Rosario Villarruel Freemasonry: the story of the first Freemason of the Philippine Islands

Charito was a diminutive that was too short for him

Rosario Villarruel Freemasonry: the story of the first Freemason of the Philippine Islands

Charito was a diminutive that was too short for him. Rosario Villarruel was a key player in a turning point in history in the birth of the secret societies of the Spanish Empire in Asia. She is a pioneer in the achievement of freedom for women, regardless of her origin, and for her compatriots, regardless of her gender. She is thus portrayed in the novel A Garden in the Sea (La Esfera de los Libros), of which she is one of the main characters.

Don Faustino, his father, was, along with José Rizal, a founding member of the Liga Filipina, a secret society that, initially far from seeking independence, promoted education, progress and the recognition of the same rights for Filipinos as for inhabitants of the other provinces of Spain at that time. Cuba and Puerto Rico already had representation in the Cortes, there was no good reason for the Philippines not to achieve it. However, the peninsular policy of yesteryear resisted that legitimate aspiration of the inhabitants of its most distant territories. From the benefit of hindsight, that myopia was the beginning of the end. There was also no logical reason, to our modern eyes, why women could not be Freemasons. At that time, it was equivalent to being whatever they wanted and, above all, to being free thinkers. And, once again, the Masonic obediences of that time were not willing to recognize the freedom that was defended for their brothers either.

It is 125 years since that crossroads in history and very little data has reached us from Rosario. We know who his father was, but not his mother (another forgetfulness in the feminine). It is possible that she had a brother. It is documented that she had a lover: of peninsular origin, a municipal official, Luis Carvajal. Some sources (perhaps also malicious) say that this was a cover-up and, however, to me it seems like a more natural relationship, one of love and frustration, like the one Rizal had with Spain. Other sources indicate that Luis followed the same fate as her, such was her bewitchment. Even the information about her skin color is confusing. I have not found a portrait of him. Born to a Chinese-Tagalog father, Rosario must have been mestiza, but there are chronicles that refer to her as the pale Virgin. Both sides used her name and image, exaggerating virtues and errors to suit her. Neither witch nor virgin, Rosario was a free soul. Very few understood her and many, after her, preferred her to forget her.

Daughter of a prominent shipowner, he was her greatest inspiration. Some chronicles, determined to reduce her worth, portray her as a young woman manipulated by her father. However, the woman who founded the first women's lodge in the Philippines could not have been a mere puppet. It takes many arrests to stand up to political power and, at the same time, to the social power into which one is born. Rosario fought, at the same time, for her own freedom, as a woman, and for that of her new nation, as a citizen. Only a leading personality is capable of unleashing, fighting and winning two similar battles at the same time. I imagine her brave and self-possessed.

She played a fundamental role, a kind of recorder of the documents of the most pioneering lodges of the archipelago, she made her dream of being initiated come true and raised columns of the first female adoption lodge in the Philippines, which she named Semilla.

Arrested and sentenced to capital punishment, she was pardoned but deported to Umbrella Island in 1896. I was there, pursuing her memory. I asked about her, no one knew about her. I didn't find a plaque, statue, or her name on a street. I did find a typo in your entry on the website of the Royal Academy of History. When I reported it, the master historians reacted immediately and gave me a gift for which I am eternally grateful: they found one more trail that led me to a copy of The Cable Tow from almost a hundred years ago.

There appears the account (in English and even in Spanish) of a ceremony at five in the afternoon on January 29, 1925 in the Masonic temple on Escolta Street in Manila. In it, you can read "placing the jewel on the chest of the outgoing Grand Master for the pale Virgin of 1896, Doña Rosario Villarruel." He came out of Paraguas, he survived the war! And she reached at least 50 years old. The age I am now. The place or date of his death is unknown, I don't know where I could take some flowers. Use this article and A Garden in the Sea to bring it to life. They called her Charito, but, at her initiation, she chose Minerva, goddess of wisdom.

Pilar Méndez Jiménez is a writer and career diplomat. She is not a Mason, just another free and grateful woman. After 'Los mares de la canela', she now publishes 'A garden in the sea', both from the publishing house La Esfera de los Libros.