Tandang Sora | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Tandang Sora

/ 09:36 PM January 05, 2012

After Rizal’s birth sesquicentennial, it’s now Tandang Sora’s bicentennial. But while we know so much about Rizal, including voluminous materials he wrote, there’s very little information on Tandang Sora, even if she is sometimes called the Mother of the Philippine Revolution.

I loved the front-page article yesterday which had the headline “Tandang Sora looked like ‘Dawn Zulueta’” accompanied by Inquirer’s mascot, Guyito, quipping, “Dapat Gandang Sora, hindi Tandang Sora.” (Losing the wit of the Filipino pun, here’s the English translation: should be Beautiful Sora, not Old Sora.)

I’m sure we’ll have more anecdotal accounts about Tandang Sora in the months ahead but I want to point out that we need to get more historical facts. I checked with libraries and bookstores and there’s not a single book written about her. The Internet had one Wikipedia entry in English and another one in Filipino, which is a translation of the one in English.


It is from Wikipedia where we learn she was born on Jan. 6, 1812, in Caloocan as Melchora Aquino to peasant parents.   (I figured Melchora came from Melchor, one of the three kings since she was born on the feast of the magi.) She was said to have been Reyna Elena several times in santacruzans, but no mention of Dawn Zulueta-like features. She married Fulgencio Ramos, a cabeza de barrio (the equivalent of a barangay captain today), was widowed early and had to raise six children as a solo parent.


She became a popular hermana mayor, a sponsor, for fiestas and baptisms, which suggests she must have become economically stable, if not affluent. It was her store that became a haven for Katipuneros seeking financial assistance as well as a place for refuge and clandestine meetings. She was also said to have nursed the wounded. All this when Tandang Sora was in her 80s.

The Spanish authorities got wind of her subversive activities and she was arrested in 1896 and tortured, but did not divulge any information about her comrades-in-arms.  The Spaniards exiled her to Guam, where she stayed till 1903, when the Americans allowed her and other Filipino exiles to return. She lived till 1919, to the ripe old age of 107.

Historians will raise their eyebrows if they check the Wikipedia entry’s reference: a language and arts book used in fourth grade. I have not been able to track down the book, which, I hope will have the original sources of all this information. Meanwhile, I’m challenging my own history department at UP to get more information on Tandang Sora, to present at a conference scheduled for March. I promise to keep Inquirer readers updated on that conference.


The lack of information on Tandang Sora only reflects the way we neglect our heroes in general and, even more so, our heroines. We imagine heroes mainly as fighters, and forget how revolutions would fail without the many women working behind the scenes and, occasionally, taking up arms themselves.

When Dean Inday Ofreneo of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development first approached me about co-sponsoring a Tandang Sora conference, I suggested we include sessions on other forgotten Filipino heroines, from the Spanish colonial period, through the American and Japanese occupation, and into the more recent rebel movements. So do expect papers on these women.


Tandang Sora herself will always be the most intriguing.  Note how she’s always mentioned as Melchora Aquino, rather than by her married surname of Ramos. I doubt if the two presidents, Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, are related to her, but the surnames don’t mean much given that Tandang Sora lives in history as Tandang Sora, which further highlights her valor in the way such an old woman would have become a revolutionary. I know of older women who joined the underground movement during the Marcos dictatorship, but no one as old as Tandang Sora. For her to have participated meant great risk, and she paid a steep price, ending up in exile in Guam.

For all those sacrifices, how have we honored her?  There’s one, and only one movie made in 1947. It is titled “Tandang Sora,” with Lamberto Avellana as director, and Rosa del Rosario and Pedro Faustino in the lead roles. I got that information from IMDB or the Internet Movie Database, which is US-based. I’m hoping against hope that there’s a copy of the film still available.

Both figuratively and literally, Tandang Sora has been devalued through the years. She was on the 100-peso note from 1951 to 1966 at a time when P100 was worth even more than P1,000 today. In the next official currency released and used from 1967 to 1992, she was demoted down to a tiny 5-centavo coin. Since 1992, she has not figured in any of our banknotes or coins, even as other lesser mortals with questionable credentials have made it.

Street in San Francisco

We do have the Tandang Sora district in Quezon City, which is being spruced up for this bicentennial, but I have a feeling there aren’t too many places elsewhere in the Philippines where she is honored that way.

I did discover that there is a Tandang Sora Street in San Francisco, California. I lived in that city many years ago and so was intrigued to see that street name. A Google map zoomed me into the street, which is in the South of Market area, between 3rd and 4th Streets and near the Bayshore Freeway. This is a largely Filipino-American enclave and has other streets named after several of our heroes: Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio, even Lapu-lapu.  Parents might want to do a Google map exercise with their children to show off the area: there are great street shots which get as detailed as showing you a Pacific Bicycles store right on Tandang Sora.

Back to Tandang Sora’s life, there’s a lot of catching up to do and, fortunately, Tandang Sora’s descendants are still around, and organized. They’ve been working closely with the Quezon City government, which has declared 2012 as Tandang Sora Year. Just yesterday, they were able to move Tandang Sora from Himlayang Pilipino to Banlat Road in the Tandang Sora district, where a shrine has been dedicated to her. Even in death, there’s so much mystery around Tandang Sora, with her remains mysteriously transferred to Himlayang Pilipino in 1970 from the Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Philippine Revolution in the North Cemetery.

I’ll keep you posted as we uncover new information on Tandang Sora, as well as fresh insights on what she means for Philippine history.

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TAGS: featured columns, heroes, Melchora Aquino, opinion, Tandang Sora

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