Revolutionary Women of the Philippines by Stef Martin

Revolutionary Women of the Philippines by Stef Martin

Pinay Collection encourages us to be unapologetic, to be walang hiya (no shame), and empowers us to be proud of ourselves. In heterosexual-centered and patriarchal societies, histories have erased, forgotten, and silenced many women. By reclaiming words, we can share our stories, use our voices, and remember the people currently fighting for us and before us.

In this blog post, four revolutionary women from different walks of life in the Philippines will be featured. This post is dedicated to women who have been silenced, who are being silenced, and who continue to fight for the liberation of all. This is for them, for us, for you.

Maria Lorena Barros (March 18, 1948-March 24, 1976)

Photo Credit:
“The new woman, the new Filipina, is first and foremost a militant…”   
Ma. Lorena Barros, “Liberated Women II”

Maria Lorena Barros or Laurie was born in Baguio City and raised by her single mother, Alicia Morelos. Laurie studied anthropology at the University of the Philippines (UP) and was a poet and writer. The heightened political climate in 1969 led her to become more involved in student activism. In April 1970, Laurie co-founded MAKIBAKA (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan or Free Movement of New Women) and became the first chairperson. Laurie’s experiences as a student activist and integration with peasants allowed her to recognize the role and struggles of women in society and in the fight for the liberation of all Filipino people.

In September 1972, Martial Law was declared and Laurie was one of the student activists who was charged with subversion. Laurie left MAKIBAKA, went into hiding to the countryside where she joined the New People’s Army, got married, and had a son. She was arrested in November 1973 but escaped. Laurie fought until her last breath and never surrendered. She died in battle on March 24, 1976.

Agueda Kahabagan 

Photo Credit:
Agueda Kahabagan y Iniquinto also known as Henerala was one of the Filipina generals during the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. She is also called the Tagalog Joan of Arc. Little is known about Agueda other than that she was born in Santa Cruz, Laguna.

Colonization forced upon gender roles which led to the belief that men are superior and women were inferior. As one of the first woman generals of her time, Agueda defied gender norms and proved herself as a warrior. In battle, “Heneral Agueda was found at the battlefront dressed in white, armed with a rifle, and brandishing a bolo”. There is no accurate record of what happened to Henerala after 1899 but her leadership and bravery were not forgotten.

Maria Rosa Luna Henson (December 5, 1927-August 18, 1997)

Photo Credit: Flowers4Lola Facebook Page

Maria Rosa Luna Henson or Lola Rosa, was the first comfort woman in the Philippines to come forward. In 1991, a Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women was formed to search for survivors of sexual enslavement by Japanese soldiers during World War II. In 1943, at 16 years old, she was taken by Japanese soldiers along with two comrades and was sent to a garrison where they were forced to be comfort women for nine months. For almost 50 years, Lola Rosa kept silent about her experience and only told her mother and late husband who abandoned her and her three children. 

Lola Rosa inspired about 168 women to come forward with their stories and to fight together for justice and reparations. Lola Rosa refused to be forgotten and for their stories to be erased and denied. In September 1992, Lola Rosa’s autobiography Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny recounting her detailed and visual experiences was published. To cope with her trauma, she said ''I learned to remember everything, to remember always, so that I will not go mad”'. Lola Rosa and her story is a reminder that sharing our stories are powerful and acts of resistance.

Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay

Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay photographed with added caption stating her name title.
Photo Credit: Kilab Multimedia
Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay is a Manobo tribal chieftain and ancestral land defender of the Pantaron Mountain Range in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. She is the founder of Sabokahan: Unity of Lumad Women, a grassroots organization of intergenerational Lumad (Indigenous) women fighting for the right to life, ancestral lands, and self-determination. ‘Bai’ is an honorific for Mindanao women of stature and ‘Bibyaon’ a title given to the chieftain of the tribe.

In 1994, Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay and other communities fought to defend Pantaron against the logging company Alcantara & Sons. Until today, they continue to fight to protect their ancestral land against increased militarization, red-tagging, and the closing of Lumad schools.

About the Author:

Stefanie Martin is a first-generation queer Filipino born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines and currently lives in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada. She received her Master of Information specializing in Archives and Records Management at the University of Toronto. She is an emerging archivist with a focus on community archives. Stefanie is also a member of Makulay Atbp., a Toronto-based Filipino LGBTQ+ collective, and Anakbayan Toronto.

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