Malolos, the Philippines
October 17, 2015
A woman’s place was at home. Their role in society was limited to performing wifely and motherly duties, and they most likely opened their mouths in public only to say prayers. Such was the life of the spice islands’ girls during the Spanish colonial era. But a group of 20 young women, many of whom still in their teens, in Malolos, Bulacan was ahead of their time. They insisted on education in place of domestication. Exactly the kind of progressive idea that the Spanish friars denied Filipinos, more so women, to maintain their abuse of power.
Fast forward to present-day Philippines, a country that had seen two female presidents.
I was invited by the Philippine Heritage Map team to the house of one of the Malolos women. Arriving before dawn, we found F.T. Reyes Street illuminated by street lights. Formerly Calle Electricidad, it had been lighted for well over a century as the country’s first street installed with power lines. Bong Enriquez, president of Women of Malolos Foundation Inc. (WOMFI), was at the front porch of the Uitangcoy-Santos House reading under that age-old electric light.
Like the brilliant bulb above him, Bong shed light on this part of our history. The original house was built in the 1890s by a Sangley family in Pariancillo, the unofficial Chinatown of Malolos. On the ashes of that grand old house, the present structure was built in 1914, thus furnished with pieces from the American period by Puyat, the name in the furniture industry that time.
The house belonged to Alberta Uitangcoy-Santos, one of the two leaders of the women. The other was Basilia Tantoco. Both 23 years old at that time, they were blessed with higher education, but not enough to play active roles in society. They recognized the need to learn Spanish for their voices to be heard and understood by the powers that be in Spain. All that time, the language barrier had allowed abusive priests to misrepresent the colony.
The women and the rest of the group were “gentle reminders of the fierce fight for the right of women to be educated,” so went one of several informative plaques that hung on the walls. It continued:
The women then were only taught how to sign their names and read the abakada or the novena. The Women of Malolos headed by Alberta wanted to open a night school following a decree by the king. But the friars would hear nothing of it. These were exciting times because M.H. del Pilar was here, and so were his allies who fought for reforms. There was a propaganda movement in Malolos. Women wanted to learn Spanish.
If this house in Malolos, Bulacan could talk, it would tell many an intriguing story of a time gone forever. If its walls and its hallowed halls had ears, it would talk of Jose Rizal’s nocturnal visits to this place and his clandestine meetings with fellow revolutionaries when he was in the thick of founding the La Liga Filipina.
An imposing mural by Rafael del Casal dominated the front porch. It depicted the historic moment on December 12, 1888 when the women, daughters of reformistas and wealthy Chinese merchants, presented their letter of intent (to study Spanish with language teacher Teodoro Sandico) to the visiting Governor-General, Valeriano Weyler.
Their petition was shot down by the villainous parish priest. No matter, the ladies found encouraging allies in M.H. del Pilar and Rizal, whose support he conveyed through a letter, his only work written in Tagalog (an excerpt here translated in English):
Remember that a good mother does not resemble the mother that the friar has created; she must bring up her child to be the image of the true God, not of a blackmailing, a grasping God, but of a God who is the father of us all, who is just; who does not suck the life-blood of the poor like a vampire, nor scoffs at the agony of the sorely beset, nor makes a crooked path of the path of justice.
The school opened in February the following year, though shut down by May. The fact that they succeeded at all was remarkable enough. Even then, language was power, and language learning was necessary in the development of societies the world over.
What of these women’s descendants? Bong dropped familiar names in diverse fields in Philippine society: the Tantocos of Rustan’s, former FEU president Lydia Echauz, acclaimed broadcast journalist Cheche Lazaro, and the Tiangson doctors, among others.
By mid-morning, the team hopped over to Sta. Isabel Parish Church. In fact, the reason I was in Malolos was for a promotional video. My spot would be shot on location in the church grounds.
The video was an infomercial and a call for volunteers for the Philippine Heritage Map. According to their Facebook page:
The Philippine Heritage Map is the country’s first online information and management portal made specifically to create an authoritative and comprehensive inventory of all heritage structures and historic events in the Philippines. We aim to help promote and protect the unique cultural heritage though a showcase of significant Philippine architecture, historic districts, towns and cities.
The Philippine Heritage Map (also known as the Philippine Inventory of Cultural Properties and Historic Events) is a crowd-sourced repository that is maintained by the local stakeholders, government units, heritage practitioners and volunteers, all working towards preservation of Philippine cultural heritage through proper research, documentation and capacity building. Through a collaborative, grassroots-based framework and approach applied on heritage resource management, we envision on empowerment in relation to preserving Filipino cultural heritage and history.
The Philippine Heritage Map is powered by Arches, an innovative and powerful web platform that incorporates international standards for building an inventory of immovable cultural heritage, historic events and other significant cultural resources. The development of Arches was led by the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund.
Right after the visit to the Uitangcoy-Santos House, I was even more inspired to get involved in the promotion and protection of our country’s heritage and historical sites. Thanks to Joel Aldor, co-founder of the Philippine Heritage Map, for inviting me to take part in their worthy cause.