Women in the Revolution

Women in the Revolution
By: Sonia Magbanua Zaide
Retrieved from Vol. 14 No. 1 (1998)

One of the most remarkable facts about the Philippine struggle for independence, whose Centennial is now being celebrated, is that it was concern for women that began — and ended — the story. All for a man’s love of a woman did the cycle of events at the turn of the century bring the Philippines into the mainstream of world history, and made the story of nationhood our own.

It is well-known, for example, that the Katipunan could not have survived as a secret society had it not been for the active support of the women. At first, the Katipunan was purely an all-male society. But owing to the growing suspicion of the women regarding the nocturnal disappearing acts of their husbands, and the reduction of their monthly earnings, Bonifacio and the other katipuneros decided to bring their women into the fold.

To be admitted as a KKK member, a woman had to be related to a katipunero. The first katipunera was of course Gregoria de Jesus. She was initiated a week after she married Andres Bonifacio in March 1893, and assumed the symbolic name Lakambini (Princess). Among the other women who joined the Katipunan were Marina Dizon, a cousin of Emilio Jacinto; Macaria Pangilinan, wife of a Filipino sergeant of the Carabineros who was a katipunero; and Benita Rodriguez, ninang of the Bonifacios.  

The women rendered invaluable services to the growth of the Katipunan. They guarded the secret papers and documents. Whenever the katipuneros met in cell groups, the women and some men pretended to be singing and dancing in the living room, so that the guardia civil would think only a harmless social party was happening. They were also helpful in recruiting new followers to the secret revolutionary society.

But it is not such a well-known fact that it was actually a man’s concern to save his sister that precipitated the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in August 1896. On the evening of August 19, 1896, Teodoro Patiño, a native of Capiz, went to fetch his sister Honoria from the orphanage for girls in Mandaluyong. Driven by his fear for her safety due to the impending hostilities, Teodoro tried to persuade the girl to flee Manila and return to their home province. Instead, she and the mother portress, Sor Teresa de Jesus, convinced him to divulge the plot to Padre Mariano Gil, Augustinian curate of Tondo. 

Afterwards, some anti-clerical writers stated that the Katipunan secrets were divulged in the confessional by a woman, accusing the priest of violating the sacramental seal of secrecy. Interestingly enough, an American writer named Edwin Wildman, wove the wildest tale of all— that the Katipunan was betrayed at the confessional by a vindicative woman whose love was spurned by Emilio Aguinaldo!

During the Revolution itself, Filipino women, being the patriotic like the men, participated in the fight for freedom. They encouraged their husbands and sons to fight; they fed the hungry men and nursed their wounds; and some of them even served as combatants who fought in the actual battlefields.

The outbreak of the “First Cry” in August 1896 saw the remaining katipuneros gathered at the farm of Juan Ramos in North Manila. There, his 84-year-old widowed mother Melchora Aquino hosted the desperate and beleaguered revolutionaries, and witnessed the historic “Cry” and the audacious tearing of the cedulas. She fed the freedom fighters and took care of the sick and wounded men. For giving aid and comfort to them, she was arrested by the Spanish authorities and subjected to a grueling interrogation. But her valiant spirit remained unbroken, and she refused to squeal on the secret hideout of Bonifacio and his men. Upon hearing that she was being summarily deported to Guam, she defiantly stated, “I have no regrets, and if I had nine lives, I would gladly give them up for my beloved country!” History celebrates her as “The Mother of Balintawak” and the north Metro Manila area now bears her famous name “Tandang Sora.”

Gregoria Montoya, a root barrio girl from Kawit, Cavite, led a contingent of General Aguinaldo’s soldiers at the bloody battle of Calero (near the beach of Dalahican, Cavite) on November 10, 1896. Fighting with the fury of a tigress, Montoya repulsed the Spanish assault on Calero at the sacrifice of her own life. She died in combat, hit by a cannon ball from a Spanish gunboat. For her flaming patriotism and exploits in battle, local historians have dubbed her “The Joan of Arc of Cavite.”

Interestingly enough, most of the famous women revolutionaries came from the rich ilustrado class, and therefore had more to lose. Consequently, their contributions to the revolutionary cause carried more weight. But despite having given all to the nation, they died in varying degrees of poverty and obscurity. This curiosity may be due partly to the unenlightened male gender preference of former days, or to the misguided attempt to call it a “revolt of the masses,” or partly, to the predilection for national, as opposed to local, history. The present generation should rewrite history by recognizing the female contributions to our libertarian struggle.

Agueda Kahabagan, an ilustrada from Santa Cruz, Laguna became a dashing henerala (woman general). Popularly known as Henerala Agueda, she led a formidable contingent of male soldiers, fed and armed them with rifles and bolos. Her indomitable courage impressed the revolutionary warlords. She first distinguished herself as a combat commander in the attack on Spanish troops at San Pablo City on October 9, 1898. General Ricarte noted her “distinguished” role in this battle, ahead of the other male officers. Having survived the Revolution against Spain, Henerala Agueda again fought for freedom during the War of Independence against the Americans. With General Pio del Pilar, she fought the American troops in the southern Tagalog region. Historians acclaim her as “The Tagalog Joan of Arc”.

In the Visayas, Teresa Magbanua joined her brothers, Generals Pascual and Elias, in the battlegrounds of Iloilo. In offering her services, she was at first refused by her kin, but she replied, “Our country needs women as well as men to fight for liberty. You refuse me because I am a woman. What of it? Cannot a woman fight as well as a man?” Then she proceeded to prove her point by winning battles. Her finest hour came in the Battle of Sap-ong, a mountain retreat near Sara, Iloilo. With her half-starved, poorly-armed men, she attacked a strong Spanish detachment and won. The triumphal entry of the revolutionary troops in Jaro in December 1899 was the proudest day in the life of ‘Nay Isa. General Martin Delgado and other warlords of the Iloilo revolutionary government, recognizing her military prowess, gave her a prominent part at the gala ceremony. According to an eyewitness, “She entered the town of Jaro, prancing on a white horse with ease and dignity, at the head of her troops, armed with old muskets, spears and bolos, and caked in blood and mud. But the crowd cheered wildly when they saw the warlike colegiala and ex-teacher, whose name had become a byword throughout the island.” Though she died in obscurity, she is remembered now as “The Joan of Arc of the Visayas.” When asked whether she regretted not having received anything for her heroic services, ‘Nay Isa replied, “We fought and suffered during the Revolution without expecting any reward, much less fame. We simply did our duty. Those who are hungry for fame are not genuine patriots.”

Miss Patrocinio Gamboa, the “Heroine of Jaro”, donated her wealth for the revolutionary cause in Iloilo, encouraged the Ilongo generals in their fight, and sewed the Filipino national flag which was used by the Ilongo patriots. She smuggled this flag through enemy lines and it was hoisted during the famous “Cry of Santa Barbara” on November 17, 1898. Under this flag, the patriots of Panay fought the Spaniards, and later the Americans.

Another Ilonga heroine, Nazaria Lagos, gained fame in the revolutionary annals as a war nurse.  She sewed the Filipino flag which was first hoisted in Dueñas, her hometown, on June 2, 1899, during the second anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence. Her greatest achievement of a military hospital at her hacienda, for which she is hailed as “The Florence Nightingale of Panay.”

Trinidad Tecson of San Miguel, Bulacan, another local heroine, nobly served the libertarian cause both as combat soldier and as a war nurse. As a soldier, she fought under the command of General Mariano Llanera in the attack on San Miguel, her natal town, and in the battles of Gulugod Baboy near San Ildefonso, Bulacan, and San Jose, Nueva Ecija. Later, she joined the troops of General Isidro Torres and participated in the attack of San Rafael, where she was almost captured by Spanish troops. In a subsequent battle at Saragosa, she was wounded in the right leg.  This forced her to retire from the active combat. Thus, she went to Biak-na-Bato, where she worked as a war nurse in Aguinaldo’s war camp.

The Red Cross of the Philippines dates its founding to the wartime services of Mrs. Aguinaldo, Tecson and others. Like Florence Nightingale, she dressed the wounds of the men, cheered them with tender words during their agony, and prayed for them in their dying moments. The patriots looked upon her as their mother. General Aguinaldo, who saw and appreciated her nursing services, gave her the title of “Ina ng Biak-na-Bato.”

During the second phase of the Revolution, beginning in May 1898, Tecson served under the banner of General Gregorio del Pilar. Dressed once more in the blue rayadillo uniform, she took part in the capture of Bulacan town and Malabon. When the First Republic was established at Malolos in January 1899, President Aguinaldo appointed her army quarter-master, a position of responsibility. 

Mention must also be made of other women who, although they did not fight revolutionary battles, nonetheless made their contributions to the patriotic cause. Doña Marcela Mariño Agoncillo, wife of Felipe Agoncillo, accompanied General Aguinaldo and the other patriots to exile in Hong Kong. There in early 1898, she was requested to make the national flag, the “Sun and Stars.”

Doña Marcela and two other women, her eldest daughter Lorenzana and Mrs. Delfina Herbosa de Natividad (Dr. Rizal’s niece), gladly made the national flag, for it was their big chance to serve the fatherland. The women skillfully cut the material out of the finest silk cloth bought from a Hong Kong department store. Many times, their patience was taxed to the limit, and they had to rip what had already been sewn, “simply because a ray was crooked, or because the stars were not exactly equidistant.” But, after five days of careful work, the flag was personally handed by Mrs. Agoncillo to Aguinaldo just before he boarded the American transport ship that returned him to the Philippines in May 1898. 

As for a famous love story of the Revolution, the historical allegations about General Antonio Luna and a Chinese belle in Tarlac have fascinated archivists due to an alleged love child and the missing war chest of the republican army. Both had implications for a former presidential clan, and thus were hushed up. Otherwise, the camp followers during Aguinaldo’s era were the Japanese geishas. These plied the world’s oldest profession during the revolution.  They were told to remit funds home to Japan, which was economically distressed, and to work hard “for the glory of the emperor.”

Finally, the revolutionary struggle ended, strangely enough, as it had begum—for love of a woman. After his capture at Palanan, Isabela, Aguinaldo was brought to Malacañang Palace and received by the American military governor, General Arthur MacArthur. His young wife, Hilaria del Rosario, a pretty belle of Imus, met him for an emotional reunion. Her presence became the American victors’ guarantee that the defeated general would no longer pose a threat to them. On April 1, 1901, Aguinaldo swore allegiance to America, and then retired to private life. The flag of the Republic, the first in Asia, would not wave again until after the peaceful movement for independence. 

About the Author: 

Dr. Sonia Magbanua Zaide is the co-author and daughter of the late historian Dr. Gregorio F. Zaide. She is the first Filipina M.Sc. and Ph.D. graduate of the London School of Economics. After working in several universities and banks in America and England, she returned to her homeland. A consultant of the United Nations Maritime Organization, Dean of Jesus Is Lord Christian College, and Chairman of All-Nations Publishing Co., she is also the grandniece of Teresa Magbanua, “Joan of Arc of the Visayas.”


l. Sonia M. Zaide and Modesta G. Lugos, The Philippine National Flag and Anthem (Manila: All-Nations Publishing Co. Inc., 1997).

2. Sonia M. Zaide, The Philippines: A Unique Nation (Manila: All-Nations, 1994).

3. Gregorio F. Zaide, The Discovery of the Katipunan (Manila, 1934).

4. Gregorio F. Zaide, Pageant of Philippine History Vol II (Manila: Philippine Education Co., 1979).

5. Gregorio E Zaide and Sonia M. Zaide, Biographical Dictionary of the Philippines. (unpublished ms.).

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