by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso

       Few Filipinos are aware that a Filipino heroine is celebrating her bicentennial birthday today—Melchora Aquino, popularly known as Tandang Sora. We, who were taught Philippine history by rote, have come to know her through the stately appellation “Mother of the Katipunan,” but barely appreciated the role she played in the Revolution.

        Heroines always get the short end of the stick, with their exploits often relegated to the footnotes of history. Male chauvinism seems to permeate our historical accounts of heroic acts and conventional roles the sexes play—with men as gallants winning wars on the battlefield or gaining political clout, while women dealt with the daily realities of hearth and home.

        True enough, place a woman on the spotlight and gossip on her supposed physical or sexual aberrations would surely prosper. Unless a multi-layered and objective understanding of female contributions in Philippine history is seriously undertaken, we can neither fully appreciate their sacrifices nor change misconstrued perceptions.

         Much of what we know about Tandang Sora’s early life is shrouded, not by mystery but by the ordinariness of her life. Traditional accounts state that she was born on January 06, 1812 and describe her as a comely peasant woman from Barrio Banlat, Kalookan, who often essayed the role of Reyna Elena during the annual Santacruzan. She married Fulgencio Ramos, a cabeza de barangay, and bore him six children. However, she was widowed young and despite hardship, steeled herself to become a loving single parent to her children and a shrewd manager of the farm and businesses inherited from her spouse.

        Although Tandang Sora could have embraced a comfortable life, her character was nurtured and strengthened by the seasonal rhythms of the farmer’s life: tilling the land, sowing and reaping its crops. It bolstered her empathy towards her indigent neighbors, who assisted her during the harvest, and this sense of community, encouraged her to wholeheartedly share her abundance.

         How did Andres Bonifacio come to know Tandang Sora? How was she able to embrace his principles, if he did not frequent her home as a guest? It is probable that her sons were members of the Katipunan, and that Bonifacio might have engaged in heated discussions under her roof, which convinced her of the legitimacy of the Revolution’s aspirations for freedom and nationhood.

         Although well past her eighties when the 1896 Revolution flared, Tandang Sora, risked both life and livelihood to clandestinely support the needs of the Katipunan. Through her generous spirit, Tandang Sora provided food, shelter, medicines and motherly comfort for weary and injured Katipuneros. As a recognized community leader, she mobilized her countrymen for the Revolution, and her selfless efforts heartened Filipinos to continue on the struggle.

         In Katipunero Santiago V. Alvarez’s narrative of the Philippine Revolution, it was in Tandang Sora’s own home where the famed “cry” and tearing of the cedulas took place:

       “At ten o’clock that Sunday morning, 23 August 1896, we arrived at Sampalukan, Bahay Toro. Our number had grown to more than 500 and the house, yard, and granary of Cabesang Melchora was getting crowded with us Katipuneros. The generosity of Cabesang Melchora was no less than that of Apolonio Samson. Like him, she opened her granary and had plenty of rice pounded and animals slaughtered to feed us…

       The following day, Monday, August 24, more Katipuneros came and increased the number to more than a thousand, the Supremo called a meeting at 10 o’clock that morning inside Cabesang Melchora’s barn…After the adjournment of the meeting at twelve noon, there were tumultuous shouts of ‘Long Live the Sons of the People!’ ”

      (Linggo, ika-23 ng Agosto, 1896; ika-sampu ng umaga, ang bahay at kamalig ng alilisan ni kabisang Melchora, sa pook ng Sampalukan, Bahay-Toro, ay unti-unting napupuno sa pagdaratingan ng Katipunang humahanap sa Supremong Bonifacio at ng mga kasama-sama, lahat ay hihigit at di kukulangin sa limandang katao. Ang kagandahang-loob ni kabisang Melchora ay hindi ipinahuli sa mga inihandog ni tininting Polonyo. Nagbukas din ng kamalig ng kanyang maraming palay, nagpabigas at nagpapatay ng mga hayop na ipinakain…

         Lunes, ika-24 ng Agosto, 1896: Ang Katipunan ay humigit sa isang libong bilang, dahil sa walang tigil at sunud-sunod na datingan. Ang Supremo ay nag-anyayang gumawa ng Pulong sa loob ng kamalig ng alilisan; ang pulong ay sinimulan nang ika-10 oras ng umaga at pinamunuan ng Supremo Bonifacio…Ika-12 ng tanghali nang itindig ang pulong, at pinagtibay na lalo nang di magkamayaw sa sigawang:‘Mabuhay ang mga Anak ng Bayan.’)

        Her very tenderness towards these Katipuneros, who were peasants as well, showed the mettle and strength of her defiance against the colonial power. What crime should be imputed to a grandmother who loved her countrymen? Tandang Sora stood her ground at Pasong Putik, Novaliches and was arrested by the Spanish authorities on August 29, 1896. Confined at the notorious Bilibid Prison, she was mercilessly questioned but steadfastly refused to betray the Supremo and other Katipuneros.

         Exiled to Guam for six years, Tandang Sora grieved at this enforced disconnection from her homeland, yet endured despite the separation from family and countrymen. At the ripe age of 91, she was released by the Americans, Spain’s colonial successors in February 1903. She faithfully returned to her home in Barrio Banlat, a tearful homecoming among family and neighbors.

         Although age had crippled Tandang Sora’s body, her patriotic fervor remained undimmed. Refusing honors and despite the privations of penury, she was satisfied to have loved her country and people too well. Tandang Sora peacefully passed away on February 19, 1919 at 107 years old. Her former comrades extolled her charity and sacrifice, laying her to rest at the Cementerio del Norte at the Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolucion.

         What lessons can we learn from Tandang Sora’s life? Simply, that valor is neither dictated by age nor by gender, but sired by determination for selfless service when the opportunity arises. Finally, love of country may be best realized through the day-to-day practice of virtues: kasipagan (industry), kagalingan (excellence), katapatan (integrity), kalinga at pagmamalasakit sa kapwa (care and sympathy for others), and pag-ibig sa Diyos (love of God).