MARIA KALAW-KATIGBAK: BEAUTY QUEEN AND SENATOR
by Reymann L. Guevarra
Maria’s mother was the first Queen of the Orient of the Manila Carnival. It was most likely that she too became a beauty pageant competitor. Whether it was in her blood or not did not matter for Maria was her own woman. The queenship of the 1931 Manila Carnival was left contested by her and Alicia de Santos, a mestiza beauty from an affluent family. During that time the deciding factor in a beauty contest lay with the contestant with the highest number of sponsors. At first, Alicia being wealthier, had the upperhand. Maria on the other hand had her father’s mason friends who helped a lot in augmenting her votes. It became a neck-to-neck contest which lasted for 8 weeks. At the end Maria came out triumphant with an insurmountable lead of 1 million votes over her formidable contender. She was then crowned as Miss Philippines of 1931. Not a soul knew then that Maria Kalaw would become the future “original sweetheart” of the Philippine Senate. But the beauty queen turned senator was more than meets the eye for she was also intellectually gifted. Coincidentally her beauty is well-deserved for she was born on the date when beauty and heart are united, this day is known as “Valentine’s Day”.
Maria Kalaw-Katigbak was born on February 14, 1912 in Manila. She is the eldest among the four children of Teodoro M. Kalaw, writer, statesman, former secretary of the Interior, and director of the National Library, and Pura Villanueva, a Spanish mestiza of the prominent Lopez – Villanueva family of Jaro, Iloilo, also a writer, pioneer for women’s suffrage and property rights for women, and first president and organizer of the League of Women Voters.
She studied at the Jefferson Elementary School and spent a year at St. Scholastica’s College for her religion class, travelling via a tranvia everyday. She graduated as high-school valedictorian from Philippine Women’s University (PWU) in 1928. For her college education she enrolled at the University of the Philippines (UP) where she earned two degrees, namely: Bachelor of Philosophy in 1932, and Master of Arts in Social Work. As a student she participated to various curricular activities in UP. She joined the staff of the Philippine Collegian, became secretary of the UP Student Council, vice president of the UP Women’s Club, secretary of the UP Debating Club, and member of the UP Writers Club. The persistence and perseverance she demonstrated eventually paid off when she obtained the Most Distinguished Senior Award on her graduation. Then, with a Barbour scholarship, she studied abroad which earned her a master’s degree in literature from the University of Michigan in 1933. At the latter University she presided over the Philippine-Michigan Club and served as secretary of the Cosmopolitan Club for Foreign Students. Her sister Pura accompanied her when she studied in the United States. Later she attended the University of Santo Tomas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in literature as well as her doctorate in philosophy, magna cum laude.
She was one of the few women writers to be admitted to the male dominated UP Writers’ Club. She wrote essays which appeared in the Literary Apprentice. Her “Far Away” was included in Filipino Essays in English: 1910-1954, 1954; “An Appeal to Husbands” and “May We Have Our Say?” appeared in Philippine Review (August 1943 and February 1944). Her short stories, like “Pilar,” 1932, were published in popular magazines. She also wrote a column entitled “Checkpoint,” which appeared in the old Manila Times.
Her first book was on her father Teodoro, entitled, Few There Were (Like My Father), 1974. In 1983 her autobiographical book about her mother Pura entitled, Legacy, was published. She also translated from Spanish to English her father’s autobiography, Aide-de-Camp to Freedom, 1965, in which she wrote a chapter about Quezon. Later she became editor of Dawn, an early women’s magazine.
The national elections of 1961 made her the lone woman of that time to become a member of the Philippine Senate (1961 up to 1963). She authored Senate Bill 652, ordering to restore the old school calendar, arguing that the hot, summer months were, in fact, conducive to sleepiness and, therefore, a setback to learning. She also authored the Consumer Protection Act, a.k.a. R.A. No. 3765, which enabled consumers to buy goods on instalments and made similar forms of transaction by credit. Other senate measures she authored were those regulating financing companies; creating the National Commission on Culture, and establishing the Philippine Executive Academy as an affiliate of the University of the Philippines. She also worked to further amend Republic Act 621, “An Act Creating the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization National Commission,” through Senate Bill No. 30.
Apart from pursuing a career in politics she was also active in civic work and the arts, holding such positions as president of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, the Municipal Symphony Orchestra, and the Philippine Women’s Writers Association, which she had organized in 1938. She became a member of the national board of the Catholic Women’s League, the UP Board of Regents (1962-1964), the Board of National Education, Board of State Colleges, Philippine Normal College, Philippine College of Commerce, Philippine college of Arts and Trade, Samar Institute of Technology and Mindanao Institute of Technology. She also organized and was the first executive director of the Catholic Charities of Manila. She headed the UST Graduate School of Social Work while at the same time working as one of its associate professors. She was a professor of English both in UP and PWU. She was also a writer and columnist of the Manila Times and the Weekly Nation, and was chairman of the Writers Union of the Philippines. In 1981 she was appointed by President Marcos as chairman of the Movies and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), whose precursor, the Philippine Board of Censorship for Motion Pictures, created around 1929, was headed first by her father.
Her diverse concerns took her to a number of international fora, chiefly as Philippine delegate, notably the Afro-Asian Conference of Girl Scouts in Athens; the Second Congress of the Lay Apostolate in Rome; and the 21st UNESCO General Conference in Paris where she presided as chairman.
She was married to Dr. Jose R. Katigbak, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, by whom she had four children.
Ancheta, Herminia M. and Beltran-Gonzales, Michaela. (1984). Filipino Women in Nation Building. Q.C. : Phoenix Pub.
Gwekoh, Sol H. (1939). Distinguished 100. Manila: The Author & APO Book Company.
Tiongson, Nicanor G. (1994). CCP Encyclopedia of the Arts. Vol. 9. Manila: Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas.
NHI Clippings (Obituaries).
http://senate.gov.ph/senators/former_senators/maria_katigbak.htm (Accessed on February 6, 2012).
http://nhi.gov.ph/downloads/fihgov0074.pdf (February on 6, 2012).