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Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines (review)
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The amazing feat of a woman guerrilla leading a group of guerrillas and defeating a stronger Japanese military troop in Candaba, Pampanga, on 8 March 1942 explodes into written historical accounts on the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. It dramatically presages the organizing and launching of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (People’s Army Against the Japanese Invaders or HUKBALAHAP) on 29 March 1942. The woman guerrilla, Felipe Culala, known as Commander Dayang-Dayang, would later find herself the only woman to be elected as one of the four top leaders of the military command of the HUKBALAHAP. Then silence. Hardly anything is to be written anymore of women’s participation in what has been acknowledged as the most successful guerrilla movement to challenge the Japanese invaders. Women Huk guerrillas appear only in the interstices of written histories as couriers, medical aid givers of wounded soldiers, and the like. That is, until this book, Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines (2009), by Vina A. Lanzona.

In decentering history from male Huk leadership to women guerrilla participation, from an accounting of events to focusing on everyday concerns and problems as well as gender relationships among members inside the Huk organization, Lanzona faced the formidable task of reconstituting the lines of the history of women’s participation in the Huk struggle with barely any written historical documents to rely on. And so she turned to oral history, to interviewing countless and hitherto unnamed women for their memories of their participation in the Huk struggle during and after the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. She discovered, as I did when I researched on the songs of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), Partido Sosialista ng Pilipinas (PSP), HUKBALAHAP, and the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (People’s Liberation Army or HMB), that networks of former members continued to exist long after the Huk movement was deemed decimated by the government. She sought out the women Huk guerrillas in communities and villages that must have been strongholds of Huk support, and when she found them they not only unraveled to her their still vivid memories about the Huk struggle, but also provided her links to other women in their network.

How reliable are memories in reconstructing a history forty to fifty years gone by? Lanzona says she began her interviews with Filipina women in 1993 to “recover an otherwise unrecoverable dimension of the Huk movement” (16). That the women chose not to forget, that they could recount details of their participation and share their war and postwar experiences, that they were willing to be named as the author’s primary sources can only indicate the value they put in their being part of the Huk movement. Each woman’s memory can be checked with other memories. This the author Lanzona did and more.

Weaving the strands of individual memories to form the collective story of the Huk “amazons,” Lanzona is able to show the contradictions within a radical movement that, even after the Second World War, continued to struggle for an alternative, more equitable society. Members who came from peasant backgrounds became literate because of the Huk movement’s education program. Women took on dangerous courier missions, participated in military operations, and even served as the node of a vital information network that proved their mettle and transformed their political being. But it was not as easy to eradicate traditional views and cultural practices. Men were privileged with positions of leadership, and many women in the movement accepted subordinate roles as the norm. Rarely did a woman like Celia Mariano penetrate the inner circle of leadership. When it came to the gender question, Lanzona opines that, while “the Huk movement subverted the existing social and gender inequities in Philippine society” (266), and seriously tried to address the “sex problem” by upholding the practice of monogamy among comrades who marry within the movement while allowing married men to take on “forest wives,” it was difficult to implement a new kind of morality. She points as a weakness the treatment by the movement of sex and family-related problems as political issues and therefore subordinating these to what it...



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