I’ve been dragging my feet on this entry because it has been a long, hard month in my home country. Just to name a few of the heartbreaks:
- 3 teenagers dead (allegedly at the hands of police – “End of the Drug War?” – The Atlantic; but then: “Kids Keep Getting Killed” – Washington Post)
- The President wasting time “Chewbacca defending” his way around the opposition (“Duterte says he made up wrong account number to fool Trillanes” – GMA News),
- Up to 13,000 deaths from Duterte’s drug war (see Atlantic article above), a 1,000 peso budget proposed from Congress for the Energy Regulatory Commission, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and Commission on Human Rights (“Vote to slash budget of agency investigating drug war to 15 GBP/1,000 PHP” – The Guardian)
- Tons of fake news in circulation thanks to Duterte’s ovepaid underqualified
trolls(I mean) comms team
- And: Congress is requesting exemption from “minor traffic violations” on the grounds of their position (because if legislators can make the rules, they sure as hell should be allowed to break them #amiright????) (“MMDA backs traffic exemption for Congress but has to get nod from mayors” – Philippine Daily Inquirer)
So you can imagine, amidst the corrupt circus/joke that is the Philippine political landscape, pride in my country is not the first emotion I can call up. I considered skipping this month entirely, but I believe in counting blessings and finding good despite the bad. So I’ve decided to do a short one this month: a profile on 4 Filipina women you should know (chosen on the basis of 50% familiarity and 50% surprise == aka, 2 of these women I knew nothing about until I researched, and the other 2 have been – and continue to be, sources of inspiration for me):
First up, we have Josefa Llanes Escoda (1898-1945)
Josefa was known as the “Florence Nightingale of the Philippines.” She was a leader in the struggle for women’s rights in the Philippines (particularly fighting for women’s suffrage), war hero (smuggling food, medicines, and provisions to Filipino and American war prisoners during WWII), and a youth advocate (founding Girl Scouts of the Philippines).
In August 1944, she was captured by the Japanese. She was last seen alive in January 1945, when she was being placed into a Japanese transport truck. At this sighting, she showed signs of beating, torture, and weakness. She is presumed to have been executed shortly thereafter and buried in an unmarked grave.
Shortly before her internment, in a letter to Lt. Jose L. Llanes, she is quoted as saying:
“I have done my duty to my country and God! To my mind the most I have done is having helped with the little I could do to save the lives of the surrendered soldiers of Bataan and Corregidor. I have offered myself as a guarantor for men later released by the enemy, that they commit no anti-Japanese act, men who, if they had the guts left would continue their resistance. I have acted as guarantors not only for the sake of humanity but also to encourage them to fight again. If you happen to survive, and I fail, tell our people that the women of the Philippines did their part also in making the ember sparks of truth and liberty alive till the last moment.“
Second, is Tandang Sora (1812-1919)
Born Melchora Aquino in 1812, this woman became known as “Tandang (Elder, in Filipino) Sora” because of her age, and “Mother of Balintawak” and “Grand Woman of the Revolution” for her role in the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish.
She was the wife of the cabeza de barrio (village leader), but when he died quite young, she stepped up to the plate as hermana mayor (working village fiestas, baptisms, weddings, etc), and single mother of 6. And as if that wasn’t enough, when the revolutionaries (Katipuneros) began working toward revolution, she became their adoptive mother too. She hosted secret meetings in her home, dressed their wounds, prayed with and for them, offered them moral and medical support, fed them, clothed them, and more.
When the Spaniards got wind of her dealings with the revolutionaries, they captured her and questioned her, but she never caved – leading to her exile on Guam. After the Americans took over, she was able to return back home to the Philippines and live til a ripe old age of 107, going down in history forever as one of the mothers of our young nation.
Third, is Whang-Od (1917 – )
Whang-Od Oogay is a 100-year-old living, breathing legend: an indigenous Filipina tattoo artist from Kalinga, believed to be the last traditional tattooist of her kind. She has been honing and owning this craft for over 80 years – first tattooing warriors, headhunters, and indigenous women particularly across her own tribe (the Butbut people); and now (that the warriors no longer exist), she offers her talent to visiting locals and tourists alike.
She is, herself, extensively tattooed. Each of her full arms sleeves took a day to complete (paid for when she was a teenager with sacks of rice). To celebrate completing these tattoos (sort of like rights of passage), her father would slaughter a pig. She’s come far since then, becoming the last tattoo artist of her kind. Her skills are well-known throughout the country, and beyond, and she is widely sought after. Despite that, she continues to live amongst her people, abiding by the rules, traditions, and customs of her tribe.
Though she is yet to be nominated or instated officially, she is eligible both for a National Artists Award, and a National Living Treasures Award.
Next, is Lourdes Castro (1926-2011)
Civil rights activist, war hero, wife, matriarch, and guerilla. Lourdes is one of only 2 officially inducted Filipina veterans of the US Army for her service during WWII in the recognized guerilla forces, Philippine Commonwealth Army, medical corps, and as courier for US soldiers. During the war, her contributions included: participating in the liberation of prisoners of war in Los Baños, Laguna concentration camp; as well as pulling a Desmond Doss (seen Hacksaw Ridge?) risking life and limb to haul soldiers off the battlefield and treating their injuries as a first responder.
As a member of the American Legion Northside Post 858 in San Jose, CA; she was instrumental in kickstarting the veterans’ organization, and later on in getting US Congress to pass an important bill into law in February 2009: “Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act” (FVEC) in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This law helped give many “forgotten Filipino heroes” their due recognition and support.
You can read more about her and her background in this lovely tribute article by Ben Menor and Marissa Castro Otto for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 2011).
Hope you enjoyed this little profile. If you are interested in learning about similar women (more Filipinas, as well as women from all over the globe), go visit my friend Sabrina’s Facebook page: Women In Badassery. and get ready to be inspired!
Disclaimers: All drawings above are mine based on source material from Wikipedia, and Filipinknow.