Activist, educator, feminist, public official, Rep. Luzviminda Calolot Ilagan is known as different things to different people, depending on whose life she has touched and in what capacity.
Her reputation for excellence and integrity encompasses all of the positions she has occupied, and is recognized not just in Davao City, where she was born and raised, but all over the country. She is one of the few and select luminaries Mindanao claims as its very own, a distinction she has cultivated over the years by hard work and good will, but never capitalized for personal gain or glory.
Ma’am Luz — as former students, co-teachers, and colleagues fondly call her — was born on January 12, 1947 in Daliao, Toril District, in Davao City, where even now she maintains close ties and affiliations. She was among Toril’s prized possessions, graduating First Honorable Mention at the Daliaon Central elementary School in 1958, then Salutatorian at St. Peter’s High School in 1962.
She pursued her college education in the Ateneo de Davao College, graduating Cum Laude in 1966, with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in English. She also has a Master of Arts Candidacy in Literature in the same school, and has likewise earned MA units in Public Administration at the University of the Philippines in Padre Faura.
First and Foremost an Educator
After graduation, she started working in the Ateneo as a teacher, where she has steadily risen from the ranks and occupied various administrative positions, from Coordinator of the English Department, Chairperson of the Humanities Division, to Member of the Ateneo’s Board of Trustees. Presently, she is a Consultant of the Ateneo de Davao’s Mass Comm. Department and remains a part-time instructor for Public Speaking, Communication Arts, and Public Relations. She is also Director of The Learning Atrium, an institution providing training courses for a wide range of subjects and fields.
In the many areas of endeavor she has entered, she still considers teaching as her principal vocation, and to this day goes around Mindanao, teaching English to other high school and college instructors under the Ateneo’s extension program.
Correspondingly, former students, who are now professionals and have had the opportunity to work with her as a peer, still refer to Ma’am Luz as the best English teacher they have ever had.
Women’s Rights Advocate and Mass Leader
Her distinction as one of the country’s premier Women’s Rights Activists is undisputed. Even before the GABRIELA was organized in 1984, Luz had already established herself as a leader in the Womens’ Rights Movement in Davao City.
It was during the dark days of Martial Law, when to show the slightest indication of political dissent was a clear invitation for incarceration or, worse, salvaging, she and her husband, Atty. Laurente “Larry” Ilagan (now deceased) worked to organize the people against the Marcos Dictatorship. Her involvement with women’s groups began when she became a convenor and then Chairperson of the WOMEN’S ALLIANCE FOR TRUE CHANGE- MINDANAO. This alliance of 32 women’s organizations in different parts of Mindanao would later join the national coalition called GABRIELA. In 1984, Luz became the Chairperson of GABRIELA-Mindanao, while her husband, a human rights lawyer, was also Chair of the BAYAN-Mindanao. She continued her service as head of the GABRIELA-Mindanao up to 1988, even when her husband became a political detainee in 1985, and she was left all alone to raise their four sons.
Aside from her affiliation with GABRIELA, Luz has also chaired a host of other NGOs, such as the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples (SAGIP), TALIKALA Foundation, Purple Rose Committee, Media Mindanao News Service, and Development Educational Media Services. She has also acted as an officer and maintains membership in other civic organizations, like the Mindanao Interfaith Peoples Coalition (MIPC), Kanlungan Crisis Center, Women Studies Association of the Philippines, Women Network Group, Women’s Studies and Resource Center, Ateneo Task Force on Reproductive Health, Gender, and Sexuality, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, Dona Carmen Locsin Foundation, ABAG Foundation, and the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), to name a few.
Such is her renown in the Philippine Women’s Movement that she has been called upon to represent the country in many an international conference on women. In 1985, she was a delegate to the UN International Conference on Women, held in Nairobi, Kenya. The following year, she was tasked to be the resource person for a Speaking Tour on the Situation of Filipino Women. For this, she had to travel to Holland, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Rome, Florence, and London to raise awareness on the plight of women in the Philippines. In 1989, she again became a delegate in the Intl. Conference on Women and Development, in West Berlin, Germany, and then in 1991, speaker in the Europe-wide Conference of Migrant Women, held in Barcelona, Spain, and in the Germany-wide Conference of Migrant Women.
Other similar international conferences in which she has participated are: the Women-Linking Conference, in Jakarta, Indonesia (1993); the Women Conference in Bangkok, Thailand (1994); International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Citizenship, in London (1996); and the International Conference on AIDS (1999).
Ms. Ilagan’s involvement with women’s concerns also extends to the field of research, where she has conducted major studies now considered as classic references to contemporary research on Women in the Philippines. Among her major research studies conducted are the Effects of the Modernization Process on Women Working in a Banana Plantation in Davao del Norte (1975), Perceived Effects of Farming Practices of Banana Plantations On The Health of Women of Little Panay, Davao Del Norte (1992), and Sexual Harassment in the Campus (1996).
Her experience as an educator is another plus for the women’s movement. She regularly conducts Gender Sensitivity Training, Reproductive Rights, and similar topics to firms. Organizations, and cooperatives all over the island.
Fortunately, all her work for the emancipation of women has not gone unrecognized. In 1992, the Ventures International gave her the Mae Carvell Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Upliftment of the Status of Women. In 1995, her alma mater also conferred her with the Ateneo’s highest honor, the Blue Knight Award, for Community Service and as Outstanding Spokesperson for Women. She was also a recipient of Soroptimist International’s Women Helping Women Award in 1999.
Proud as she is of these honors bestowed upon her, the ultimate merit, she claims, is the knowledge that from her efforts, more women will have become empowered to oppose violence and abuse, to rise up against exploitation and oppression, and be future partners in the continuing effort to liberate women.
Burgeoning city that Davao is, not a year goes by when scores of people are received to make the city their new home. Many, therefore, would not have had the opportunity to know Ms. Ilagan during her early days in Toril or as their teacher in college, but are familiar with her more public role in the latter years as Councilor of the first district of Davao City.
From 1998 to 2001, she served the city as councilor and served it well. Her decision not to run again in 2001 drew mixed responses from the public. Some said that it was better for her, politics being dirty business. Others expressed their dismay, saying that a single term was too short a time. Davao needed more honest and sincere public servants.
Obviously, those who expressed that latter view were not around earlier to appreciate that it was, in fact, not her first term. Had they already been residents of the city then, they would have known that in 1986, after the EDSA uprising, Luz — recognized for her efforts to lead the people against the Dictatorship– was among those appointed by then President Aquino as councilor of the city. When elections were again held in 1988, she felt that she would be more effective serving the people through her NGO work and chose not to run again.
She recalls the challenges she faced in her first stint as a government official. Despite the fact that the highest position in the land was occupied by a woman, she observed, women councilors were not that empowered, relegated to minor roles in governance and the more trivial concerns, like heading the city’s Beautification Committee.
Luz sought to change that when, a decade later, she was invited to run for councilor in the 1998 elections. In the city council, she chaired the Committee on Education, Science and Technology, as well as the Committee on Women and Family Relations. She was also Vice Chairperson of the Committee on Environment and a member of the Committee on Ethics, the Local School Board, Personnel Selection Board, and Child Minding Center Board. She also became Secretary of the Davao River Conservation Council and a Consultant of the Department of Health – Region XI, for Women’s Health Advocacy.
As councilor, Luz was also very instrumental in organizing livelihood projects for women in poor communities. The cooperatives she helped set up then are very much alive to this day and are engaged in the manufacture of handicrafts and other products.
Straight from the Hearth
Several years ago, Ms. Ilagan became a columnist for a local daily. The title of her column was “Straight from the Hearth,” belying the stereotypic image as the feisty feminist leader. In truth, Luz is a doting mother to four children and a loving and supportive wife. She takes issue against stereotypes and clarifies that an empowered woman does not mean a woman devoid of domestic responsibility.
Ironically, all her children are male, but she has taken this as an opportunity to raise upstanding young men who have a healthy respect and understanding of gender equality. Her and her husband’s strong sense of nationalism and service to the common tao have not escaped her children. “She was our pillar of strength”, recalls one of her sons. “During those days when our father was in prison, she almost single-handedly raised the family and yet continued her activism.”
The Flame Burns Just as Bright
Years of service and struggle have not yet taken their toll on Ms. Ilagan. Last January 22, 2004, Luz was a speaker at a conference called “Women Moving a Mindanao Agenda.” Her talk was on how women can wield political power, and in her presentation, she noted that during elections women usually are called upon to become campaign managers, “for women are good at this work”.
“But, when the counting is over and the winners are sworn into office, when the fruits of the campaign labor are to be relished and distributed, do the women get a share? Rarely. They often go back to their homes, probably feeling fulfilled that they had done a good job, as usual, but I suspect with some amount of hollowness that something is missing, or that they are missing on something significant in their lives.”
Undoubtedly, Luz has managed to fill that hollowness in her life, and it is her lifelong crusade that other women manage to fill the hollowness in theirs.
OFFICE OF REP. LUZ ILAGAN
SW-601 House of Representatives, Batasan Complex
Constitution Hills, 1126, Quezon City, Philippines
TELS (0632)9315586; (0632) 9315001 loc 7299