Before the National Women’s Month in the Philippines (and Women’s History Month in the US) is over, please allow me to indulge in something personal, sharing cherished memories.
Looking back, it would seem that my life has been dominated by women, not excluding a couple of failed marriages. Truly, more than any macho man I know. And I possess credentials to show.
My toddler and subsequent formative years were in a home populated dominantly by women. My mother, our materfamilias spinster grandaunt, four teenage aunties. I hardly ever had any childhood memory of my father, at all. My very first playmate was a girl first cousin, a few months younger than I. And I have pictures to show dressed like her! Also, I was the only boy in an experimental play school at a girls’ ‘colegio’ in Calbayog! Nurture and environment has made me a pro-woman man. Say, a woman man!
The very first instance of mild disciplining I can remember was repeatedly being put in a corner, face in, for being a pain while Mama was writing her ‘lesson plan’ for the following day. She was a public school teacher of the early 30s Philippine Normal School vintage.
My next memory of being disciplined was in kindergarten at St. Anthony’s (along Legarda St.). A tall German nun grabbed me by my right arm and haled me from the backrow, plunking me down front. I must have been naughty. Was discipline taking the form of a woman for me at such an early impressionable age?
At Grade One--University of Manila elementary school--my teacher was a tall mestiza, Ms. Bona, whose daughter in kindergarten I played with. Interruption came with the war’s onset, picking up Grade One once more at yet another girls’ school. La Consolacion on San Rafael street. I remember a Sor Joaquina, an Española. And I suppose my first crush! Asuncion with her long black hair, a very pretty mestizilla. I remember she lived across the street from the main gate.
At 18, on my very first gainful employment as clerk/messenger in Binondo--Rapid Customs Brokerage--I had a female overseer. Although she was not my immediate boss, I recall she hawked over my tasks, the products of which ended on her desk. I even remember her name. Miss Eduvigis Santos, the bookkeeper.
I always yearned to have a girl for a first-born child. My wish was fulfilled, ecstatic at being a first-time father to a bouncing, bushy-haired bundle of joy. She never forgave me, though, for naming her “Kalipayan.” But why not? My late mother-in-law’s name was Felicidad. Tagalog families named daughters Ligaya. The Waray-waray Visayans can, too. They all mean Happiness. My Maria Elena Kalipayan settled for “Joy” Gomez from Kindergarten until she finished College, all of it in one school, an all-girls school, the Assumption Convent.
My self-awarded badge of honor as an “honorary female” came from being the first male voice in the very first all-female Radio Station in the Philippines which also happens to be the very first FM (frequency modulation) station. This was DZYL-fm of the original Chronicle Broadcasting Corporation (CBN). “YL” stood for Yolanda Lopez, (the late Bobbie) eldest daughter of Vice President Fernando Lopez. She was the mother of a dear friend, Panchito Puckett. My supervisor at DZYL-FM was Leila Benitez. (She was Mrs. Gerardo Roses, then.) My fellow announcer-disc jockeys were Nelda Lopez Navarro (mother of Leah, the social activist)), Aura Mitra, baby sister of Speaker Monching, Patty Farolan Mapa, Lulu Orense Casas, (who later in life wed Manuel Quezon Jr. and mother of the erudite Manolo, MLQ3, writer/’Explainer’.) There were two other ladies whose names I cannot now recall.
I had a two-year stint as a teacher in Philippine Women’s University Community College. My bosses were prominent and respected Filipina exemplars. Helena Z. Benitez and Leticia P. de Guzman. I even danced with the Bayanihan! Mostly girls. Very pretty ones, too, of course!
Growing up near some rough areas of the neighborhood, no boy has ever beaten me black and blue. I grew up tough. One auntie even egged and counselled, “fight back!” However, much later in life, I had two romances ending with me being physically womanhandled! Subconsciously perhaps, I guess I may just have let them make a punching bag of me, without violent defense on my part!
My proudest moment in life came when I served in the government administration of the Philippines’ first woman President, Corazon C. Aquino, reporting directly to her. First, as Consul General in Honolulu with the delicate assignment of surveilling the nefarious activities of the exiled deposed dictator and his wife, the hopelessly obstinate Ferdinand and Imelda. And then, being promoted to serve in the Cabinet as her Press Secretary. Both posts were a source of greatest joy and pride. With loyalty, honor and integrity, I served the country through ‘Tita’ Cory’s presidency.
Lastly, I must not be remiss in remembering that previous to the opportunity to serve the country given me by our first woman President, my ‘curriculum vitae’ must also include 25 years with that venerable House of Filipino Commerce: Ayala. Indeed, very few realize that Ayala’s past was a vibrant pioneering business matriarchy. The history of Ayala is distinctly marked by the acumen and guiding hands of illustrious matriarchs such as Margarita Roxas de Ayala, Trinidad Zobel y Roxas de Ayala and Mercedes Zobel McMicking.
In today’s Philippine era of insolent vulgarity and shameless moral depravity, lorded over by unparalleled misogynism and bloody oppression by the politically powerful, can one imagine what our country would all the more degenerate to, without the unflinching rectitude and indomitable spirit of our Leila, Meilou, Leni, Conchita, Maria, and others of kindred courage, sobriety and composure?
Pride in the Filipina. Let us never forget. Eight attempts at violent coups d’etat and a woman prevailed!
Support and gratitude. Let us all be woman! I am Mr. Woman!
To bolster further my ‘creds,’ there is a special niche of antiquarian books in my Filipiniana collection, all authored by women. They are:
1. Magherita Arlina Hamm – “Manila and the Philippines” – 1898 / published by F. Tennyson Neely
2. Adeline Knapp –“The Story of the Philippines” -- 1902 / Silver, Burdett & Co.
3. Edith Moses -- “Unofficial Letters of an Official’s Wife” – 1908 / D. Appleton & Co.
4. Mary H. Fee – “A Woman’s Impressions of the Philippines” – 1910 / A.C. McClurg & Co.
5. Mrs. Campbell Dauncey – The Philippines – An Account of their People, Progress and Condition -1910 / J.B. Millet & Co.
6. Mrs. William Howard Taft (nee Helen Herron) – “Recollections of Full Years” – 1914 / Dodd, Mead & Co.
7. Katherine Mayo -- “The Isles of Fear” – 1925 / Harcourt, Brace & Co.
8. Florence Horn – “Orphans of the Pacific” -- 1941 / Reynal & Hitchcock
9. Agnes Newton Keith -- “Barefoot in the Palace” -- 1955 / Little, Brown & Co.
10. Beth Day Romulo -- “Inside the Palace” – 1987 / G.P. Putnam
My modest library also contains the works of other female authors about Philippine matters: Sandra Burton, Kate Ellison, Carmen Navarro Pedrosa, Beatriz Romualdez Francia, Mila de Guzman and Raissa Robles.
If none of my daughters take an interest over this collection, I will consider selling them as a package, proceeds of which will be for the expenses of my cremation! Now, how is that for ‘dedication’……until I am ashes!!!
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