Only two years into her marriage, Felicitation C. Hubilla became a widow at 26. Her husband, Alfredo, was a policeman on a field mission in Sorsogon. One fateful day in November 1980, she got a call that her husband had been gunned down.
"The loss of my husband was probably the greatest and saddest change in my life. One day he was with me and my baby. We were planning for the birth of our next child - I was four months pregnant then. We were planning for the future. The next day he was gone.
"For a moment, I felt that life for me was over. But only for a moment. I am no stranger to death and life's hardships. Just after I graduated from college, my father became ill and was in and out of hospitals. By the time he died, we had sold all our properties. As the eldest, I had to work to send my seven siblings to school. In between, I got married and looked forward to raising a family with my husband."
In a patriarchal society, the death of a husband can cause a traumatic role-change. In such a society, the major role of a man is that of provider, while that of a woman is a homemaker. When death strikes the spouse, a man loses a homemaker, but a woman loses a provider.
Fortunately, Felicitaton, or Fely as she is affectionately called, had a college degree and was working as a clerical aide in a municipal government office at the time of her husband's death. But that didn't stop her from sending applications to various offices for a better job. Realizing that her husband's position was vacant at the NAPOLCOM (National Police Commission), Fely studied and passed the Police Officer Test for prospective NAPOLCOM employees. She then applied for a job. However, Bicol University, a state university in Legazpi City, approved her job application before NAPOLCOM did.
With a young daughter and a newborn baby, Fely resolved that her life was not over and that it would take a different turn. "My children became the primary source of my strength to survive."
In 1982, Fely began work as a clerk at the Bicol University's human resource management office. When her children reached school-going age, she enrolled in the university's graduate school where she enjoyed free tuition, one of the benefits reserved for the university's employees.
"I always did like studying, though it wasn't easy along with the demands of office work, childcare and the usual housework. I didn't even have time to be involved with another man though I haven't closed the door to getting a second marriage degree," she jested. Fely received her master's degree in 1996.
Like Fely, many Filipino women have made great strides in the field of education. Data from the National Census and Statistics Office shows that in the year 2000 women outnumbered men - three to two- in terms of completion of college education. Statistics for higher education display a similar gender leaning: In the school year 2001-2002, 56 per cent of those enrolled were women and only 44 per cent were men.
Alfredo Jr - Fely's "posthumous baby" - is now 25. He is a civil engineer with Pampanga's Subic Bay Management Authority. Fely's eldest, Fleurdeliz, is now married and works as a librarian. Both mother and daughter have partnered together in a small piggery business that they manage in their home lot at Bascaran, Daraga. On Saturday mornings, Fely keeps busy by tending a garden and taking care of a menagerie of cats, dogs, chickens, and doves. She attends her doctoral classes in the afternoons.
For Fely, her daughter and for other women, education is an indispensable element of the economic and social progress of their lives. Women like them embody a key provision in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that recognizes women's full and equal access to education as a pivotal building block for women's empowerment.
(CEDAW is an international treaty that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and came into force in 1981. CEDAW maps out a range of measures that must be taken to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment. Article 10 of CEDAW obliges states to ensure women equal rights in the field of education by providing them with "opportunities to benefit from scholarships and for access to programmes of continuing education".)
As a state university, Bicol University encourages both its teaching and non-teaching staff - male and female - to pursue higher education. It also provides free tuition for its personnel and partial scholarships to their children, enrolled in the university's elementary, secondary and tertiary programmes.
Certainly, much has been achieved in the area of education but much remains to be done to fully achieve the goals set by CEDAW. As a signatory to this international women's bill of rights, the Philippines' investment in education is lower than most neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. It is an accolade for female-headed households, such as Fely's, that they have escaped from the dregs of poverty - driven by an inner core of strength and maternal desire to improve the quality of their lives and of their families.
For the diminutive and soft-spoken Fely, her dedication to work and scholarly pursuit were rewarded. From a clerical position, Fely eventually rose to head the University's human resource management office for 12 years.
It was diabetes that influenced Fely to take stock of her rather stressful occupation juggling the demands of both management and personnel.
Consequently, she requested a transfer to the university's College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, where she now teaches History and Rizal courses to fresh college entrants. "I love my students as I do my own children," she says.
At 52, Felicitation C. Hubilla is still a widow. But she is not alone nor lonely - and may never have to be.