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Recalling the long fight for women’s suffrage

/ 05:10 AM April 26, 2018

This is in reaction to Ramon J. Farolan’s “From Palace ‘cook’ to woman senator” (4/23/18). I found his column generally interesting and informative.

However, there is more to add to appreciate the bigger picture in the arduous and challenging task the women during the country’s American era had to hurdle to win the vote.

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Aside from the women Farolan mentioned, there were many others also in the forefront of this endeavor who are worthy of recognition.

It took 24 years of legislative attempts and many setbacks before then President Manuel L. Quezon finally signed into law on Sept. 15, 1935, the right of female citizens to vote, and thus participate in national affairs.

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True, Doña Concepcion Rodriguez started the feminist movement rolling through the Asociacion Feminista Filipina. But it was the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, an umbrella organization of women’s clubs in the country, that spearheaded the suffrage movement, with Rosario Delgado as its first president in 1921.

In 1923, Sofia Reyes de Veyra, wife of Jaime C. de Veyra, Philippine resident commissioner to Washington (1917-1922), was elected next president, upon her return from the United States.

As Dr. Telly Farolan Somera mentioned in her book on how the vote was won:

“It was in the term of Mrs. Sofia Reyes de Veyra…. when the woman-suffrage issue took shape. Using her immense leadership influence both in the Philippines and abroad, Mrs. De Veyra planned the first organized  campaign among the clubwomen to bring to national attention the meaning of the right of women to vote until it reached the National Assembly of the Philippine government….

“Sofia de Veyra, with Trinidad Fernandez Legarda, Rosario Delgado, Concepcion F. Rodriguez, Pura Villanueva, Rosa Sevilla Alvero, Natividad Almeda Lopez, Timotea Lichauco Cuyugan, Teresa de Vamenta, Concepcion Apacible, Encarnacion Alzona, Carolina Ocampo Palma, and Constancia Manahan, the much respected and admired Filipino women of their times, pioneered the move to get to the legislators’ attention the right of Filipino women to vote.”

This long struggle for women’s suffrage was waged both in the homefront and in the United States.

Strong women in the early 20th century including Mercedes Tiongson Sandico, Clemencia Lopez, Sofia de Veyra, Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Aurora Quezon, Ines Villa Gonzalez and Pilar Hidalgo Lim, who advocated for the extension of suffrage during their stay in the United States, were honored in a 2016 exhibit, “The Washington Home of the Philippine Suffrage Movement,” held in the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.

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It is, therefore, only fitting to also give well-deserved recognition to these courageous women of vision, who along with  Concepcion Rodriguez and Pilar Hidalgo Lim, worked indefatigably outside their comfort zone, to awaken our womenfolk as partners in nationbuilding.

The Filipino women won their right to vote in 1937, 17 years after their American counterparts won theirs. It has been over 80 years since our suffrage law was signed.

Let this be a reminder, especially to our present generation, who probably has vague or no notion at all of the heroic women who fought relentlessly to win this precious right which is now often taken for granted.

Let us constantly safeguard our fragile freedoms and do justice to those who fought hard for them, more so as local elections approach, and in view of the many challenges our democratic institutions face today.

TERESA DE VEYRA-MONTILLA, excelsiorhs65@yahoo.com

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