Women of note

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

This Christmas season, my thoughts linger on the words of the Magnificat, the canticle sung by Mary in praise of her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus. What a powerful, blessed woman Mary was.

Let me quote Wikipedia for a comprehensive report on Mary’s song of praise. “The Magnificat (Latin for ‘[My soul] magnifies [the Lord]’) is a canticle, also known as the Song of Mary, the Canticle of Mary and, in the Byzantine tradition, the Ode of the Theotokos. It is traditionally incorporated into the liturgical services of the Catholic Church and of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Its name comes from the incipit of the Latin version of the text.

“The text of the canticle is taken from the Gospel of Luke, where it is spoken by Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. In the narrative, after Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, the latter moves within Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith (using words partially reflected in the Hail Mary), and Mary responds with what is now known as the Magnificat.

“The Magnificat is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns… and perhaps the earliest. Within the whole of Christianity, the canticle is most frequently recited within the Liturgy of the Hours. In Western Christianity, the Magnificat is most often sung or recited during the main evening prayer service: Vespers in the Catholic and Lutheran churches, and Evening Prayer (or Evensong) in Anglicanism. In Eastern Christianity, the Magnificat is always sung at Matins. The Magnificat may also be sung during worship services, especially in the Advent season during which the verses are traditionally read.”

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There are Filipino women who have wielded influence and amazing caring for the improvement of the lives of other women. One such woman was Dr. Crispina Lorenzana Macagba, a “passionate advocate for women’s health and women’s rights.” My source for her story comes from her daughter, Dr. Florence Macagba Tadiar, one of my favorite women’s advocates.

In a message she delivered at the Rafael Salas Population and Development Award ceremonies in November 2000, Florence said her mother “worked very hard to provide medical services to women, not only from La Union, but to many who came from the Ilocos, mountain provinces (so-called at that time) and Pangasinan, or throughout Region 1.”

“Dr. Crispina attended to patients for their physical, nutritional (asking their food preferences and marketing for them herself daily), emotional (visited them twice a day at least) and even their spiritual needs. She actually prayed for each one of them very fervently and got religious pastors to minister to them too. At that time, long before anybody talked about holistic health, my mother was already doing these things,” said Florence.

Not only that, Dr. Crispina looked after the administrative services of the Lorma Medical Center (purchasing, payroll, housekeeping and others being handled by so many different people now) and was also busy in church and social work – preaching, organizing women for prayers, Bible study, pig raising and other income generation activities, providing scholarships and employment, raising funds, helping ministers, farmers, anybody who needed help. While heading many church and civic groups (Lioness, Rotary Anns) not only in the province, but in national organizations, she did not neglect taking care of her six children, ensuring that through the loving and competent “manangs” (domestic help) their needs would be provided. “She herself and our father saw to it that we would grow and develop mentally as well as spiritually,” said Florence.

She had the full support of her husband, Dr. Rufino Nisperos Macagba Sr., “who had seen in her, not only physical beauty, but strength in her faith and character, and courage in her convictions.” When Dr. Rufino, then her boyfriend (he was working as a trained surgeon in La Union after his medical education earned while he worked as a houseboy, cook, salesman and other jobs in the US), asked Crispina Lorenzana to not continue with her medical studies (she was in her third year at the University  of the Philippines), since he was already a doctor, she told him, “You just marry someone else if that is what you want, because I would like to become a doctor myself.” Dr. Rufino waited for her to finish her studies, becoming the first woman doctor to serve in the Ilocos.

Florence said her mother was an “extraordinary woman.” On Dec. 7, 1941, before the Japanese started bombing Pearl Harbor, she had gone to the market “to prepare for war,” she wrote in her autobiography, to buy several months’ supply of lamps (parol), canned goods, salt, candles, matches, sugar, mongo beans, sotanghon and other necessities which the family used at their evacuation place in Bacnotan, together with almost 50 relatives she managed to gather together to stay with them for several months up to the end of the war.

Florence said, “We cannot all be extraordinary like her. She had many things going for her. But I am sure there are others like her and it would really be good to write about these wonderful women. We can learn from them, and see why it is that they are able to live fully and happily.”

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Florence also told her audience the story of another remarkable woman – Dr. Honoria Acosta Sison, the first Filipino woman doctor. She was a graduate of the then Philippine Normal School. “While she was a public school teacher in Dagupan, she became concerned that so many of the mothers in the community were dying of pregnancy and childbirth. This made her decide to become a doctor. But she had to go to the US in 1903 to study medicine because the University of Santo Tomas, founded in 1611 and its medical college in 1871, was exclusively for rich men and the University of the Philippines College of Medicine also still did not accept women applicants for admission. When Honoria learned that the reason why women were not allowed to become doctors was because it was believed that their brains were smaller than those of men because of their body size, she pointed to the folly of this reasoning by asking why the hippopotamus has such a large brain but does not show any intelligence. As further proof of the stupidity of such thinking, all the first women doctors also topped their male-dominated classes and the medical board examination!”

This Christmas season, we give homage to remarkable medical doctors Crispina Lorenzana Macagba and Honoria Acosta Sison.

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Email: [email protected]

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