The other legacy of MLQ



What the numbers say

This coming Saturday, Aug. 19, the nation will honor the second president of the Philippines, Manuel Luis Quezon, as he marks his 145th birthday.
The nation has recognized the late MLQ as the “Ama ng Wikang Pambansa,” having pushed for and signed the presidential proclamation which led to the adoption of a Philippine national language and which designated Tagalog as its foundation.

Our political elders in Rizal province told us that MLQ had one other important legacy to the nation – the right of women to vote and to run for public office in elections, or suffrage. 

It is interesting to know that, in the past, women had no voting rights. This may have come from the mindset that women should not take part in governance and that their place in society must be limited to bearing children and caring for their families. It is important to understand and appreciate that the right to vote was something women in the Philippines and in the rest of the world had to stand up for and fight for.

That was what the pioneers of women’s rights movements in our country did during the early part of the 1900s. According to our elders, the crusade faced stiff opposition, particularly from the male sector. The primary objection was, if women were to step outside of their traditional role as child-bearers and homemakers, the stability of Philippine family life could be put at risk.

Filipina leaders fought against that mindset and formed alliances so formidable that their male counterparts in the legislature were forced to listen and take action. Our elders relate that the leaders of the women’s rights movement were able to get a number of male legislators to file bills – first in the then – National Assembly, and then in Congress – that would give them the same right as men to vote and run for public office.

As the story goes, the initial efforts were to no avail. The bills did not pass in the legislature. 

The leaders of the movement, however, did not give up.

Their patience, persistence, and strategic moves led to a breakthrough in 1936.

According to the story, in September of that year, at an event in Malacañang, MLQ delivered a speech in his usual fiery oratorical style declaring his unequivocal and unqualified support for women’s suffrage. Following that declaration, he signed the Woman’s Suffrage Plebiscite Bill.
The bill provided for the holding of a plebiscite in accordance with a provision of the then-Philippine Constitution. Article V of the highest law of the land provided that the Filipina would gain the right to vote and run for public office if at least 300,000 women would declare their desire to have that right in a plebiscite.

The plebiscite was held the following year. Our elders said the Filipino women of that time came out in full force, voted in the plebiscite, and surpassed the required 300,000 votes. They said nearly half a million Filipinas said “yes,” while a measly 30,000-plus voted “no.” At that point, our country became one of the first Asian countries to honor women’s right to suffrage.

The Filipina did not waste time. In the elections held on that same year, a Filipina made history by winning an elective post. Her name was Carmen Planas who, in 1937, became the first woman to be voted into office. She topped the electoral contest for the position of councilor of the city of Manila.
Four years later, Elisa Ochoa became the first Filipina to win a seat in Congress. Ten years after they won the right to suffrage, Geronima Pecson became the first Filipina senator.

Since then, the Filipinas kept winning elective posts and distinguishing themselves in the field of public service. While women in other countries are still trying to “break the glass ceiling,” we had already voted Filipinas into the highest office of the land.

We asked our elders why MLQ made that brave stand in favor of women’s suffrage.

They ventured a guess and said, MLQ must have seen the valuable role of the Filipina during the Philippine revolution. The Filipina distinguished herself in battle not just as local versions of Florence Nightingale, but as warriors who wielded bolos, fired guns, and led armies in assaults and ambushes against the enemy.

MLQ must have decided to honor the bravery of the Filipinas by standing by them in the fight for the right to vote and run for public office.
The Filipina has returned the honor by distinguishing herself in the arena of governance and public service.
She proved that MLQ was right.

Yes, MLQ was right. On his 145th birthday, we honor him for that brave, bold move.

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