Archive for July 2009

A Journey in Time

July 17, 2009

I have been  travelling back in time in search of evidence  that  electricity helped women  get education. Today I went back to visit the women of  Malolos, the twenty women who brought a letter requesting a night school for women. I texted  CorCor Santos whose  great grandmother  was one of the leaders of the Malolos women , Alberta Santos Uitangcoy. I wanted to find out if the appliances in their ancestral house had electricity but she was busy in their family hospital and asked for more time to help in my research. I read some pages of  Nick Tiongson’s  Women of Malolos. His narratives did not explicitly touched on electricity and its impact on women’s education . But  I was more convinced that  the  Malolos women who lived up to the 1930s had witnessed the coming of electricity. They became more active and organized Cruz Roja or Red Cross , joined the Asociacion Feminista de Filipinas (AFF) and became suffragettes. Corcor’s great grandlola lived up to 1953 and was a very articulate woman.

In the process of re-reading many articles in the web, I also found what La Gota de Leche did for women in 1906. It was  not just a place for providing milk for the poor . It was a hospital and promoted breastfeeding to help reduce infant mortality. Many poor women had tuberculosis and they did not want to breastfeed their babies. La Gota de Leche  founder, Dr. Fernando Calderon, taught women what to do with their breast milk and how to insure safe  cow’s milk. Many of the suffragettes  did not just ask for the right to vote but was keen on educating women on nutrition.

As I traced the involvement of the Malolos women, from  1865 to the 1950s, I saw that they prepared the road to women’s empowerment. I even found that Alberta’s  house  was  in a street called Electricidad street, in Malolos’ Pariancillo.

I googled all the websites that would lead me to several articles  where I could find women and electricity.  One book I found was Florence Kimball Russel 1900 ” A Woman’s Journey through the Philippines.”  She wrote in her journal all her impressions of the Philippines as she rode the cableship Burnside, a ship on a cable laying expedition from the US to the Philippines. Her stories were colourful and gave me  visually arresting pictures of  Manila, Dumaguete and Sulu. She found the women in Dumaguete more interested in Parisian clothes than the electric attraction of the ship : electric lights, fans, piano, cold storage and hot water in the bathrooms.  I wanted to read all her accounts but I had access only to reviewer’s pages .

As I went further to study how undersea cables could be powered in the 19th century, I saw that telegraphs were already in the Philippines by 1899. If the women of Malolos and the Asociacion Feminista de Filipinas (AFF) were from  families with resources, they must have access to the telegraph. From 1905 to 1937, the suffragettes must have been busy using  telegraphs and telephones  to get 447,725 women to register and vote because   women from all over the islands campaigned for suffrage. In 1937 when local elections were held, 24 women were elected and Carmen Planas became the first woman councilor of Manila.

There are so many things I am discovering about women and electricity. As of this juncture, I am electrified and will  continue to blog about women, not just as consumers but as  electric prosumers – blurring the lines between production and consumption.


In the worst of times, women built the electric grid

July 14, 2009

I am posting the personal stories of women in the electric domain. These are narratives I consider illuminating, hence the i describe the women as iluminadas, a spanish name my cousins and classmates were baptized with.

first story  is that of HEIDI CRUZ PEREZ, first woman  to lead the development of electric cooperatives  as part of the task force implementing the electrification campaign in the 1970s.


When I left the NEA in 1979, I was chief of the then Cooperative Organization and Development Division.  Under my supervision were 24 all- male Coop Development Officers ( CDO ) and 3 female clerks.

Initially, I was a desk-bound administrative assistant to the NRECA, an all- American team of advisors. Until my transfer to the office across the potted wall, the terms “military encounter” and “skirmish” were alien to me.  It was not long before I found out what these were from experience.

But first, my aborted plane trip to Capiz or Roxas City enroute to PANELCO which was a disaster.  Since I was new at the job, a senior CDO was to accompany me during the flight.   I was the last passenger to enter the plane because I waited anxiously for my escort who was no-show.  At the last minute I went up the plane only to announce to the crew at the doorway that I was not boarding, so may I please get my luggage back? To their horror, I insisted.  But they obligingly retrieved it and as I dragged my luggage down the ramp, across the tarmac and back to the terminal, an air marshal escorted me, his long firearm slung on his shoulder.  That was in full view of the puzzled pre-departure passengers who perhaps thought I was a security risk who was ejected from the plane.  Under Martial Law, many bizarre things happened.

Fast forward to Basilan. Our composite team bound for Lamitan from Isabela was ordered to stay put by the mayor because of encounter between government troops and rebels along the same route that we were taking.  At the first all clear-signal, we proceeded.   But our return trip from Lamitan to Isabela met the same fate for the same reason: skirmish along the route.  So we practically dodged the bullets.  Thanks to the derring-do of a female team leader!

My encountered memories include the day I drove without official authorization the big-size Chevrolet Suburban of the USAID from Bolinao, Pangasinan to Manila.  The NRECA advisor who drove it was a heart patient.  On the trip back he requested me to drive instead, because he developed chest pains during the drive from Manila.  No one among the 12 passengers objected and we arrived home in one piece.

There was also the “blitzkrieg” of the coop election in Camarinas Sur I where right after the lighting election in our hands, the mayor demanded another election tailored to make the local government bet  ( a loser) win a seat as director.  He “ detained” us at the Linden Hotel where he aired his protest.  The case was elevated to Malacanan which naturally upheld us.  What was doubly memorable for me was that “ blitzkrieg” earned me a promotion because it was my idea to use the strategy.  It paid to read World War II military exploits.

Then my night flight from Iloilo which climaxed my stay at the NEA.  Bad weather and poor visibility in Manila and environs forced our plane to circle the airport many times.  Some flights were already diverted to Clark Airbase.  After what seemed like eternity we touched down but the taxiing place came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the runway.  A shuttle bus ferried the passengers to the terminal.  Drenched from the bus transfer in the rain, I asked why our plane did not reach the disembarkation area.  The airport information officer simply said that the plane had run out of the fuel.  Believe you me!

My swan song was the organization of the NOCECO more than 30 years ago.  The mayor of Kabankalan ( venue of the event) and the newly-elected president of the brand-new coop were sworn political enemies.  How to get the feuding vital personalities together for the formal registration and loan signing ceremonies was a headache for me, the project leader, because the provincial VIP’s were arriving and both had transmitted negative signals to me.  So I called on Mayor Sola to inform him that Mr. Daclan, the president, wanted to invite him to the important coop event but was anxious that the invitation would be declined.  Then I proceeded to Mr. Daclan to assure him that Mayor Sola was willing to attend the ceremony and in fact was only waiting for the formal invitation.  The “shuttle diplomacy” was one big fat ruse but it led a win-win situation.  All the VIP’s were together at NOCECO’s “coming out party”.

Love, Learning and Suffrage in the time of La Electricista

July 10, 2009

I am posting this herstory to inspire people. I do not have enough electric evidence  but am blogging what could have been for women like Oryang and Rosa Alvero.

Gregoria de Jesus’s  love blossomed as the Katipunan found her.  Gregoria aka Oryang was 18 years old when she  married Andres Bonifacio in 1893 in a Catholic Church in Binondo. The Katipunan women’s chapter was formed a week later when Gregoria and Andres held another wedding that the Katipuneros approved of.

By that time, there were already some electric lamps in Manila and Gregoria could have a honeymoon with Bonifacio from early morning to late night . Manila saw electricity in 1892 with the founding of  La Electricista, which provided electricity to residential customers. With the completion of a new power plant in 1895, La Electricista began providing street lighting service to the Manila. One can imagine more women in Katipunan  meetings and  reading documents with the coming of electric lights.Their social and political life grew and  housekeeping expanded to keeping the Katipunan  a secret. In From 1893 to 1896 they were organizing Katipunan, Gregoria, kept the secret documents of the revolution and we can surmised, used them well to recruit more women.

When Bonifacio was captured and  executed in 1897, Gregoria continued the fight  for independence. She met and married Julio Nakpil, another Katipunero in 1898. They settled in the house of  Bautista  in Quiapo after 1914. Oryang’s life had become less dangerous  and the Bautista’s house had electricity since it was a plateria. She bore Julio several offsprings and became a good mother and wife.

While Oryang was four years old, another heroine was born, Rosa Sevilla Alvero in Tondo, Manila on March 4, 1879.  Rosa was a gifted child and sought to learn many things  not just for herself  but for many girls. After finishing her degree of Maestra Superior with honors in Assumption College , Rosa established Instituto de Mujeres  in 1900 and served  as directress for 45 years. By that time electric trams were in operation and women could travel faster in the city. Rosa’s teachers and  students  must have used the electric trams to get to the school daily

Also in 1903, the government of the Philippines began accepting bids to operate Manila’s electric tramway, as well as providing electricity to the city and its suburbs. The only bidder was Charles M. Swift, a Detroit-based businessman, who founded a new company, The Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company, or Meralco, the same year. Rosa Alvero started organizing  in 1903 the League of Women Voters and La Liga Damas. More single and married women wanted to vote  and be part of the public voice, just as the women were part of Katipunan in Oryang’s  generation. Mothers and their children could avail of longer study hours because  La Electricista expanded its customer base to 3,000 customers, as well as its streetlight business.

A determined educator, Rosa enrolled at U.S.T. at age 49 to get her Masters and Ph.d, then became its first dean of women. Appointed to the Supreme National Council, she spearheaded the movement to adopt Tagalog as the national language; and to the Women’s Council, to aid war victims.

Just as Gregoria de Jesus’s life became less laborous with time saving devices, Rosa Alvero’s  influence  and  her campaigns for women’s education and suffrage continued with the expansion of electrical services. In those years, electricity allowed more women time  and space to develop their minds further. There were more time saving devices and women did not have to fetch water. Water and electricity was already available in their homes. They could cook and wash faster and keep their homes clean . These conveniences generated more female energy to pursue participation  in political affairs.

By 1930s in the Philippines  more women could travel and go public with their issues.  In 1933, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs lobbying for suffrage won the right to vote– in theory, as the law was not implemented yet.

By 1935 a  plebiscite was held to gather at least 300,000 signatures in favor of women’s right to vote; the women campaign and gather 447,725.

In 1937 the  law on women’s suffrage was passed. Carmen Planas became the first woman in a city council in Quezon City.

During the thirty two years of campaigning for women’s suffrage, the electric domain was dominated by Associated Gas & Electric Co. (AGECO) of the United States. It acquired Meralco in 1925 . In1930, it inaugurated the Botocan Hydro Station one of the region’s largest construction projects of the time. The additional capacity allowed the company to expand its customers base throughout the metro Manila area. While women were exercising the right to vote for the first time in 1937, the government needed to strengthen its hand in power generation and established the National Power Corporation NAPOCOR .

All these social and political changes in the life of women like Gregoria de Jesus and Rosa Sevilla Alvero fed into a river of knowledge towards nation building, here and overseas.

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