Last of two parts
To cap the celebration of Women’s Month, each of the Lifestyle staff chose living Filipino women (or groups of women) who have been trying to make a difference in society, across sectors. Theirs has been a steady, not necessarily loud, yet significant, achievement through a decade, at least, or even two generations.
In this day of social-media hype, we admire these women not for their number of followers or the number of likes they garner—many of them aren’t even on social media—but for their passion that hasn’t diminished through time, their commitment to a cause or vision, their ability to inspire others. And in their silent, sometimes unheralded, way, by dint of hard work, they help make the country a better place for the next generation. At least, they try to—one day at a time, no matter the odds.
They’re not the so-called “influencers” anointed by marketing/brand specialists. They’re not the “serial award recipients” chosen to promote a certain brand.
Rather, they toil away to give us and the next generation hope in the Filipino. TSS
It took Ann Angala 19 years to untangle herself from an abusive marriage.
She endured physical, emotional, mental and psychological torture at the hands of the man who swore to love and protect her. For almost two decades, she was his punching bag—even in front of their five children.
Angala is a strong and smart woman. A graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman, she once was the manager of top acts like Eraserheads, Bamboo, The Dawn, Barbie’s Cradle, Asin. To the outside world, she had it all together. But deep inside she was depleted.
She met her now ex-husband when she was 24. They had been dating for two months when she got pregnant and decided to get married. She knew her ex had a troubled childhood, but never saw any red flags.
Angala stayed on in the relationship when she sensed that her children were against separation: “I thought there was a possibility that he might change.”
Three years ago, she quietly left for the United States, leaving him for good.
“Our culture is very macho and patriarchal, and religion says that a woman should fully submit to her spouse,” she said. “Taking our culture and religion at face value may create a breeding ground for abuse.”
She founded InThePink, a very informal movement on Facebook, where members, mostly women, post words of encouragement. InThePink aims to create awareness against abuse, its effects on the abused and the people around the abused, and how to get out of that situation.
Someday she hopes to form a proper support group “because emotional healing is a very long process.
“I felt that I had to speak up to help anyone who is in the same situation and wants out but does not have the courage and resources to do so,” she said. Anne A. Jambora
Protected Area superintendent, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Outside of the environmental, scuba-diving and dive tourism communities in the Philippines as well as in the region, she may not be too famous. Within these highly informed, passionate circles, however, Songco is Mama Ranger, heroine, queen of the sea, top mermaid.
Songco is Tubbataha, respected by colleagues, loved by her staff and friends, and admired by all who value the Philippines’ precious marine resources.
Since 2001, this straight-talking wife, mom, former soldier and dive instructor has splendidly managed Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the crown jewel among the Philippines’ marine protected areas and a Unesco World Heritage Site. She has done so with a combination of spunk, a mother’s compassion, and a warrior’s unwavering focus on what matters: preserving almost 100,000 ha of national patrimony “for always,” she insists.
It does take spunk to march into the offices of government officials and big businessmen, board boats to check if there are illegally speared fish in their freezers, and keep together an all-male team of tough, dedicated park rangers—even as she’s bringing them pasalubong out in the middle of the Sulu Sea.
Hard work and determination have brought Tubbataha from the brink of devastation in the 1990s to its current renaissance, a showcase of thriving biodiversity and a recognized global model for conservation.
The first time I met Songco, she was giving predeparture lectures to divers headed to Tubbataha. Since then, some 20 years later, we’ve shared dives, drinks, memorable meals and a lot of laughter. And yes, she still shimmies with joy at 80 feet when she beholds healthy corals, graceful manta rays or gargantuan whale sharks in her beloved home turf.
“This makes all the hard work worth it!” she exclaims. When the kids are all right, so is Mama. Alya B. Honasan
Shamaine Centenera Buencamino
Multimedia actress and mental health champion
It was to the industry’s benefit that Shamaine Centenera Buencamino, one of the most luminous theater actresses of multiple generations, had expanded her turf to “infect” TV and films.
The theater arts scholar from the University of the Philippines who cut her teeth with Dulaang UP (DUP) —where she met husband Nonie Buencamino, himself a powerhouse performer—has a resumé that other actresses could only salivate over.
It was July 2015, while playing a mother with a tenuous relationship with her daughter in Red Turnip Theater’s “33 Variations,” that Shamaine got the life-changing news that youngest daughter Julia, 15, had taken her own life. The role of questioning mother was thrust upon her against her will.
“Why didn’t people talk about it?” she lamented the ignorance about mental illness.
With Nonie and the support of their other children, Shamaine established the Julia Buencamino Foundation, dedicated to giving youngsters a safe space to speak.
In the last couple of years, the foundation has annually staged “Will You Still Love Me?”, after a heartbreaking line from Julia’s poetry, a mental health forum that includes art exhibits, discussions, and dance and musical performances—none of them more moving, inevitably, than Shamaine’s and Nonie’s own turns on stage, even when speaking the words of other parents.
Shamaine’s voice has remained true, her work undiminished, if not enriched, by this life experience—proof that it takes a strong woman, indeed, to find redemption in devastation. From death has come life. Alya B. Honasan
Sr. Regina M. Kuizon and Sr. Sofia Taguinod
Chair and board director, respectively, of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines
Women religious have always labored boldly but silently for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.
Two fine examples are Sr. Regina “Gina” M. Kuizon of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) and Sr. Sofia Taguinod of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. They’re chair and board director, respectively, of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), the federation of men and women of consecrated institutes.
Many of these institutes labor in mission territories, conflict-ridden areas, and urban ghettoes here and abroad, exposing themselves to political or physical retaliation.
Sister Gina was a journalist working for the Church media in the 1980s and 1990s before discovering her religious vocation. She joined the Good Shepherd sisters, best known for their delicious strawberry and ube jams in Baguio City. Not too well known is their work for troubled women and former prostitutes in Pandacan, Manila, and elsewhere.
The sisters also do adolescent counseling and youth ministry, running, for example, the Bukid Kabataan (Youth Camp) in Cavite.
In the early 2000s, she became media head of the Good Shepherd curia in Rome, and she produced the congregations’s electronic newsletter in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. When she came home, she became provincial of the Good Shepherd Philippine province, which includes Japan. She was later elected chair of the AMRSP.
Sister Sofia continues the feminist legacy of Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo, founder of the homegrown Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. She heads Siena College in Quezon City and she has seen and guided the growth of the Philippine congregation so that it now has sisters in mission territories abroad.
“We make our small contribution through education, welcoming Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims into our schools, engaging students and their parents in dialogue,” Sister Gina said.
Recently, Sisters Gina and Sofia, with other AMRSP leaders, marked the anniversary of the Edsa revolution. They warned against the return of dictatorship:
“Never again to tyranny and dictatorship!
“Yes to rule of law and justice!
“Yes to equitable distribution of our wealth and resources!
“No to political dynasties! . . .” Lito B. Zulueta
Lenny de Jesus
President, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila
From 1972 to 1987, Lenny de Jesus had been applying her academic background in psychology (Ph.D., University of the Philippines) as professor and lecturer in various universities, and as management consultant in a number of private companies, when she was recruited to serve the government—first as labor official for then President Fidel V. Ramos, and later as head of housing and the presidential management staff of then President Joseph Estrada. She crossed swords with rival factions in the Estrada cabinet, which must have seen her as hindrance to their schemes.
In 2014, while in the board of directors of top financial corporations, she was appointed president of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), which was then reeling from internal conflict.
To fix the problems, she required “unconditional autonomy from the city government, free from the clout and influence of politics.”
That kind of independence has led to a strict handling of finances, improvement of facilities and granting of more benefits to students, who have been responding positively.
PLM now ranks up there with UP, Ateneo and La Salle as highly preferred graduates by employers.
After office hours, De Jesus pursues her passion for music—as guitarist in a rock band, and flutist in a classical group. Pocholo Concepcion
Social worker, activist
Zena Bernardo is a brave, outspoken personality on social media. In 2016, she landed in the news when she filed a complaint against a police officer who was bullying her on Facebook.
A single mother to four—each of them pursuing a career as physicist, writer, public servant and artist —Bernardo went back to college at age 33, then worked in various nongovernment organizations (NGO) for street children, depression awareness and suicide prevention, solo parent empowerment, sari-sari store capacity building initiatives, and economic reintegration of overseas Filipino workers.
The current divisive political climate has emboldened her activism—she’s quite a charming presence on the streets, expressing her views on the pressing issues of the day.
She devotes time to the concerns of women’s groups such as #BabaeAko, and delivers talks on prevention of sexual harassment and bullying in public schools. Pocholo Concepcion
Chef, advocate of local farmers
Prayerful and passionate are two words that best describe chef Jessie Sincioco.
I’ve known her from her Le Soufflé days, way before she became the personal chef of Pope Francis during the Papal visit in Manila in 2015.
Despite her popularity and numerous achievements, she remains humble and down-to-earth. She works extra hard to promote and support Filipino food. She’s passionate about creating dishes that uplift the lives of local farmers. She believes that using local and indigenous ingredients will nurture and push Philippine cuisine to international heights.
Sincioco is a woman of prayer. She’s an active churchgoer (lector and commentator) at Christ The King in Greenmeadows. Every morning, she hears Mass and says the rosary.
Every year, since her first memorable encounter with Pope Francis, she goes to the Vatican to visit the Pope and brings him Philippine mangoes. Vangie Baga-Reyes
The Filipina has always been a major subject for Philippine art, but nearly always she has been seen through the filter of the male gaze: from Amorsolo’s idealized “dalagang Filipina,” to BenCab’s time-traveling colonials.
The obvious exception is the work of sculptor Julie Lluch: her empathetic portraits of Filipinas, rendered more often than not in fired clay, exude a palpable sense of “realness,” and not only because they’re usually modeled after friends and family.
Whether losing it in front of the kitchen stove, experiencing existential dread while ironing clothes, worrying about breast cancer or simply being lost in their own thoughts, Lluch’s women could have been depicted only by someone who’s been there, done that.
In a Lifestyle story by Alma Cruz Miclat, Lluch said her autobiographical piece “Picasso y Yo” is her favorite because “in it, I rolled into one the multitude of overlapping identities and roles that I have as a woman, wife, mother, artist and feminist in protest against high art represented by Picasso and patriarchy.” Eric Caruncho
The Litas Manila
Women who ride motorcycles
“Babes on bikes”—do a Google image search—is a patently male fantasy, a concatenation of two objects of lust: b_tches on b_tchin’ bikes.
The Litas Manila, a congenial bunch of women from all walks of life, turn this fantasy on its head by riding off on those very same bikes, leaving the guys to suck their exhaust.
“We’re not a motorcycle gang,” says one of them. “We’re a group of strong women with a common interest in adventures and motorcycles.”
Part of a global collective of women who ride, the Manila chapter members find motorcycling more enjoyable without the testosterone and constant dick-measuring involved in a typical group ride with men.
“The moment you put a girl in a male-dominated hobby, it’s seen two ways: either she’s a dyke, or the girl they could never be with for the rest of their lives,” says the above-mentioned Lita. “They don’t like the idea of women who are strong, women who have their sh_t together, basically.”
At least once a week, the Litas Manila ride out on their BMWs, Ducatis, Harley Davidsons, Kawasakis and KTMs to have a good time, encourage other women to ride, and to show the guys how it’s done. Eric Caruncho
Miss Universe 2018 and youth advocate
For pageant fans and even regular Filipinos, Catriona Gray is a beacon of hope, a breath of fresh air today. When she bagged the country’s fourth Miss Universe title in Thailand last December, Pinoys everywhere cheered.
The entire time she was on stage—and even when she thought there were no cameras trained on her—she looked like she was having the time of her life, dancing to the music, completely in the moment.
During her big homecoming recently, we interviewed her and saw how authentic and gracious she is. Gray puts people at ease because she isn’t afraid to laugh at herself—a big, booming laugh one might not expect from a beauty queen.
But behind that bubbly, beautiful and approachable exterior is a 25-year-old who’s wise for her years.
“I am an old soul,” Gray said. “I really plan and I’m ambitious. I find it hard to just kick back and not feel bad about doing nothing or taking time for myself. It’s always, ‘Wait, I don’t feel productive, what am I doing?,’”
She said that a few years ago, even before she joined Binibining Pilipinas, she felt like she was going through a quarter-life crisis, and her career seemed to be stagnating. Instead of wallowing in depression, she channeled her energy into Young Focus, which continues to be one of her advocacies.
The attention she has brought to Young Focus has helped the Tondo-based NGO tremendously. In an Instagram post two weeks ago, Gray said that her Young Focus family has received “amazing amounts of support, so much so that the entire financial needs for 2019 have been covered.” Raoul J. Chee Kee
Dr. Geraldine Zamora
Vice president, Hope for Lupus Foundation; board member, Sagip Buhay Medical Foundation
Dr. Geraldine Zamora (formerly Racaza) is one of the main proponents of the Hope for Lupus Foundation Inc. that aims to educate people on this auto-immune condition.
With Rep. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Dr. Evelyn Osio-Salido and Dr. Angeline Magbitang-Santiago, Zamora authored the book “Living Better with Lupus” and the more concise Tagalog version, “Lupus, Kayang-Kaya Ko ’to.”
“The abridged version was written with the average Filipino in mind, in conversational Filipino and using the simplest terms as possible given the complexity of the condition we are describing,” said Zamora, who is a clinical associate professor at the UP College of Medicine, and consultant at St. Luke’s Global City and Manila Doctors Hospital.
Common misconceptions of systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE include it being contagious, infertility-inducing, and fatal.
“Much like most other illnesses including hypertension and diabetes, it has no known permanent cure, but is manageable with the proper medications. It is not a death sentence, and people with lupus can lead normal lives and be productive members of the society once lupus is controlled,” she said.
Zamora graduated valedictorian of her UP College of Medicine class and proceeded to Internal Medicine and Rheumatology training at Philippine General Hospital. She topped all four of her board examinations, and was selected as one of The Outstanding Young Men/Women (TOYM) Philippines in 2016.
Coming from humble beginnings, Zamora has a soft spot for the underserved. She is a board member of the Sagip Buhay Medical Foundation, which raises funds for indigent patients in the PGH Medicine wards, and vice president of Hope for Lupus foundation. Raoul J. Chee Kee
Restaurateur and advocate of Italian and Filipino cuisines
Margarita Fores is an heiress—as some columns tag her—who actually doesn’t need a job. Yet for decades now, she has been slaving away like her life depended on it.
Fresh from a training in Italian cuisine in Florence, decades ago, she opened a café, with some partners. When the partnership turned sour, she struck out on her own, with some fear, whether or not her Cibo café would succeed. She wasn’t sure if the Filipino dining market would take to the way she was tweaking Italian cuisine.
Not only did Cibo draw the diners, it’s now a big restaurant chain.
And Fores’ name has now become synonymous with dynamic Italian cuisine and in recent years, with farm-to-table cuisine where she uses ingredients sourced usually from her native Capiz.
Going beyond her business, she helped organize Madrid Fusion, which became an opportunity for Filipino chefs and food advocates to meet and share ideas with the top chefs in the world. Thelma S. San Juan
Sen. Loren Legarda and Margarita Moran-Floirendo
Culture advocates in government
Sen. Loren Legarda and Margie Moran-Floirendo have been working for some time now to include culture and the arts in the national agenda.
Senator Legarda has been using her office to revive the country’s participation in the Venice Biennale, while Moran-Floirendo has been tirelessly seeking support for the arts, especially ballet.
She’s in a better position to do this now as chair of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Thelma S. San Juan