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From revolutions to science and sports, these 7 Filipinas made ‘herstory’

The world may be built and made for men, but Filipinas are out here, making their marks in our country’s herstory.

For the past years, women have been changing the game and taking up spaces traditionally dominated by men. They have defied stereotypical notions of women and redefined what ‘act like a girl’ means.

In observance of International Women’s Day and National Women’s Month, from starting a revolution and fighting against colonizers to performing on the international stage and lifting a 55-kilogram barbell, be empowered and inspired by these Filipinas who left their footprints in the Philippine herstory.

Gabriela Silang

via Liberation News

While many people may remember her as Diego Silang’s partner and closest advisor, Gabriela Silang also made herstory as the first female revolutionary who fought for the country’s freedom against Spaniard colonizers.

She was a fearless warrior who led a resistance group and joined the war after Diego was assassinated in 1763. Gabriela launched guerilla attacks against the colonizers, and due to her strategy, she earned the name “Henerala,” a name that struck fear in Spanish troops.

However, after four months of leading the group, she and the other rebels were captured and publicly executed in Vigan’s plaza on September 29, 1763.

Gabriela’s courage and effort have inspired the establishment of GABRIELA, a national alliance of women who educates and empowers them to fight for their rights.

Teresa Magbanua

via the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ Twitter page

Originally a school teacher, Teresa Magbanua made herstory as the first woman in Panay to fight in the Philippine revolution, earning her the moniker of Visayan Joan of Arc.

Magbanua joined the revolutionary forces shortly after her two brothers had become officers in the army. She bravely led an army on horseback during her first battle in barrio Yating, Pilar, Capiz in 1898. She also fought in the Battle of Sapong Hills, Battle of Balantang, Jaro in 1899.

However, shortly after her brothers’ deaths, she surrendered to the Americans in 1900. But that’s not the end of her story because, during World War II, she showed her heroism by helping and supporting the liberators with their guerilla activities. After the war, she went to Mindanao to live with her sister. Magbanua died in Zamboanga in 1947.

Magdalena Leones

via The Hall of Valor Project’s official website

Born in 1920, Magdalena Leones left her footprints in Philippine history as the first Filipina to receive the Silver Star Award, the third-highest military combat decoration given by the United States military. But before becoming a World War II veteran, Leones was a teacher studying to be a nun when the Japanese invasion happened in 1941.

After the Fall of Bataan in 1942, Leones was imprisoned for five months for refusing to surrender to the officials. There, she learned the Japanese language Niponggo, which has proven to be useful later on.

After meeting Colonel Russel Vockman of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines-North Luzon (USAFIP-NL), Leones served as an intelligence officer where she collected important data and information from the enemy units. She was also recognized for her sharp memory as she remembered the names of enemy ships, their loads, and the captains.

Leones moved to California in 1969 after the war concluded. She died in 2016 at the age of 96.

Paz Marquez-Benitez

via Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings’ official website

One of the most prominent figures in Philippine literature is Paz Marquez-Benitez. Marquez-Benitez is known as the first Filipino to write a modern English-language short story, Dead Stars. She also served as a mentor to some famous Filipino writers, namely Bienvenido N. Santos, Paz M. Latorena, and National Artist Francisco Arcellana, among others.

Apart from this, Marquez-Benitez founded the first women’s magazine in the country called Woman’s Home Journal in 1991. Alongside other members of Manila’s social elites, she also founded the then Philippine Women’s College, which is currently known as Philippine Women’s University.

Lea Salonga

via Lea Salonga’s official website

Filipina icon Lea Salonga has been making waves on the international scene through the past years. The singer-actress first rose to international stardom when she played Kim in the debut musical production of Miss Saigon. After playing the lead role, Salonga won Best Actress at the 1991 Tony Awards, making her the first Filipina and Asian actor to win the award. Apart from this award, she also won the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theater World awards.

Salonga also provided the singing voices for Disney animated films Aladdin and Mulan, where she sang A Whole New World and Reflection, respectively. Due to her contributions, she was among the many recipients of the Disney Legend award, an award that is given to “individuals who gave voice to some of the most iconic and beloved Disney princesses.”

Angelita Castro-Kelly

via Illustradolife.com

Filipina physicist and space scientist Angelita Castro-Kelly was the first woman to hold the position of NASA’s Mission Operations Manager. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Sto. Tomas, where she graduated summa cum laude. Shortly after moving to the United States, she pursued a master’s degree at the University of Maryland.

Castro-Kelly first started working at NASA in 1977, and in 1990, she became the agency’s Mission Operations Manager, who supervised the Earth Observing System project. Her contributions at NASA have earned her numerous awards. In 1993, former President Fidel Ramos bestowed her the Presidential Award ‘Pamana ng Bayan’ for science and technology. She was also the recipient of the Goddard Space Flight Center Exceptional Service award in 2006 and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2007-2009.
In 2015, the Filipina scientist passed on June 7 at the age of 73.

Hidilyn Diaz

Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Inquirer

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history by becoming the first Olympic gold medalist from the Philippines after winning the women’s 55-kg weightlifting category at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But before nabbing the gold medal, she already made her mark when she won numerous medals in different multi-sport events, including the Southeast Asian Games where she was a bronze medalist in 2007, silver medalist in 2011 and 2013, and gold in 2019; 2016 Summer Olympics where she won a silver medal, among many others.

Diaz’s determination and victory isn’t only a historic event because she ended the country’s medal drought, but it’s also a reflection on women breaking barriers and making herstory in a space traditionally dominated by men.


Other POP! stories you might like:

Women chefs in Asia break through in a profession still dominated by men

HERstory: The evolution of motherhood & women’s roles in the Philippines

Young women celebrate International Women’s Day 2021

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