Glory to the Katipunera
Illustration by Victoria Therese Cansancio
She was a woman of honor and great courage who dedicated her life fighting for the sake of the Filipino people. She nursed and saved the lives of the patriotic Katipuneros wounded in battle without fearing that her own life can be taken by the oppressors. She stood, side by side, with her husband and brothers in battle despite the challenge raised by several leaders of the revolution: “You, a woman, what can you do?” Moreover, she was not the ideal, submissive and meek Maria Clara the patriarchal society compelled her to be. She was the great and mighty Katipunera who did not need a knight in shining armor to save her from distress.
People have known Katipuneras from history books as women of the Philippine revolution who aided wounded fighters. The Mother of the Revolution, the Mother of Biak-na-Bato, and the Visayan and Tagalog Joan of Arc, these were few of the names for which they were recognized. Most of the Katipuneras were particularly renowned because of their commitment to nursing and providing the Katipuneros refuge, their maternal duties in the Katipunan or their connection with the Philippine flag. Every Katipunera is an unsung heroine, not because she is neither known nor regarded as such, but because she is not given the credit for being the shrewd spy or the bold and fearless warrior that she was inside the battlefield — a recognition that she truly deserves.
Prior to the Spanish colonial rule, there was no such thing as subordination of women, no division of labor and no classification of work according to gender. Women were considered of equal power with men. They were, in fact, the ones who led the people in worship, known as the babaylan. Everyone gave them much respect, for they were considered the mediator between humans and Bathala.
All these things were put to an end the moment the Spaniards conquered the Philippine islands. Men and women were no longer equals: the men being the masters, workers and providers of food, and the women, full-time housewives and slaves to their husbands. Spanish friars replaced the babaylan and instead of allowing the woman to lead in worship, they gave her a mere supporting role inside the church and made her submit to their every demand. It was the genocide of culture that gravely subjected her to unfair and oppressive conditions and it was that evil system called colonialism that brought her to such a lowly state in society — a situation that brought about damaging effects still quite evident in today’s world.
The silenced Filipina remained passive until the Philippine revolution broke out in the late 18th century when a women’s chapter of the Katipunan was formed. One of the notable Katipunera was in the name of Patrocinio Gamboa, also known as the Heroine of Jaro. Her revolutionary act known to history was in connection to the Philippine flag, for which she had to disguise as a nagging wife toward a submissive husband. Because of their convincing act, they were able to avoid the speculation of the Spanish authorities and successfully deliver the flag to Santa Barbara for an inaugural ceremony. She also served as a spy for the Katipunan and gathered information necessary to the organization’s revolutionary cause.
Another woman worthy of admiration is Trinidad Tecson, known as the Mother of Biak-na-Bato. Tecson was recognized as the Mother of Philippine National Red Cross for her noble act of looking after wounded Katipuneros, but most of her involvement in the Philippine revolution dealt with military action. She engaged in many of the revolutionary attacks against the Spaniards and in some instances got wounded while in the midst of battle. Defying all odds and destroying every stereotypical notion, Tecson managed to survive every battle and even served as a nurse at a military hospital in Biak-na-Bato.
One more commendable Katipunera is the pride of Iloilo, Teresa Magbanua or the Visayan Joan of Arc. With a bolo in one hand and divine intervention on the other, Magbanua led a battalion of revolutionaries and engaged in numerous battles against Spanish troops. It was her utter patriotism and hunger for freedom that urged her into joining the Katipunan. However, it was also for the same reasons that her brothers, Elias and Pascual Magbanua, died honorable deaths in the hands of Filipino traitors.
Gamboa, Tecson and Magbanua were among the many Katipuneras who struggled against the Spanish tyrants in pursuit of a country free from the shackles of oppression. In contrast to the false concept of an ideal Filipina, they were defiant to the patriarchal system that required them to stay at home, do domestic work or look after the fields. Finally, they demonstrated that there really is no ideal Filipina, that the woman should not be limited by the rules set upon by the society and that the woman herself is the one to determine her value and worth as a person.
The Katipunera was every wife who courageously joined her husband in the struggle. She was every sister who grieved, but at the same time, took pride in the honorable death of her brothers. She was every mother who tended to her ailing sons in battle. Most importantly, she was a Filipina, a woman born with dignity and honor, whose influence in the revolutionary movement being often overlooked by historians in favor of the male revolutionaries. Although she was initially prohibited to take part in any military action, she stood with much conviction and proved that no man shall go against the purpose to which she was called for: to defend her country whatever the cost.
Now for us, sons and daughters, who bear the blood of the Katipunera, the ones for whose awakening and freedom that the Katipunera left her home and joined the movement, the ones who will continue to struggle in a world of undying injustice, let us remember her for her strength and bravery, and let us not limit ourselves to stereotypical notions passed on to us by the established patriarchal system.