Remembering Lilia Q. Santiago – Professor, Scholar, Writer, Author, and Feminist

by Belinda A. Aquino, Ph.D.

The untimely passing of Dr. Lilia Quindoza-Santiago earlier this year is a profound loss not only in the Philippine academia but also in international circles, especially in Hawaii where she taught Philippine literature, Philippine languages, particularly Ilokano and popular culture, but also in Virginia where she also taught these courses in a community college there.

Santiago was a prolific writer. In her lifetime, she produced more than 20 books and monographs containing numerous essays, commentaries, conference papers, book reviews and other academic and literary pieces. She wrote in three languages: Ilokano, Filipino/Tagalog and English. She was a frequent contributor of articles to several international publications.

Above all, Santiago was a professor in numerous education institutions notably at the Department of Filipino and Philippines language at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City where she spent most of her teaching career. She had won several awards for her sustained writing. She was also an Associate for Fiction in the Institute of Creative Writing at UP-Diliman.

After several years at UP-Diliman, Santiago was hired as a faculty member in the Department of Indo-Pacific Languages at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was a professor of the Ilokano Language Program. She attracted a lot of Filipino American students who took the Ilokano language as one of their two foreign language requirements for graduation.

Unfortunately towards the end of her distinguished career, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died shortly after. Her body was returned to the Philippines where her entire family lives.

Santiago had an incredible array of academic and human skills in various fields of learning, especially literature and languages. After moving to Virginia after retiring from Hawaii, she was hired to teach Philippine literature and culture at Tidewater Community College.

Santiago as a writer
Of her numerous writings, I am most impressed by a chapter she contributed to a 2010 book entitled “More Pinay Than We Admit.” Santiago wrote the chapter titled “Roots of Feminist Thought in the Philippines” on page 105 of the book.

It is a cogent and well-research piece that essentially argues that feminism is “not considered a foreign ideology imported from the West and espoused by strudent, middle-class women whose behavior and ways of thinking are those of aggressive Western feminists.”

This perspective, according to Santiago, is erroneous because it assumes that feminism “has no place in national life and culture.”

The author argues, such an argument does not consider the fact that this idea does not have any knowledge of Philippines history in terms of its role in the construction of feminist thought.

Helping the department to grow
According to Dr. Aurelio Agcaoili, longtime Chairman of the Ilokano Language Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Santiago was instrumental in recruiting and retaining students and creating the student development program.

She was active in translation and interpretation services for Ilokano students. She was also helpful in hosting the annual NAKEM (Ilokano word for “thought” or “consciousness”) Conference in the Philippines and Hawaii. These conferences exposed students to the larger Ilokano society in the Philippines and Hawaii, as well as internationally.

Dr. Agcaoili further shared that Santiago was always “student-friendly” especially to those who needed special assistance. He noted that she was always a “caring colleague.”

She was completely devoted to her students considering that Ilokano is a difficult Philippine language to learn. Santiago made sure to give her students incentives and more time to learn the language. Her office hours were devoted to helping students who needed special assistance in learning Ilokano.

Outside of the classroom, Santiago cooked for her students during their numerous picnics and get-togethers during the weekends. Her students were appreciative and thankful for Lilia’s patience and accommodation when they needed advice.

As an activist
Santiago was likewise active outside of her academic responsibilities. The pro-democracy movement was active in resisting the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos who had put the whole country under martial law in the early 1970s. She didn’t go underground unlike many of her former colleagues at the University of the Philippines. She devoted much of her time writing critical pieces expressing her criticisms against the regime.

As a result, she was put under house arrest in a detention center along with some of her colleagues. After she was released, I asked her how she was treated by the guards while she was detained.

Santiago shared that she argued with one of the guards who didn’t like her answering back with what she thought were not severe accusations against the regime. The guard didn’t like her responses, so he slapped her across the face. However, she was not tortured unlike some of her colleagues who had gone underground and were later caught.

There were numerous activities and accomplishments that Santiago had achieved during her lifetime. What I have written in this essay are just a few of her achievements in and outside of academia. I believe I have unraveled the breadth and depth of her intellectual capabilities and character.

She had expressed some of her deeper thoughts in one of her last essays, written shortly before she died. She narrated a portion of the life of the Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.

Rizal had written a touching and sympathetic letter to the young women of Malolos who petitioned the Spanish authorities in the 1890s to build a school where they could learn Spanish and be able to teach it to their fellow Filipinos. The Spanish Governor-General had denied their request.

Santiago kept on writing until the very end of her life. She was a true believer in equality, peace, and social justice. Unfortunately, she passed a relatively short period in her lifetime but her legacy in the intellectual, social, and cultural field will always be cherished by generations now and in the future.

DR. BELINDA AQUINO is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she served as Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies as well as Founding Director of the Center for Philippine Studies for more than three decades before retiring.  An accomplished journalist, she is a Contributing Editor of the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle and other international publications.

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