Officials honor Filipino women in Rizal and Del Pilar’s letters 

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TAIPEI CITY—Officials honor and remember this March International Women’s Month the strongest values, roles and charms of the Filipino women and the legacy of the “Women of Malolos” as hailed by Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Dr. Jose Rizal 135 years ago. 

Through social media and classroom discussions, Kabesera Inc., the town’s historical, cultural and heritage group spread copies of Del Pilar’s lMarch 13, 1889 letter to his niece Josefa Gatmaitan, the leader of the young women of Bulakan to inspire and remind today’s young women of their important role in community and nation building. 

Del Pilar, born in Sitio Cupang, Barangay San Nicolas this town on Aug. 30, 1850 and the  father of Philippine journalism, then in self-exile in Barcelona, Spain to covertly run and operate La Solidaridad as a vehicle to help enlighten the Filipino people on the centuries of oppression and abuses of the Spaniards expressed his admiration to the Filipino women as an epitome of righteousness and light. 

He encouraged the young Bulakenyas in his town, then the capital of the province to also use and demonstrate their prowess and God-given grace and wisdom to attain education that could help guide the nation until the next generations similar to what the young women of Malolos have earlier displayed. 

Del Pilar wanted the young women in his town not to feel inferior to the “Women of Malolos” who earlier asked Spanish Governor to the Philippines General Valeriano Weyler to allow them to put up a night school where they can learn the Spanish language. Their ideals were to familiarize with the language of the abusive and evil friars to become a foundation for them to help the country attain its freedom. 

“Barcelona, March 13, 1889. Señorita Doña Josefa Garmaitan. My dearest niece,” the place, date, addressee and salutation in the letter reads.  That the Bulakeñas assist in the regeneration of the country. A woman is the best guide to lead a man on the road to virtue. The virtue most pleasing to the Creator is that man perfect his intelligence to serve as his guiding light in the path of life. Knowledge of the Spanish language is an advantage in your education,” Del Pilar said in the first part of the letter. 

“To the young women of Bulacan, being certain that you are undoubtedly the ones destined to regenerate our country: because of your influential role within the family, as daughter or sister, wife or mother, the woman is not only the provider of healing comfort to the rigors of life; greater still is the role she plays in an imperceptible manner, leading man on the road to a virtuous life or along the path of perversity and cowardice,” he continued in the letter”. 

“I have visited many countries, and I have seen eloquent proof that where the woman is virtuous, vice is hardly existent and popular customs are predominantly dignified; but where the woman is frivolous, man wallows in immorality, the current trend being obliviousness or total disregard of sacred values. What takes place in the sphere of morality also takes place in the sphere of intelligence,” the letter also said. 

“The education of the woman stimulates and elevates the education of the man; so that in certain foreign cities it is customary to hold periodic competitions for the youth of both sexes from different schools and colleges, to show to the young men and young women that in a tough contest involving intelligence, awards are given to those who have received more or better education”. 

“On their part, the young women of Malolos have taken a step forward toward the attainment of education; and they shall achieve this end despite any obstacles that may arise to frustrate their aspirations. Newspapers and letters we receive from France, England, Austria and other places, express their congratulations to these young people on their conduct, recognizing in their behavior that the awareness of their dignity is beginning to awaken among the beautiful and sacred half of the people of Malolos. This good news was so welcome that even the learned and honorable author of Noli me tängere, sent them a long letter of congratulations from London. It would be a good idea for you to obtain a copy of this letter, which would be the best legacy you could leave for future generations. I cannot help but ponder on this sad question: why should a town like Bulacan, the birth place of a Pascuala and a Socorro Caiñgal, an Agustina and Magdalena Pagya, a Eugenia Fernando, the Enriquezes and many others whose brilliant talent I have had occasion to observe and silently admire; why should it be inferior to the town of Malolos?”

In the earlier February 17, 1889 letter of Del Pilar (who also uses the pseudonym Plaridel, a juggled name of his family name Del Pilar) to Rizal who was then in London, whom he addressed as “Laong Laan,” (one of the pseudonyms of Rizal), he brought to his attention the said brilliant initiative of the “Women of Malolos” of their clamor for education where he asked our national hero to write a congratulatory letter to the young women. 

“Barcelona, February 17, 1889. Dear friend Laong Laan,* the first part of the letter reads. “The attitude of the women of Malolos reveals that the campaign of our leaders there remains constant. These ladies belong to the privileged class of the town; they are respected for their good reputations, and as the daughters of maginoos.* If you could send them a letter written in Tagalog, it would be a big help for our champions there and in Manila. Due to the propaganda spread by these ladies by word of mouth and through example, the idea that it is disgraceful for a man or a woman to be loyal or obedient to the friars is gaining popularity in the provinces, and this is producing great effects. Have you read the verses “Buhay Santaclara”? Your sister thinks these were written by a woman of Malolos, because this was what she was led to believe; and the women of Malolos believe your sister wrote these verses. I urge you to please write a laudatory letter to the women of Malolos,” part of the said letter reads.

On February 22, 1889, Rizal sent a reply to Plaridel informing him that he had already wrote a letter of greetings to the women of Malolos. Rizal sent the letter to Del Pilar to check and edit Part of the letter reads “My dear friend Plaridel. Enclosed is my long letter to the women of Malolos. Read it, and correct it, since there is no one here with whom I can speak Tagalog, I am beginning to forget it a little. I believe I owe them more than a simple letter, and so there it goes. Take care that it does not fall into the hands of the friars and get lost; it is my first draft, and Thave no copy. Please excuse this short letter, but my epistle to the women of Malolos has tired my hand. Yours, LAONG LAAN”. 

The letter was entitled, “Sa Mga Kababayang Dalaga sa Malolos,” wherein Rizal expressed his admiration for their initiative, bravery and nationalism because of their decisive move to put up a night school and learn the Spanish language. This group of women gathered on December 12, 1888 at the house of Rufina Reyes in Barangay Sto. Nino where they made wrote their letter to Governor General Wyler.   

City of Malolos Mayor Christian Natividad who led officials in a wreath-laying ceremony at the House of Reyes, during the 135th year anniversary of Rizal’s letter to the “Women of Malolos,” said the city is now reaping the legacy of the young females in the city who championed the plight for right to education as a major step in attaining freedom because of today’s high literacy rate of the city’s youth. 

According to the mayor, Malolos was adjudged by the Department of Education (DepEd) in 2023 as among the Top 5 Most Literate Cities in the country.

The recent development can be considered as a milestone achievement from the city’s record fourteen years ago in 2010 of being one of the cities and municipalities in the country with the highest percentage of dropouts and incompletion rates.

“Today, the City of Malolos from having the record with the highest dropouts and incompletion rate in 1998, has just bagged the Top 5 post in the National Literacy Award among cities and municipalities with the highest literacy rate. Malolos is reaping the legacy of our very own Women of Malolos, their courage, yearning for education and freedom,” Natividad told the media just after the wreath laying ceremony.

In 2010, he said, when he was first elected mayor, the City of Malolos was number one in dropout and incomplete percentage rate in the Philippines in secondary schooling with 1:98 classroom-student ratio but when he ended his nine years term in 2019 and until today, the ratio improved to 1:40 which is way above the DepEd’s 1:45 ideal ratio, the mayor said.  

Today, Natividad said, there are public schools that offer senior high education in every 3 barangays out of its total 51 barangays.

The legacy of Del Pilar continued. Bulakan did not only produce Senators Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo and Francisco Delgado but exemplary women in the person of Carmen De Luna who was a known Filipino educator and who co-founded the Centro Escolar University. She is featured in the 2024 Kabesera calendar. 

Then 18 year old Felicisima Villalon Dionisio ran away from their house in Barangay Tabang-San Francisco in 1942 and joined the  anti-Japanese occupation rebel group “Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) to defend the women’s rights against Japanese abuses. Known as “Kumander Letty,” she died Sept. 19 last year at the age of 99. 

Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro and Sandigan Bayan Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega are among today’s leading pride of Bulakan town. Both of them were recipients of “Dangal ng Lipi” award, the highest recognition the provincial government bestows to its outstanding sons and daughters. 

Filipino food historians and puni art icons, the late Mila Santiago-Enriquez and her niece, Rheeza Santiago-Hernandez were from Bulakan. Hernandez died of breast cancer at the age of 51 in July 2022. 

Denia Mauricio-Clacio, daughter of Kumander Fely and Anna Marie Gonzales-Felizardo, both professors at the Bulacan State University (BulSU) Meneses Campus in this town discussed before their classes the letters and exchange of communications between Del Pilar and Rizal about the women of Malolos and Bulakan town to inspire today’s generation of young women and boost their virtues and good qualities as Filipinos. 

Perfecto Martin and Gemma Santos, former and current presidents of Kabesera also discussed in social media the contents of the letters of Del Pilar and Rizal about the Filipino women. 

“It must be an annual Women’s Month celebration habit to retell the stories and the actual letters of Del Pilar and Rizal to the Filipino women to inspire our today’s young women to become more responsible, courageous, intelligent and to have a higher sense of nationalism,” Martin told NEWS CORE. 

“Del Pilar in his letter noted that the women of Bulakan were just as intelligent and progressive as the women of Malolos. Acknowledging the significant influence of women in the family and the community, he exhorted the women of Bulakan to educate themselves and educate their children, to love their town and contribute to its betterment. So we can say that we had in him a believer and proponent of women empowerment even in those early days,” Santos said. 

Mayor Vergel Meneses and the whole of the municipal government of Bulakan highly recognize the contribution of Kabesera in further enriching, preserving and promoting the rich history, culture and heritage of Bulakan town being the old capital of the province and the seen game changer town of the province because of the soon operation of the newest and largest airport in the country, the P754 billion worth New Manila International Airport. 

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