Filipino women cut through classes. A few belong to the elite and enjoy economic and political privileges. A bigger number belong to the middle class but the vast majority belong to the working class. And while it may be true that all Filipino women suffer from male oppression, the type and intensity of that oppression and the options open to individual women or groups of women differ according to the social class to which they belong. For example, abortions and divorce are illegal in the Philippines but women of the elite can go abroad to have either if they so choose.
My particular middle class background allowed me relatively more options than my working class sisters but not as much as Filipino women from the elite. Both my parents were public school teachers and while there was a hierarchy of parents and children (six girls and one boy), it was not distinctly along gender lines. My mother took part in the public sphere as a full time elementary school teacher and my father took part in the domestic sphere doing kitchen duty and child rearing. Family life was intellectually stimulating. Meal times were times for discussing current international and national events and newspapers and magazines were part of our world evenduring the early years when the family budget was tight.
While my family was a site of relatively egalitarian nurturing because of its liberal middle class outlook, it was also a site for reaffirming the dominant racist, classist and sexist ideology. Working and living in the United States was a dream instilled in all of the children from the outset as was the need to be well-versed in the English language. Obtaining a college degree and/or marrying into a rich family were ways of attaining upward mobility since we did not have land or property. All six daughters went into women-related professions (three in nursing, one in teaching, one in psychology and one in social work) while our only brother took up economics.
Hence my experience of growing up in my family reflected the intertwined effect of race, class and gender with one part (the nurturing, relatively egalitarian relationships within) providing the foundations for my further political development and another part (the reinforcement of the dominant colonial, classist and sexist ideology) holding me back from such an involvement.
I entered the University of the Philippines in 1965, the first child in the family to enter what was and still is considered the premier university in the country. My family was not financially able to send me to the country’s capital but I had graduated on top of my high school class and qualified for a scholarship which paid for my tuition and expenses.
As a student away from home, I enjoyed relative freedom of mobility compared with other Filipino girls in college living with their families. This would allow me the opportunity to explore the different ideas being debated in the university. U.P. had undergone a successful struggle against narrow sectarian views on education in the early sixties and by the time I entered, it was a bastion of academic freedom, an arena for the full play of differing ideas and world views. Thus while it was still predominantly a conduit for the ideology of the ruling classes and for training skilled professionals for the status quo, the university tolerated opposing ideologies like nationalism and Marxism.
When I became a student of the Institute of Social Work and Community Development (the first batch of students after its transformation from a department of the College of Arts and Sciences to a distinct academic unit), the thrust of the undergraduate social work degree was developing expertise in the methods of social work: casework, group work and community organization. While the classroom theories did not initially appear to me as limited, my field work experiences especially as a student social worker assigned to a juvenile court and working with young offenders from urban poor families created a lot of questions in my mind. The most important source of uneasiness for me was the dissonance of “rehabilitating” the children when the systemic poverty and powerlessness that characterized their lives remained untouched.
The relative freedom that I enjoyed because of my being away from home and the liberal atmosphere in the university coupled with my dissatisfaction with what I considered the individualized and palliative approach of social work to social problems contributed to my political radicalization.
This was in the late sixties and Filipino students like their counterparts all over the world were beginning to assert their right to question the status quo and to change it. Student groups at the university were active in organizing discussions outside of the regular classes and in linking the students with the struggles of Filipino farmers and workers. Praxis, the integration of theory and practice, became a day-to-day reality for me during those times. A “university within a university” created the opportunity for students like myself to learn the history of our country as a history of colonialism and oppression by foreign and local rulers on the one hand, and as a history of resistance and struggle of the Filipino masses, on the other.
We also learned, both in theory and in actual integration with farmers and workers, the conditions of poverty and oppression of the working class. “Learn from the workers and peasants” was a call we took to heart as we lived with them, listened to them share their dreams and aspirations and supported their struggles. With awareness came the decision to act. Karl Marx’s statement that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” became a powerful argument for active organizing and for launching mass struggles against higher tuition, for higher wages, for land reform, for national independence and genuine democracy.
By the second semester of AY 1969-1970, formal classes had became basically irrelevant for me although I hang on as it was my graduating year and I wanted my diploma as a gift to my family. But all notions of a safe middle class life as a professional ensconced in a suburban home whether in the States or in the Philippines had by this time been largely wiped off from my mind. Eighteen years of a dominant colonial and middle class socialization have been basically overcome by a couple of years of intense ideological rethinking linked with a direct experience and understanding of the reality and causes of the poverty of the Philippines and of our people. This transformation made me decide to pursue full time political activism rather than to seek work as a paid professional when I graduated in October 1970 with my social work degree.
It will only be in 1986, after years in the underground and in prison during the martial law period, that I would be able to claim my diploma.
– Dr. Judy M. Taguiwalo