Why Women Rule Pampanga

Nieves Fernandez, a school teacher-turned-Huk commander from Leyte, showing an American soldier how to kill Japanese soldiers with a bolo (Photo by Stanley Troutman courtesy of reddit.com)

Nieves Fernandez, a school teacher-turned-Huk commander from Leyte, showing an American soldier how to kill Japanese soldiers with a bolo (Photo by Stanley Troutman courtesy of reddit.com)

Just because you see very few women in Kapampangan history does not mean they stayed home while their men were out changing the world.

In the 1300s and 1400s, powerful women with names like Panginuan ("the Revered One”) and Sasamban (“the Worshipped One”) were already enjoying co-ruler status with their husbands in the ancient Kapampangan-Tagalog communities around the Pampanga and Pasig rivers.

Their daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces and granddaughters, with names like Kalangitan, Makayabongdili, Mandik, Monmon, Bayinda and Taui, founded or co-founded prehistoric towns like Bakulud (Bacolor), Bebe (Macabebe), Apalit, Kandaue (Candaba), Pinpin (Sta. Ana) and Balayan ning Pambuit (Arayat).

You won’t see their names in historical documents (except in one, the Last Will of Pansomun, 1589) because the Spaniards erased or altered them (for example, Pansomun's wife Samak became Juana Sisunan). The colonizers brought very masculine, sexist values and systems from medieval Europe and imposed them on ancient Kapampangan society.

Despite this, Kapampangan women managed to assert their individuality and influence, either as babaylans (healers and seers) and beatas (mystics and hermits).

Two such women were Cecilia Tongol and Melchora La Beata, both from Bataan, who had a reputation for holiness but were unfortunately barred from entering the monastery, simply because they were natives.

But another Kapampangan woman, Martha de San Bernardo, fought the prohibition. In 1632, she made the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara in Manila open its gates for her, because “she was so influential a woman and so moral and virtuous” and also because the Spanish nuns in the monastery so admired her that they themselves petitioned the Franciscan Provincial to lift the prohibition.

Martha de San Bernardo blazed the trail for other Filipino nuns. Fifty years later, native women were not only entering the monasteries by the hundreds but were actually opening their own religious congregations, starting with Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo of Binondo, who founded the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) in 1684.

In 1719, two Kapampangan women, Dionisia Talangpaz and Cecilia Talangpaz of Calumpit, Bulacan, founded the Congregation of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters, the world’s oldest non-contemplative religious community for women in the Augustinian Recollect Order.

Luisa Gonzaga de Leon of Bacolor wrote a book in which she boldly used her own surname and proclaimed herself an India (native woman) on the book’s title: Ejercicio Cotidiano: iti amanu yang Castila bildug ne quing amanung Capampangan nang Doña Luisa Gonzaga de Leon, India quing balayang Baculud.

Published in 1844 (a year after her death), the book made her the first woman author in Philippine history. According to historian Dr. Luciano Santiago, Luisa Gonzaga de Leon was “well ahead of her time” because her translation of the Mass in the vernacular would be an innovation of the Second Vatican Council more than 100 years later.

When the Revolution against Spain broke out in 1896 and the Philippine-American War in 1899, Kapampangan women picked up arms and fought side by side with their husbands, fathers and sons.

Filipino woman with rifle during the revolution (Photo courtesy of Retrato: Filipinas Photo Collection)

Filipino woman with rifle during the revolution (Photo courtesy of Retrato: Filipinas Photo Collection)

In Bacolor, revolutionary playwright Mariano Proceso Pabalan Byron (1862-1904) wrote Apat Ya Ing Junio (Fourth of June), about a local girl who put on men’s clothes so she could fight alongside her Katipunero boyfriend. It was based on real characters and events during the siege of the Casa Real (capitol building) and the Escuela de Artes y Oficios (now DHVTSU).

President Noynoy Aquino’s great-grandmother, Guadalupe Quiambao, wife of Gen. Servillano Aquino and mother of Benigno Aquino Sr., was also a fiery Kapampangan woman from Macabebe, who died holding a bolo and a knife during the Revolution. Guadalupe's own mother, Lorenza Tanedo of Tarlac, was of the same mold.

During World War II and the struggle for social justice that followed, Kapampangan women were more than cooks and nurses and other roles that wives of guerillas and girlfriends of soldiers usually played. They actually served as military commanders: Kumander Dayang-dayang (Felipa Culala of Candaba), Kumander Liwayway (Remedios Gomez of Mexico), Kumander Guerrero (Simeona Punsalan of San Simon), Kumander Mameng (Elena Poblete of Minalin).

Remedios Gomez a.k.a. Kumander Liwayway, the legendary Huk commander who wore makeup and lipstick before facing Japanese soldiers during WWII (Photo courtesy of Rizal Library, Ateneo de Manila)

Remedios Gomez a.k.a. Kumander Liwayway, the legendary Huk commander who wore makeup and lipstick before facing Japanese soldiers during WWII (Photo courtesy of Rizal Library, Ateneo de Manila)

Elena Poblete a.k.a. Kumander Mameng, of Minalin, Pampanga. Daughter of Huk commander Bernardo Poblete (Kumander Banal), she took a bullet during a battle with Japanese soldiers in WWII.

Elena Poblete a.k.a. Kumander Mameng, of Minalin, Pampanga. Daughter of Huk commander Bernardo Poblete (Kumander Banal), she took a bullet during a battle with Japanese soldiers in WWII.

Whether big-muscled amazonas (like Culala) or dainty maidens who had to wear makeup before going to war (like Gomez), these women warriors were “one of the proudest features of the Hukbalahap,” wrote Huk Supremo Luis Taruc.

But they merely continued the long tradition of Kapampangan women who keep asserting their strong personalities in a predominantly patriarchal society such as ours in Pampanga.

These women often start out as frail and timid girls who are totally submissive to their fathers and later totally devoted to their husbands. You see them rushing to pull off their men’s shoes, peel their shrimps and pour coffee in their cups.

But then, they learn over time to run their households like CEOs and invest their savings in small businesses, which eventually grow into family empires. Thus the efficient homemakers mature into matriarchs and dowagers whose sphere of influence often extends to the community beyond.

Old families in Pampanga like the Hizons, Hensons, Gonzalezes, Arnedos, Lazatins, Pamintuans, Panlilios, Nepomucenos, Dayrits, Singians and Tayags have, at one time or another, been led by remarkable women whose colorful, controlling personalities often eclipsed those of their husbands.

Nicolasa Dayrit Panlilio of San Fernando, Pampanga, who risked life to ease tension between two feuding generals of the revolution, Gen. Antonio Luna and Gen. Tomas Mascardo, during an encounter near Bacolor at the height of the Philippine-American War

Nicolasa Dayrit Panlilio of San Fernando, Pampanga, who risked life to ease tension between two feuding generals of the revolution, Gen. Antonio Luna and Gen. Tomas Mascardo, during an encounter near Bacolor at the height of the Philippine-American War

Re-posted from Robby Tantingco’s Facebook page


Robby Tantingco

Robby Tantingco

Robby Tantingco is the Director of the Center for Kapampangan Studies and Vice President for External Affairs of Holy Angel University. He is the author of "Destiny and Destination" and "Pinatubo: The Volcano in our Backyard" which won a National Book Award.