Filipinas and the right to vote

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

Today in 1933, Governor-General Frank Murphy granted the Right of Suffrage to Filipino women. Almost as early as the start of American colonization of the Philippines, women, mostly from the upper class, began to advocate and demand for more rights for women in the country. Early suffragettes included Concepción Felix Roque, whose group promoted the rights of women and children. A year later an organization meant for promoting women’s suffrage emerged with Pura Villanueva Kalaw’s Asociacion Feminista Ilonga. It would take four more years, in 1937, before a plebiscite formally legalized this right.

Prior to this, women were barely allowed any legal rights. In fact, women were required to ask permission from their father or husband for any purchases or to own personal items. Of course, this was not new. Women were also controlled by their fathers and husbands during the Spanish period, but a few differences could still be made between Spanish-period and American-period Filipinas. During the Spanish period, women kept their name and while many would use their husband’s last name, it was always together with their maiden name. In all records, women, even married ones, were always identified with their maiden names.

During the American period, women were identified using their husband’s last name, thereby erasing their own identity in most records. Aside from names, women were also allowed to own properties during the Spanish period. As observed by Michael Cullinane in his recently released The Chinese Mestizos of Cebu City, “female siblings and children not only received their share of their parents’ or even their siblings’ inheritance, but they could also transfer their inheritance to their own children or other relatives. What was also quite common among the Chinese mestizos was the empowerment through wealth and position of the women of several families especially with widows and unmarried women.” While this was not really the norm, such practice was allowed and prevalent during Spanish rule.

During the December 14, 1937 elections, women immediately exercised their right to not just vote, but also run for public office. Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay, daughter of former president Emilio Aguinaldo, was elected as a member of Cavite’s provincial board. While Carmen Lim Planas of Manila is erroneously believed as the first Filipina politician, she was not the only woman elected councilor that year. In Cebu, for instance, 14 women were elected councilor: Susana Jakosalem (Dumanjug), Patricia C. Pilapil (Liloan), Natalia Faciel (Ronda), Isabel F. Mision (Medellin), Vicenta Albarracin (Argao), Ursula Salvador (Dalaguete), Melecia P. Ocapom and Teresa L. Silva (Alcoy), Melchora Negapatan and Leonila Arnoco (Tabogon), Ignacia Sanchez (Malabuyoc), Brigida Mañacap (Minglanilla), Macaria Villasin (Samboan), and Fortunata Hamawad (Ginatilan).

In 1941, Elisa Rosales Ochoa of Butuan City became the first Filipina to be elected as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives. In 1947, Geronima Tomelden Pecson of Pangasinan became our first female senator. In 1955, Guadalupe Adaza of Zamboanga del Norte became the first female governor when she replaced suspended Governor Felipe Azcuna.

We had our first female president in the person of Corazon C. Aquino in 1986 (and a second in President Arroyo in 2001); our first female vice president in 1998 with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (and a second in 2016 in Leni Robredo and a third in 2022 in Sara Duterte Carpio. Arroyo was elected in 2018 as the twenty-fifth, and first female, speaker of the House of Representatives. In 2019, Liloan Mayor Christina Garcia Frasco, daughter of Cebu’s first female Governor, Gwen Garcia, became the first woman elected president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines-Cebu Chapter.

Women in the Philippines have always had a history of breaking barriers. And while I celebrate all these victories, I long to see more women who are from the “common tao” and not just bearing political surnames and pedigrees, to someday break more barriers in Philippine politics.

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