I remember the second time I visited SM City Iloilo this year quite vividly for the simple reason that I heard a familiar tune playing over the mall’s intercom. I was with my two titas and their baby boy when we noticed Inang Laya’s song “Babae” reverberating across the mall interior.
I was way younger when I first listened to the song. I cannot recall the circumstances of those childhood moments anymore but I can recollect the song’s melody just fine anytime. I was older when I came across the song again and that was also the time when I learned the lyrics:
By Inang Laya
Kayo ba ang mga Maria Clara
Mga Hule at mga Sisa
Na di maruning na lumaban?
Kaapiha’y bakit iniluluha?
Mga babae, kayo ba’y sadyang mahina?
Kayo ba ang mga Cinderella
Na lalake, ang tanging pag-asa?
Kayo nga ba ang mga Nena
Na katawan ay ibinebenta?
Mga babae, kayo ba’y sadyang pang-kama?
Ang ating isip ay buksan
At lipuna’y pag-aralan,
Ang nahubog ninyong isipan
At tanggaping kayo’y mga libangan
Mga babae, ito nga ba’y kapalaran?
Bakit ba mayroong mga Gabriela
Mga Teresa at Tandang Sora
Na di umasa sa luha’t awa?
Sila’y nagsipaghawak ng sandata
Nakilaban, ang mithiin ay lumaya.
Bakit ba mayrong mga Lisa
Mga Liliosa at mga Lorena
Na di natakot makibaka
At ngayo’y marami nang kasama?
Mga babae, ang mithiin ay lumaya!
“Women hold half the sky,” Mao once said. But in a society like the Philippines, women are subjected to the double oppression, among others, of class and sex. “Babae,” a favorite during women’s month commemoration affairs during March and protest actions involving women’s issues, is a song that problematizes the gender role assigned by the social order to women since their childhood.
Following Simone de Beauvoir’s saying that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” , Inang Laya questions the idea that a woman is by essence weak (“Mga babae, kayo ba’y sadyang mahina?”), dependent on men (“Kayo ba ang mga Cinderella / Na lalake, ang tanging pag-asa?”), and a mere object of pleasure in bed (“Mga babae, kayo ba’y sadyang pang-kama?”).
Opposing the identity reinforced by dominant patriarchal institutions like the family, education, the law, and the media, the song advances the alternative image of the woman aspiring for liberation (“Mga babae, ang mithiin ay lumaya!”). Citing the example of heroines from Philippine history like Gabriela, Teresa and Tandang Sora as well as women martyrs in the ongoing people’s war in the countryside like Lisa, Liliosa, and Lorena, the song challenges the stereotype of women as represented in Philippine literature by the figures of Maria Claras, Hule, and Sisas.
But is this emancipation simply the discarding of the traditional view of the essential domestic woman for the “sexually-liberated” woman of the West? Capitalism dissolves women, in the words of Jean-Francois Lyotard,
into the male cycle, integrated either as workers into the production of commodities, or as mothers into the reproduction of labor power, or again, as commodities; themselves (cover-girls, prostitutes of mass media, hostesses of human relations), or even as administrators of capital (managerial functions). 
The problem therefore, Lyotard contends, “is not to safeguard a difference of sex against a movement towards homologation imposed by capital. The ‘difference between the sexes’ is no more exempt from masculine imperialism than its opposite…” 
In the Philippine context, the domination of foreign monopoly capital – and the consequent rape of our natural and human resources by foreign corporations and dislocation of both urban and rural communities – have led to a situation where Filipina women suffer exploitative and abusive work conditions to support themselves and their families. The Philippines has become the world’s top exporter of women with the sector comprising the bulk of labor migration abroad. Filipina women are turned into abused domestic helpers, poorly paid factory workers, and sex trade victims. 
These are the realities that the song, “Babae,” calls on to study and question (“Ang ating isip ay buksan / At lipuna’y pag-aralan”). Ultimately, Inang Laya’s song goes to the end with the message that gender roles, being social constructs resulting from the interplay of power relations in a particular historical juncture, are also arenas for struggle.
The song, moreover, demonstrates that Filipina women are not simply oppressed but have been actively participating in movements that not only seek empowerment for their sector but for other marginalized groups as well (“Sila’y nagsipaghawak ng sandata / Nakilaban, ang mithiin ay lumaya”). ■
 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. by H.M. Parshley, New York: Vintage Books, 1989 (1949), p. 267.
 Jean-Francois Lyotard, “One of the Things at Stake in Women’s Struggles,” trans. by Deborah J. Clarke with Winifred Woodhull and John Mowitt, in The Lyotard Reader, edited by Andrew Benjamin, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1989, p.116.
 Ibid, p.117.
 “The Purple Rose Campaign,” in the Gabriela Women’s Party Website, Online, Internet, 28 September 2008.