BOOK REVIEW: FIERCE FILIPINA, Inspired by the Life of Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio

by Rose Churma

In the town of Taal, Batangas, a woman’s statue marks the corner of Calle H. Castillo and Calle G. Villavicencio streets.

Very little is known of her despite her generous contributions to the Filipino revolutionaries at the turn of the century during the Philippines’ struggle for independence – first from Spanish colonizers and then from the Americans.

The woman depicted in the statue is Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio who was named the “Godmother of the Revolutionary Forces” by Emilio Aguinaldo on the same day when the first Philippine Republic was proclaimed on June 12, 1898.

Born to a wealthy family from Taal, Batangas, Gliceria married into another wealthy family who was into shipbuilding. She and her husband were supporters of the revolution and oftentimes offered their home as a secret meeting place for the revolutionaries.

Her husband Eulalio was a member of the Katipunan while she led the efforts transporting firearms and secret documents. To distract Spanish authorities from suspecting their activities, they hosted Spanish generals as overnight guests at the house next door – called the Wedding Gift House – Eulalio’s present to her when they got married.

The Spanish authorities eventually confirmed Eulalio’s revolutionary activities and was jailed and released a year later but passed away three months after being released.

Gliceria was not deterred; she donated the family’s merchant ship SS Bulusan to the revolutionaries and it became the Philippines’ first warship.Gliceria and Eulalio had six children. At the time of her death in September 1929, she was 77 years old and had lived a full life devoted to “the relentless pursuit of equality” as described in the book’s back cover.

One of her descendants, her great-great-granddaughter, Maxie, wrote her biography as a children’s book with the hope that it will “spark a desire within readers of all ages to serve their communities and uplift others.”

She further writes: “May Gliceria’s story move you from silence to solidarity, from inaction to action, and from merely posting your support on social media to actively pursuing social justice.”The author, Maxie Villavicencio Pulliam, is a native of the Bay Area and currently resides in Los Angeles, California and holds a license in Clinical Social Work and is affiliated with the US Department of Veteran Affairs.

The illustrator, Jill Arteche, is based in Manila. As a visual artist, her body of work focuses on depicting culture and everyday experiences with her own touch of humor.This publication is written entirely in English, but plans are underway to publish an edition in Tagalog/Filipino for distribution in the Philippines.

The book is able to relay the history of the Philippines during the Spanish era and the early years of American occupation. The illustrations convey the essence of that era in the bold use of color and use of familiar icons – such as the black embroidered panuelo that Gliceria wears.

This book can serve as an introduction to Philippine history to young readers who were born in the US but curious about their country’s former colony. The book can be purchased online at FierceFilipina.com.  


ROSE CRUZ CHURMA is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (facebook.com/kalamansibooks), promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at kalamansibooks@gmail.com.


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