Monday, November 26, 2012

*317. DR. RAFAELITA HILARIO-SORIANO: Kapampangan Scholar, Educator, Diplomat

DR. RAFAELITA HILARIO-SORIANO, Compleat woman personified. This san Fernando-born Kapampangan was an educator, a scholar, a researcher, a historian, a cultural advocate, a diplomat--excelled in all her chosen fields.

 A woman who broke barriers in her time, Dr. Rafaelita Hilario-Soriano was first and foremost, a Kapampangan erudite whose impressive background, diverse experience and love of local culture set her high above the rest, enabling her to assumer and master many roles—from an acclaimed educator, writer-historian, socio-civic leader to an ambassador to the world.

Her parentage foretold of an illustrious future: she was born in San Fernando on 2 July 1915 to Judge Zoilo J. Hilario of Bacolor and Trinidad Vasquez of Hinigiran, Negros Occidental. Hilario, an eminent zarzuelista in his hometown, would rise to become an important figure in Philippine judiciary and politics—he would become a judge of the Court of the First Instance and a congressman.

Rafaelita would grow up in the capital town with siblings Evangelina (herself, a leading light of Kapampangan language and culture) Tiburcio, Ofelia, Efrain and Ulysses. In San Fernando, Rafaelita first attended Santos Private School, and moved to Pampanga High School for her secondary studies.

Upon graduation, she went to Manila with her widowed grandmother, Dña. Adriana Sangalang vda. De Hilario, who put up a boarding school for Bacolor students. She enrolled at the Philippine Women’s University and obtained an A.B. Political Science, minor in History in 1936. She next went to U.P. for her Master’s degree in the same field of study, which she completed in 1938.

 With her brilliant academic record, she was soon swamped with teaching offers. She became an instructor at Sta. Isabel College, Holy Ghost College, and National University. In 1940, however, she was offered to organize the Liberal Arts College at the Laguna Academy in San Pablo City. She went there together with Miss Paulina Gueco (sister of the late Sen. Jose Diokno) and became the dean of the college.

Her stay in San Pablo proved to be short-lived as the next year, she won a Levi Barbour Scholarship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Rafaelita’s supposed two year –stay in the United States was extended due to the second World War. She made use of the extra time by earning a second Master of Arts in Public Administration.

It was about this time that she decided that the insulated life of an academician was not entirely proper when her country was at war, so she packed her bags for Washington, where she took a job as a research assistant in charge of the Philippine Section, Military Intelligence Division of the War Department. She held on to this job until the war came to an end with the surrender of Japan.

 Comforted by the thought that her family in Pampanga was now safe, Rafaelita returned to Michigan to get her doctorate. She earned her Ph.D. with her well-researched thesis about the role of propaganda in the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. While completing her higher studies, Rafaelita found time to wed Dr. Jesus Soriano, a gastro-enterologist, at St. Mary’s Chapel in Ann Arbor.

 In 1948, Rafaelita—with husband and daughter Maria Elena in tow—finally set sail for the Philippines. Upon her comeback, Rafaelita became a lecturer at her alma mater, University of the Philippines, Lyceum and at Arellano University. The indefatigable Rafaelita founded the Philippine Civic Organization. She was also elected as National Vice President of the YMCA, chairman of the Political Action Committee and Director of the Philippine-Michigan Club. On the side, she also worked at the Department of Foreign Affairs, which put her already multi-facetted career on yet another path—Foreign Service.

 Rafaelita proved her mettle by being named as a Chairman of the Information, Culture, Education and Labor Activities Committee of the SEATO (Southeast Asian Nations Treaty Organization)--only the second woman to preside over an international conference. Her contribution was immediately recognized by the United Nations Association of the Philippines (UNAP).

 In 1970, she was appointed as Secretary-General of the SEATO Council of Minister’s Meeting in Manila, which she handled with utmost proficiency. This led to her being named as an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Israel, where she was warmly received by Pres. Salman Zhazar. She thus joined a few, but elite number of early women ambassadors like Trinidad Fernandez and Pura Santillan-Castrence, who blazed the trails towards the feminization of diplomacy.

 When she retired from government service, she took up her pen to write several acclaimed books about Pampanga’s rich history: Shaft of Light (1991), Women in the Philippine Revolution (1996, editor), The Pampangos (1999). In March 2000, Rafaelita Hilario-Soriano was named as one of the 100 Filipino Women of the Millenium, a well-deserved accolade. This accomplished Kapampangan who wore many hats, assumed many roles and mastered them all, passed away on 1 January 2007.

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