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Forgotten Filipino Heroines That Shaped History

As many popular Filipinas continue to dominate in the beauty pageant and film industry, they’re building many bridges for young Filipino girls to succeed in the same career path. Indeed they are a huge part of creating a brighter future for young girls, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that without the women of the past, there wouldn’t be a future!

History textbooks are mostly comprised of male figures who have participated in making the foundation of civilization, but has anyone wondered what the women were doing? It’s not like women were only born yesterday, they were simply written off in history. A study by Slate Magazine concludes that history textbooks were written by 75.8% male and the rest being written by women, but even the female authors mostly wrote about men!

Here is the list of Filipino heroines who didn’t make the cut:

Corazon Aquino


Source: Malacanang Palace website

Corazon “Cory” Aquino was just a housewife in 1983 when her husband, Benigno Aquino, was assassinated under the order of Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos was the president at the time who declared Martial Law in the country and arrested leading politicians including Aquino who was a major Marcos critic and was globally famous for it.

Cory Aquino deemed his husband’s murder as inhumane and unacceptable, and soon became the rallying point for the democratic movement in the Philippines and was the figurehead of “People’s Power Revolution.”

Later that year, she became the 11th president of the Philippines and began to bring democracy into the country and other reforms such as the fixation of the country’s economy, and being a motivated activist for civil liberties and human rights.


Fe del Mundo


Source: Balikbayan Mag website


Fe del Mundo was the first woman to be admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1936–10 years before Harvard officially started to admit female students.

She was only 15 when she got admitted to the University of the Philippines, specializing in pediatrics. Fe graduated as the valedictorian of her class and was the “Most Outstanding Scholar in Medicine,” as well as placing third in the medical board exam in the country.

With her incredible accomplishments, she was given recognition by Manuel Quezon, the president at that time, and awarded her with a full scholarship to attend any school that she wanted to attend to pursue her medical career–and she chose the very prestigious Harvard Medical School.

Harvard did not discuss the topic of accepting women into their school until the 1930s, and did not officially admit them till the 1940s. Fe found herself in a male-dominated territory when she first got admitted in 1936, but she did not give up on her passion. She completed her pediatric courses at Harvard, and earned a Master’s Degree in Bacteriology at the Boston University in 1940. She then continued her studies at the Billings Hospital of the University of Chicago.

She is an inspiring role model for many women across the world as she defied all odds for pursuing a rightful education in a male-dominated time era; Fe del Mundo was the start of a revolution for women’s rights in education.


Generala Agueda Kahabagan


Source: Artist Unknown

Generala Agueda Kahabagan, also known as “Heneral Agueda and the “Tagalog Joan of Arc,” was the FIRST and ONLY female general who led a battalion against the Spanish and American colonisers.

She is a native from San Pablo, Laguna, and the elders of her community recall her jumping over high trenches during the battle.

Not much is known about her, and no photographs or portraits of her ever existed. The image above is merely a depiction of what she looked like. There are some historical records that have resurfaced that tells she led her army force into battle on a horse with a rifle in one hand, and a dagger in the other.

Agueda is an underrated hero in Philippine history that should receive as much acknowledgement as any other general during the war. She defied all odds and became a symbol for all women who were abused in many horrific ways in the duration of the Spanish and American colonization and yet, history textbooks are still missing a section that should be reserved for her.


Natividad Almeda-Lopez


Source: Unknown

Natividad Almeda-Lopez was the first ever woman to practice law in Asia.

She was a respected activist for the feminism movement in 1918, and gave speeches before the legislature about giving women the right to vote, and their basic legal rights. Almeda most often stood out in women’s marches, being described as “the tallest in the group, always at least a head higher than most of the women with her” by an American reporter in the 20s.

Nevertheless, the main reason why she was different was because of her extreme tenacity for proclaiming justice for the poor and the women of the Philippines.

“I was earning 20 times more than she, but I didn’t accomplish one-tenth or even one over a hundredth over what she did. She contributed in changing attitudes toward women. She broke the mold of women who were prisoners of the house in her time, who couldn’t go out, except to church or for certain hours.”

Being a practitioner of law often comes with great fortune, but Almeda was the opposite of extravagant. Her son-in-law says that “whatever salary she collected, she made sure to share with the poor who came to her office. She chose as daily wear clothes of cheap, sturdy local weaves and dismayed some of her rich society colleagues for dressing too simply. A tailored suit or a black terno with no frills was enough. Perhaps she felt that she didn’t need to wrap herself in finery or to show off because she was sufficient unto herself.”

Almeda is a champion for the poor and the women in both the 20s and today as Filipino women still look up to her as a role model for justice.


Gabriela Silang


Artist: Carlito Rovira

Gabriela Silang was a Filipino revolutionary leader during the Spanish Colonization Era.

Born in a lower-class Ilokano family, Gabriela was at the bottom of the hierarchy. The Spaniards who colonized the Philippines were not accepted passively by many indigenous Filipinos as they experienced cruel repression by the colonisers–Gabriela Silang being one of them.

“We believe that the freedom women seek will be brought about by the resolution of the problems of foreign domination, landlessness and political repression, and in the changing of patriarchal value systems and structures in Philippine society.”

Women across the 7, 107 islands of the Philippines were awestruck by the bravery of Gabriela Silang, so much so that they formed an alliance–appropriately named GABRIELA–which stands for General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Leadership and Action. GABRIELA is an influential force for young girl across the archipelago who inspires them to stand hand in hand to fight against U.S. imperialism and democracy in the Philippines.

It is only right to have a Women’s History Month to commemorate the heroines that took part in developing many nations, but some groups of women–like Filipino women–are often forgotten. There were many Filipinas mentioned in Philippine textbooks,  but none of the women who made an international impact were commemorated.

These women paved the way for the younger generations of women, especially Filipino women, to pursue their passions and dreams without being overshadowed by the patriarchy of the past and today. We should continue to celebrate their achievements not just during Women’s History Month, but every month, since they were the key to unlocking the doors for many women across the globe.


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Charlize Alcaraz
Written By

Charlize is a high school junior who hails from the Philippines. She currently resides in Canada, and takes interest in both Canadian and Philippine politics, as well as American Civics.

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