by Len Ocayo, 25 years old
1st place, Babae Kapuso Ka ng Bayan Essay Writing Contest
Ang kanyang kapatid na lalaki,
Ay nagdaos ng mga lihim na pulong,
Nagsulat ng mga sanaysay,
Nagtatag ng La Liga Filipina.”
Many Filipino women can only sigh about what have become their role in history and share the sentiment of Joi Barrios in her poem “Ang Kapatid na Babae ng Ilustrado,” which refers to Josefa, one of Jose Rizal’s sisters. When I was a kid, I was only taught about Gabriela Silang and Melchora Aquino. They were great women, my teacher said; but they were not included in the list of heroes whose pictures we needed to gather for our project. I thought that heroism can be measured, and that Silang and Aquino failed to meet the standards—if there were, I didn’t bother.
I was preoccupied with using my mother’s shoes then despite the clanking sound because they were too big for my feet. I would use the blanket with floral design as my cape, the bowl inverted on my head as my crown, and move my right hand from left to right repeatedly with palm facing the imaginary crowd—all of these in front of the mirror. I thought that womanhood was about beauty queens, and that I needed to rehearse. When the world gradually introduced itself to me, while years allow me to fit in my mother’s shoes, I witnessed stories that parents could never hide from their children and scenes in life that I thought are only found in history books: poverty, feudalism, corruption, pollution, child abuse, discrimination, and the traffic in EDSA, which I think mirrors every Filipino’s greatest weakness: lack of discipline. I felt uneasy with the bowl on my head, and whenever I’d ask my mother about those things, I’d get upset because she’d simply tell me to “study hard.”
Never did I realize that my disenchantment with her response would turn to empowerment because it was in books that I learned more of the unpleasant tales of the country, explored their possible solutions, and realized that women are not required to keep the bowl on their heads.
That could have been the fate of Nelia Sancho, who was Bb. Pilipinas 1st runner up in 1969 and Queen of the Pacific in 1971; but the plight of black-eyed Eves and minors at the firework factory who lost a finger or two created another world where she is still beautiful…but crownless. She was a U.P. Mass Communication student and an Upsilon Sigma Phi sorority member when she joined the anti-Marcos student movement, a decision that made her like a deity behind bars from 1976 to 1978.
This beauty queen turned activist chose other titles, chairwoman of the International Relations Committee of the Women’s Rights Movement of the Philippines (WRMP), coordinator of the United Nations (UN) Asian Women Human Rights Council (AWHRC), coordinator of Lolas Kampanyera, and president and executive director of Streetchildren and Child Workers Support Center (SCWSC). Aside from having attended several conventions abroad for the U.N. and Zonta International and making the Philippines proud, she founded the Buhay Foundation for Women and the Girl Child, Lila Filipina, and the women’s group Gabriela. Women trafficking, struggles of comfort women, and women’s battles in population policies still persist are the main championing of Sancho, as reflected on her writings, including the books “War Crimes on Asian Women,” “Military Sexual Slavery by Japan,” and “The Case of Filipino Comfort Women.”
When women are able to establish—at least to themselves–that they can matter here, there, and anywhere, they can define their dreams with a silver lining. There is really no huge difference between men and women; and most of the time, it is just physical agility. But this world is not run by wrestling every day. Men discovered things that are usually seen with the hands of a woman, like the paper clip, pop-up toaster, and sewing machine; and women invented those that seem to fall on man’s work, such as the elevated railway, submarine lamp and telescope, and the first user-friendly business computer software program.
Truly, women can achieve great things with the same time, hard work, wit, and ability that men used to mark in history. Sometimes, women are not just the beautiful Cinderella who exists only in fairy tales. Their story of dreams, resilience, and triumph radiate everywhere: where Socorro Ramos managed to save their bookstore amid foreign invasion, where Ruth Callanta established the Center for Community Transformation and promotes microfinance for her countrymen, where Cory Aquino showed unfathomable service for the country, where Rosalind Wee introduced new ways to empower women through the Philippine Federation of Local Councils of Women, where Pacita Juan does not just talk about Filipino coffee but social corporate responsibility, where Ana Julaton exceeded the limits for Maria’s physical capabilities that everybody thought, where Amina Raul-Bernardo hoped for peace through founding the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy (PCID), where Lea Salonga, Chin Chin Gutierrez, and Charice Pempengco planted the seeds of their dreams, where Rizal’ sisters are also known as Saturnina, Narcisa, Olimpia, Lucia, Maria, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad, and Soledad, and where my mother told me to study hard so I can understand my country.
Yes, their story is right here in our own nation where women make life not only possible, but amazingly beautiful.