and modest ‘like a Japanese woman’ according to her Corps Leader, Capt. Junsuke Hitomi, when she had joined the Japanese Propaganda Corps during World War II, and she believed Filipinas must fulfill their traditional roles and shed Western influences. Despite this, during her role as secretary and treasurer of the Samahang Makabayan, she was a regular contributor to The Filipino Freedom and wrote ‘Gumising Ka, Bayan’ which advocated for the nation to rise against their enslavers and join the Sakdalista movement (Terami-Wada, 2014). Tuazon provides a different perspective on the role of Philippine women in the fight for independence, broadening the scope of female heroism for the future.
Asuncion Perez’s social work advocacy led her to becoming the country’s representative at a global conference on social work in America. After returning to the Philippines, she was declared the director of the Bureau of Public Welfare, and became its first director when it was known as ‘Associated Charities’ (Camacho, 2000). In World War II, she served as lieutenant-colonel for Marking’s Guerrillas, and was assigned to the intelligence unit. Perez was instrumental in both social work in the country and the resistance against its invaders.
An educator of the Filipino women, Rosa Sevilla de Alvero established the Instituto de Mujeres (Women’s Institute) where different Filipino women were educated, including famous ones such as Concepcion Felix who will be introduced in this section. It was also the first school to teach in Filipino. Alvero was also one of the founders of the Federacion Catolica de Mujeres, Liga de Damas Filipinas, League of Women Voters, and Asociacion de Hispanista. Alvero brought women together for education and the institution of Tagalog as the national language. She also contributed to the revolutionary journal, La Independencia, and convinced the nation towards freedom (Camacho, 2000). Alvero allowed different women to see the world and their country as they pursue higher knowledge and enlightenment.
The writer of the first modern Filipino short story, Dead Stars, was Paz Marquez-Benitez. A pioneer in not only literature but education, she co-founded the Philippine Women’s College, possibly the first non-sectarian woman’s college of its time. One of her students, national artist Francisco Arcellana, even remarked that she was the ‘mother of us all’, which cements that she was a noted and beloved teacher of the first generation of Philippine writers (Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings, n.d.). With the emergence of education for Philippine citizens during the American occupation, aligned with the Philippine Women’s College’s (now University) goal of preserving cultural heritage and serving the country, more citizens (even a whole generation) participated in the effort to represent the country and even resist its oppressors.
Atang de la Rama was not only the queen of zarzuela and kundiman, she was also a war heroine. She was the first Filipino actress to appear in movies and was educated from elementary to college under the Centro Escolar University. Her advocacy centred on the promulgation of the Philippine kundiman, believing art was for everyone. To De la Rama, the kundiman and the zarzuela were mirrors of the Philippine identity and culture, and she travelled from theatres to provinces to promote this music. She even performed for revolutionary organisations such as Sakdal in the American occupation, and HUKBALAHAP in the Japanese occupation. De la Rama also promoted the music abroad to Hawaii, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and San Francisco to name a few countries (National Historical Institute, 1996). Her voice served as encouragement for the revolutionaries, fueling their patriotic spirit against the country’s oppressors, and this extended even to direct participation in the war effort.
One of the founders of the Centro Escolar de Señoritas is ‘Educator’s educator’, Carmen de Luna. As a teacher, De Luna encouraged Filipinas to adapt to new trends without forgetting their heritage and culture. Along with Librada Avelino, De Luna cultivated a generation of students proud of their nation and excelling in fields such as science, culture, and politics. Under her presidency of the school, in 1934 the university grew in campuses and accommodated courses. She had also been a part of different civic groups such as the Gota de Leche and the Liga de Mujeres, and during World War II, she helped soldiers and sheltered nuns at the Hospital de San Juan de Dios (Camacho, 2000). De Luna extended her efforts towards not only her students and the future educators they would become, but also to the rest of society, serving as an example to the rest of women and men in history.
The only woman to perform the masculine tradition of the blood pact within the Katipunan and mother of Biak-na-Bato, Trinidad Perez Tecson served not only during the Katipunan’s rallies against the Spanish and the Philippine Revolution, but also against the country’s battles against the Americans. She also served as a nurse for the revolutionaries. During the Battle of Calumpit, she had ordered Katipuneros to burn the house of a Spanish senator which served as Spanish fortification. During the Philippine-American war, she fought alongside Gregorio del Pilar, and became Comisaria de Guerrera (quartermaster) in 1899 (Policarpio, 1924). With the wounded on her shoulders, she crossed the mountains of Zambales where the Filipinos met a battle with the Americans (Tecson-Romulo, 1995). Upon hearing that the Philippines formed peace with the Americans, she fainted from disappointment (she was also very ill at the time) (Policarpio, 1924). She was then buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery). Tecson is another heroine of the war. She proved that women can also charge as well as men both in the battlefield and in support.
Another leading figure in science and medicine is nutritionist and war heroine Maria Ylagan-Orosa whose inventions include today’s banana ketchup, calamansi juice, soy milk, and peanut brittle. Most of her nutritional inventions preceded their time and her tireless research on different food combinations saved countless lives. Orosa established the Food Preservation Division of the Bureau of Science, where she continued to study the use of unconventional fruits and ingredients for nutrition. She studied all these for the benefit of society and the glory of the country, such as supplementing infants with Vitamin B1 from rice bran and constantly rivaling or trumping food inventions from other countries. This led to our country’s produce and her inventions being sent to other countries, especially to feed the Filipinos there. A street was named in her honour at Ermita. She was not only an outstanding inventor but also a patriotic war heroine (Camacho, 2000).
Teresa Ferraris Magbanua is known as the Joan of Arc of the Philippines. She braved against all the Philippines’ known invaders: Spain, America, and Japan. Magbanua became a guerilla against the three countries, and she became known for her resilience. During a battle at Balantang Jaro, Iloilo, she led a battalion against American soldiers, killing 400, and despite accounts discrediting her accomplishment from men such as Emilio Aguinaldo, Antonio Luna, and Tomas Mascardo, she persevered against the enemy countries. She became the only Visayan woman to lead battles (Camacho, 2000). Her participation in the battlefield shows the tenacity and fearsomeness of women regardless of the position men put them in.