FILIPINIANA | IDENTITY

The forgotten women of Malolos, revived

Michelle Baltazar

YOLO. You only live once. For the young women of Malolos, there was only one way to live - and that was to kickstart a revolution.

An exciting event unfolded at The Hub in Mt. Druitt last night. It was the special film screening of 'Mga Kababaihan ng Malolos' (The Women of Malolos), which is about a group of young Filipino women who were, in their own way, instrumental in the Philippine revolution against Spain in the late 19th century.

These young women (who were really just teenagers at the time, ages 12 to 23 years old) bravely defied Spanish authorities by insisting on their rights to education, which was withheld from the natives - and certainly from women - during the colonial times.

They were very vocal about local friars abusing their powers and - unlike today's teenagers who define rebellion as getting a tattoo or posting a nude selfie - they rebelled by learning Spanish, helping to raise funds and smuggling food to the revolutionaries.

Their story caught the attention of Jose Rizal, the Philippines' national hero, who wrote them a letter of admiration and praise that spurred them on: Rizal believed education was key to the nation's independence and the women of Malolos believed the same. 

That letter has become a famous piece of Rizaliana literature, showing that more than 120 years before the term 'gender equality' was coined, Rizal understood what it meant.

Which brings us back to the present day. A newly-formed Filipino-Australian Association, aptly called RISAL (Research Institute for Sustainable Alternatives), chose this powerful vignette of Philippine history to mark their genesis. RISAL's founding president is none other than Dr. Floro Quibuyen, one of the Philippines' most prolific historians and a recognised authority on all things Rizal.

The new association also chose the film to coincide with this month's International Women's Day celebration.

Prior to the screening, Consul Marford Angeles inducted the group's officers Dr. Quibuyen (president), Ruth Beltran (vice president), Aida Morden (secretary), Danny Peralta (treasurer and public officer), Cesar Bartolome (press relations officer), Alex Beltran (auditor) and Jhun Morales (sergeant-at-arms).

Morden was the program's MC and former Philippine government congresswoman Liza Maza was the special guest. Maza spoke briefly after the screening and said that just as education was important back in the days of the revolutionaries, so it is for the present generation of Filipinos. 

Dr. Quibuyen added that one of Rizal's legacies, imparted in the famous letter, was encouraging "critical thinking": it was because these young women thought critically about the folly of the Spanish government that they became enlightened to its faults and abuse.

That's the kind of critical thinking that is still needed today as Filipinos contemplate the president they will vote for in the upcoming elections, said Dr. Quibuyen.

Among those who attended the film screening were, if you like, the 'modern-day women of Malolos', including Jane Brock, executive officer of the Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW, former Philippine Community Council (PCC) NSW president Neria Soliman, concert artist and songstress Lillian de los Reyes and award-winning journalist Violi Calvert.

Photo credit: Violi Calvert

Reading of The Women of Malolos by Adele Reyes-Setu, Jose Rizal's Australia-based great-great-grandniece: http://thefilipinoaustralian.com/RSRFS/rizals-great-great-grand-niece-joins-rizaliana-radio-festival/

Film trailer 'Mga Kababaihan ng Malolos': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiT8gobmkus

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