Women's Role In History Month

Mar 9, 2023, 3:04 AM
Eufemio Agbayani III

Eufemio Agbayani III


Seeing lots of purple and violent online and offline? It's because we are celebrating National Women's Month. It is also Women's Role in History Month.

As the whole nation celebrates the women who are currently making strides in promoting women's rights and welfare, we also honor those who paved the way for them, those who insisted in various ways that women are equal to men and are therefore worthy of respect.

Women's Role in History Month was created through Proclamation 227 dated March 17, 1988. It was quite poetic that it was by Corazon C. Aquino, the first female President of the Philippines.

This year's observance saw NHCP welcome a new Chairman, Dr. Emmanuel Franco Calairo, who will have to oversee the celebration of the quasquicentennial (125th anniversary) of Philippine independence. As he took his oath, he looked into a recently redeveloped hallway featuring his predecessors which included three illustrious women.

First, Encarnacion Alzona who was appointed to lead the National Historical Commission from September 1966 to the middle of 1967. She was the first Filipina to receive a Ph.D. — and in history at that. She made history through her involvement in the campaign to grant women the right to vote and the guerrilla movement during the Second World War. Her father Cayo Alzona, was Apolinario Mabini's private secretary. Unfortunately, Congress did not confirm her appointment but the nation made up for this by declaring her a National Scientist on July 12, 1985.

Her successor was eminent writer Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil who is considered by many as a pioneer of Philippine public history for her columns in newspapers of wide readership. She served from June 1967 to March 1971. Her thrust was in preserving and popularizing history. Under her watch, the presidential yacht was converted into a floating museum that went around the country. After its extensive tour, the contents were placed in the National Library building and became the seeds of what is now the Museum of Philippine Political History. She also supported various research initiatives and worked with Bureau of Records Management Director Dr. Domingo Abella to transfer precious archival materials from the Old Bilibid Prison to the National Library building.

Like Alzona, history was a family affair for Guerrero-Nakpil. She was a granddaughter of botanist Leon Ma. Guerrero and writer-historian Gabriel Beato Francisco. Her first husband, Ismael Cruz, is a descendant of Rizal's sister Maria. A daughter from this marriage, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, became the first Filipina to win an international beauty pageant in 1964. Gemma leveraged her fame to help the needy and became a cultural ambassador. In 1968, she was appointed Director of the National Museum which made her an ex-officio member of the board her mother chaired. (This was the only time there were relatives simultaneously serving in the NHC board.)

Guerrero-Nakpil's second husband, Angel Nakpil, was a relative of revolutionary Julio Nakpil who married Gregoria de Jesus, Andres Bonifacio's widow. Their daughter, Lisa Guerrero-Nakpil, is an incumbent board member appointed in 2020.

After being the National Historical Institute for decades, it regained the status of a Commission in 2010 and in April 2011, Dr. Maris Diokno was elected Chairman. Her father was former Senator Jose W. Diokno, who opposed the Marcos Sr. dictatorship and later became the first Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. Her grandfather Ramon was an eminent jurist and her great-grandfather Ananias fought during the Philippine-American War.

She presided over the successive sesquicentennials of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Apolinario Mabini and started the modernization of historic sites which she dubbed as history museums. Under her leadership, the Commission helped rebuild heritage churches and structures damaged by the earthquake in Bohol and the typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

Through her initiative, the NHCP produced a study which confirmed that Ferdinand Marcos Sr.'s military record was filled with lies. Following her principles, she resigned after Marcos Sr. was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016.

This column is but a snippet of how valuable women are in the country's premiere government agency on history. I say "are" because much of our leadership is female: Carminda R. Arevalo, the officer-in-charge of the Office of the Executive Director; Gina C. Batuhan, Chief of the Historic Sites and Education Division which covers both the NHCP's commemorations and museums; Rosario V. Sapitan, Chief of the Finance and Administrative Divison; and Lie Zar Montilla, officer-in-charge of the Materials Research Conservation Division.

It reminds me of this magazine cover I recently saw which commemorated History Week. It shows women employees walking confidently in front the NHCP Building. I would like to think that it symbolizes our continuing effort to foreground women in history, something to which we all should contribute.

After all, we're doing this for the Inang Bayan.

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