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

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Illustrated by JILL ARTECHE

© 2021 Maxie Villavicencio Pulliam All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The author has made every effort to ensure that the information in this book is accurate and has exercised creative liberties for artistic purposes. The author does not assume and hereby disclaims any liability to any party for any consequence arising from the use of the information contained therein.

* For our matriarch, Corazon Villavicencio Santo Domingo, and our entire family, the Villavicencio’s. May this book bring you joy and remind you of our family’s roots and resilience.

In memory of those we lost during the creation of this book: My Tito Enrique Villavicencio (1943 – 2020) My Tita Rebecca Villavicencio (1945 – 2020) My Tita Melinda Villavicencio Henson (1940 – 2021) My Tita Priscilla Villavicencio (1945 – 2021) My dearest friend Eddie Pasillas (1976 – 2020)


Thank you for taking the time to read about my great-great-grandmother in our illustrated biography, FIERCE FILIPINA: Inspired by the Life of Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio. I am so excited to share Gliceria’s timeless story, given our global need for equality, unity and grace. My hope is that this book will encourage healthy conversations between children and their parents and students and their teachers. I also pray that this book will spark a desire within readers of all ages to serve their communities and uplift others. 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.

Taken at Casa Villavicencio in February 2020 Taken at Casa Villavicencio in February 2020.

For resources, updates, and donation opportunities, visit and @FierceFilipina on Instagram. Laban! (Tagalog for Fight!)

Maxie Villavicencio Pulliam, LCSW December 2020

Gliceria Marella was born on May 13, 1852, in the small town of Taal in the province of Batangas, Philippines. Taal was lined with dirt roads and swaying palm trees. With its Spanish-Filipino architecture and nearby volcano, Taal was home to both the rich and the poor.

Gliceria was from the wealthiest family in Taal. She was the third of seven children to Vicente Marella and Gertrudis Legaspi. Gliceria’s grandfather, Sebastian Marella, raised her and her siblings after Vicente and Gertrudis’ unexpected deaths. Sebastian was Filipino with Spanish and Portuguese lineage and part of an elite, educated class known as the Ilustrados. As a busy landowner, Sebastian had his household helpers take care of Gliceria and her siblings. The helpers called Gliceria Aling Eriang or Ma’am Eriang as a sign of respect. Eriang was her nickname. 8



Gliceria felt empty and heartbroken after losing her parents. She tried to make sense of it all. So her grandfather’s helpers nurtured her and showed her love. They took her out to the markets and fields where she met Filipino workers who were also kind to her. Soon, Gliceria’s heart began to mend. She continued to spend quality time with the helpers and workers, even though onlookers expressed their confusion. With Gliceria’s light complexion and sharp nose, the onlookers could tell that she was from the upper class. They would say, “What is that girl doing with those people?” But their comments did not faze Gliceria. The helpers and workers were her friends. She loved them.


Gliceria developed a deep curiosity about the different people in the Philippines. She often wondered, “Are social structures set in stone? Why aren’t my friends considered equal to me? Can they own land one day, too?” She yearned to move to the big city of Manila to learn more. At 12-years-old, Gliceria begged her grandfather to allow her to leave Taal to attend Santa Catalina College. Sebastian agreed. He knew that Gliceria had an independent spirit, and he believed that a good education would prepare her to take over the family estate one day.



Santa Catalina College in Manila was at Intramuros, meaning, within a walled fortress. Intramuros was also the headquarters of the Spanish colonial government. Gliceria learned in school that the Spaniards first arrived in the Philippines in 1521. Outside of school, she witnessed Filipino people being disrespected and abused by the Spanish colonial authorities. She was so shocked that her body froze. It was then that Gliceria learned the truth.


The truth was that the Spanish colonial government and the Spanish Catholic Church wanted to remain in control of the Philippines without competition from the country’s people. So the Spaniards falsely claimed that native Filipinos could not have equal rights based on the color of their skin. This untruth was the reason why Gliceria’s friends could not own land. Gliceria knew that this was wrong. She realized that she could either sit still and enjoy the perks of her light skin or stand up and create change.


For the first time, Gliceria’s breath deepened, and her heart began to glow. Her inner voice said:

Fierce are those who are brave. Fierce are those who are strong. Fierce are those who stand up for what’s right, even when things go wrong.

She knew what she needed to do. She needed to be a Fierce Filipina.

As she began to think of ways to create change, Gliceria received news of her eldest sister’s death. She returned to Taal to manage her family’s estate, just as her grandfather had wanted.



Upon her return to Taal, Gliceria reunited with her friends. They were so happy that she was back. While they were out in the town together, Gliceria met Eulalio Villavicencio, an Ilustrado from Taal. He tried his best to woo her, but Gliceria was unwilling to settle. She only wanted to marry someone who could match her passion for the Filipino people. Still, her friends kept telling her, “Aling Eriang, Don Eulalio is such a catch! Give him a chance!”

Over time, Gliceria became drawn to Eulalio’s warmth, kindness, and his ideas on how to separate the Philippines from Spanish rule. They married in October 1871 and had the grandest wedding that Batangas had ever seen. After the festivities, Eulalio surprised Gliceria with a new home in Taal named the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House. 18


In 1872, word spread that the Spanish colonial authorities had strangled three Filipino Catholic priests to death for subversion. Their names were Mariano Gómez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora. Gliceria and Eulalio were outraged. The priests may have been unsuccessful in overthrowing the Spanish government, but their fight was not over. The couple vowed to continue the priests’ work.


Gliceria and Eulalio were active revolutionaries, even while raising their six children. The couple hosted secret meetings at their main residence, Casa Villavicencio, where they plotted the first strategies of the revolution. Eulalio joined the Katipunan or the Philippine Revolutionary Society, and Gliceria led the efforts of transporting, storing, and hiding firearms, ammunition, and secret documents. The Spanish authorities often raided their home but never found a thing. The couple decided to host Spanish generals as overnight guests next door at the Wedding Gift House to reduce the Spaniards’ suspicions.


In 1892, Eulalio traveled by ship to Hong Kong to hand-deliver ₱18,000 to exiled Filipino nationalist, Dr. José Rizal. The money paid for Dr. Rizal’s patriotic work, including a newspaper called La Solidaridad, or The Solidarity. The newspaper advocated for Filipino priests instead of Spanish friars, freedom of assembly and speech, and equal rights before the law. When Eulalio returned to Taal, he brought back an ivory dagger from Dr. Rizal to Gliceria and copies of La Solidaridad. The couple quietly passed out the newspaper to other Filipinos in Batangas.


Dr. Rizal eventually returned to the Philippines, this time exiled to Dapitan on the island of Mindanao. Still, Spanish friars accused him of starting the Philippine Revolution, which began in Manila on August 23, 1896, by the Katipunan. Dr. Rizal was sentenced to death and publicly executed by a firing squad on December 30, 1896. 23

Shortly after, the Spanish colonial authorities confirmed Eulalio’s revolutionary activities. They arrested and imprisoned him in the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila. Gliceria traveled to Manila to fight for Eulalio’s release. The authorities used her visit as an opportunity to bargain with her. They offered to release Eulalio, but only if Gliceria revealed the secrets of the Katipunan.

Gliceria’s breath deepened, and her heart began to glow. Her inner voice said: Fierce are those who are brave. Fierce are those who are strong. Fierce are those who stand up for what’s right, even when things go wrong. She knew what she needed to do. She needed to be a Fierce Filipina.



Gliceria refused their offer. She told the Spaniards, “I love my husband as few wives can, but I would consider myself unworthy of carrying his name if I will obtain his freedom at the expense of his country’s blood.”


The Spanish authorities released Eulalio a year after his arrest, but his body had broken down from being imprisoned. He died three months later. 27

After Eulalio’s death, Gliceria wasted no time on tears. Her breath deepened, and her heart began to glow. Her inner voice said: Fierce are those who are brave. Fierce are those who are strong. Fierce are those who stand up for what’s right, even when things go wrong. She knew what she needed to do. She needed to be a Fierce Filipina.

She donated her family’s merchant ship, the SS Bulusan, which became the Philippines’ first warship. It was used to carry food, clothing, weapons, and ammunition - all paid for by Gliceria - and transported Filipino soldiers and Spanish captives.



Gliceria founded Batallon Maluya, or the Shy Battalion, which was led by General Ananías Noblejas Diokno.

She visited battlefronts disguised as a medical worker to deliver ammunition to Filipino soldiers secretly.


She turned Casa Villavicencio into a secret Army headquarters for other revolutionary leaders like Andrés Bonifacio, General Miguel Malvar, and General Eleuterio Marasigan. Even Gliceria’s friends, who took care of her as a young girl, visited the headquarters as well.

In a letter to General Marasigan, Gliceria wrote, “Although I am declining economically, do not worry. As long as I have the last centavo, I will give all to our dear country. And since you represent her, I will give you all. I will not deprive you of anything.” 31

With the Philippine government in place, the country’s first president, General Emilio Aguinaldo, declared the Proclamation of the Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898, in Kawit, Cavite, a province in Southern Luzon. Although Spain did not recognize their declared freedom, the ceremony drew in thousands of Filipinos and presented the Philippines’ first national anthem and hand-sewn flag. Here, General Aguinaldo named Gliceria the “Godmother of the Revolutionary Forces” and acknowledged her many sacrifices and contributions.



Just two months later, Spanish rule over the Philippines ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1898. The treaty put an end to the Spanish-American War, and the United States of America paid $20 million to Spain for the Philippines and other colonies. The Americans now had full control of the Philippines. Gliceria continued to fund the revolutionary forces, which proved to be a challenge for the Americans. They held Gliceria and her children captive and moved them to Manila. The Americans also took over Gliceria’s properties in Taal and used Casa Villavicencio as an Army hospital for injured American soldiers.



The Filipinos in Taal were furious that the Americans took Gliceria and her children. During a moment of stillness, the Filipinos’ breath deepened, and their hearts began to glow. Their inner voices said:

Fierce are those who are brave. Fierce are those who are strong. Fierce are those who stand up for what’s right, even when things go wrong.

They knew what they needed to do. They needed to be fierce for Gliceria.

Like Gliceria did for Eulalio, the Filipinos urged the Americans to release her and her children. Eventually, the Americans did. Upon returning to Taal, Gliceria felt relieved, but she expressed hopelessness. She admitted to the revolutionary forces that she had very little money left. “Aling Eriang,” they said. “You have already given your time, your money, and your husband’s life to our country. Please rest. We will take it from here.”



Gliceria passed away on September 25, 1929. She, Eulalio, and their friends shed tears of joy from Heaven when the Philippines won full independence from the United States on July 4, 1946. Gliceria’s fellow Filipinos were fierce and finally free.


Fierce are those who are brave. Fierce are those who are strong. Fierce are those who stand up for what’s right, even when things go wrong.


* What makes * your heart glow?



Dory Villavicencio Pulliam: Mom, you are my life, my world, my everything. Thank you for supporting every dream that I’ve chased, including this one! Conrad Gatdula: Papi, thank you for always believing in me! Jill Arteche: Your talent is incomparable. Thank you for bringing Gliceria’s story to life with your bold illustrations. You have made my dreams come true! Evelyn Llena: I am so beyond grateful for you. Thank you for your moral support towards me and this book! Joel Japitana: My first best friend from pre-school, thank you so much for serving as my editor! Nica Reyes, Sofia Villavicencio and Lara Villavicencio: What a joy it has been to have you work with me on this book! Your creative ideas and contributions have been invaluable, and I am so darn proud to be your “Tita Max.” Rose Cruz Churma: Thank you for donating the Tagalog translation of this book. Thousands of children and families in the Philippines will have access to this story thanks to your generosity! Joy Smid: Thank you for donating your time to us as our web designer. Our website,, looks fabulous because of you! Ernie & Ria Villavicencio and Jocelyn Quiblat: What a blessing you are. Thank you for keeping Gliceria’s legacy alive through your preservation of Casa Villavicencio and the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House. And thank you, Tita Ria, for taking the time to fact check my manuscript! Sophia Lund & Lily Totten: Your creative writing tips made a huge difference. Thank you so much! Jessica & Janice Stillman, Rasika Chaudhary and Aiarpi Azatyan: You are my inspiration and I am in constant awe of you. Thank you for empowering me throughout the development of this book! Sandra Jill & Harper Brooke Allen, Yvette Green, my friends, and my entire V.A. family: Thank you for serving as my support system and for being my place of rest!


Herrera, Dana R. (2015, Spring). The Philippines: An Overview of the Colonial Era. Bibliography of Asian Studies. Https:// the-philippines-an-overview-of-the-colonial-era.pdf. (2018, June 12). June 12, 1898: Philippines declares independence from Spain. Knappily. Https:// Santiago, Lilia Quindoza. Tales of Courage & Compassion: Stories of Women in the Philippine Revolution. Quezon City, HASIK Incorporated, 1997. Santos, Lorraine. (2013, December 22). Hero’s Nest - Taal, Batangas. Https://youtu. be/aGWnXXGk3TI. Taalph. (2012, December 26). Marella Video A. Https:// Zaragoza, Francisco C. Doña Gliceria Marella - Angel of the Revolution: Marella y la Inquietud Romantica de la Revolución. Manila, Old Gold Publishing and the Order of the Knights of Rizal, 2011.

* THE AUTHOR * Maxie Villavicencio Pulliam is Gliceria’s descendant and the daughter of a fallen U.S. Army Green Beret Soldier with the motto, “De Oppresso Liber” or “To Free the Oppressed.” Maxie inherited their love of people and their commitment to elevate those in under-resourced communities. She graduated with a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Southern California and is a longtime public servant with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.). Maxie presently serves as a Regional Coordinator for V.A.’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program and holds a License in Clinical Social Work with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Recently, she partnered with her relatives in the Philippines to bring disaster relief to the hundreds of families affected by the January 2020 Taal Volcano eruption. Maxie, a proud San Francisco Bay Area native and former New York City resident, currently lives in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow her on Instagram: @maxie_vp.

* THE ILLUSTRATOR * Jill Arteche is a visual artist and illustrator based in Manila, Philippines. After two years, she left the advertising industry to pursue art and illustration as a full-time career. In 2019, she completed a residency in Illustration and Visual Storytelling at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Her body of work focuses on depicting culture and everyday experiences with her own touch of humor. Such as the everyday life, whether it is the 7 AM rush hour or a simple merienda, her work aims to transform the mundane into the comical and lighthearted. Her distinctive style has allowed her to showcase her work abroad, as well as work with numerous brands locally and internationally. You can follow her on Instagram: @jillarteche.

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