In the history of Filipino rock, there have been generations of women who have made their mark on the music scene. In the 1970s, Tessy Alfonso — better known as Sampaguita — took the country by storm with hits such as “Tao,” “Nosi Balasi,” and “Bonggahan.” The 1980s saw the rise and dominance of Rage Band, fronted by Marissa Buñag, who sold out clubs and concert halls with their Top 40 rock and new wave covers. In the 1990s, there was a significant boom in female-fronted and all-female rock bands such as Color It Red, Put3ska, Keltscross, Hungry Young Poets, and Fatal Posporos, to name a few.

Photographed by Jerick Sanchez on November 2023 at the Billboard Philippines’ studio in Pasig City, Philippines.

With the establishment of the NU107 Rock Awards in 1994, which gave recognition to individual achievement in both recorded and live performance, the industry also began giving women instrumentalists their due. This continued well into the 2000s, where in 2006, Sandwich and Imago bassist Myrene Academia received the award for Bassist of the Year. The previous year, Cynthia Alexander was recognized as Guitarist of the Year (and Producer of the Year) for her deft acoustic work on her third solo album, Comet’s Tail.

Clockwise from top left: Caren Tevanny, Barbie Almalbis, Chen Pangan, Evee Simon, Ymi Castel, Noodle Perez

It’s clear that whether it’s in front of the microphone, with a guitar in hand, or behind the drum kit, women have undoubtedly established their presence in the Filipino music scene. The Filipino rock sound wouldn’t be what it is today without the contributions of not just female singers, but female instrumentalists as well. However, despite the presence of women in the genre and some form of recognition over the years, Filipino rock is still heavily associated with the men of the scene.

Clockwise from top left: Nikki Cuna, Hannah Jabla, Janessa Geronimo, Pat Sarabia

“To be honest, I had no female role models to look up to as a drummer, just because it was rare at the time and even quite taboo,” shares Oh, Flamingo! drummer and Offshore Music Director Pat Sarabia. Her bandmate and bassist Billie Zulueta continues, saying that while integrating herself with the music community was not a problem, the challenge lies in the double standards and microaggression from their audience and people outside their circle.

Photographed by Jerick Sanchez on November 2023 at the Billboard Philippines’ studio in Pasig City, Philippines.

“For a while, I was the only female in our band, and I really felt the double standards. A lot of social media comments directed at me focused on my appearance, whereas comments addressing my male bandmates focused on their performance. It felt unfair that there’s more pressure to look good than to perform our music well.”

“When people see me carrying my bass while I travel, I’d often get asked if I’m the vocalist and never what my instrument is. I’d also get asked if I’m in an all-girl band, which I find odd because I doubt they’d ask men if they’re in all-boy bands.”

From left: Raisa Racelis, Lalay Lim, Coey Ballesteros, Billie Zulueta, Nica Feliciano

Even for an all-girl band like Flying Ipis, guitarist Ymi Castel shares that in the 2010s, trying to get a start in the music scene came with its own challenges. However, there were also moments that pushed more women to take up space in all aspects of the music industry.

“Back then, there was only an abundance of male-fronted bands. Because we had that name that sounded like a male-fronted band, we got into many productions only to find that we were the only female group in the lineup,” Castel recalls. “I guess the audience saw and appreciated that diversity in a gig. Many girls in the crowd would come up to us and say that we stood out amongst the lineup, and most were empowered to build their own band or even put up an all-female production.”

“The acceptance and judgment go hand in hand, but we can see now that more women go out and take space to expand themselves and their music. So, it’s pretty obvious there’s an integral recognition of female instrumentalists in a once male-dominated scene compared to a decade ago.”

A version of this story appeared in Billboard Philippines’ rock issue, dated Dec. 15, 2023.

Photographed by Jerick Sanchez, assisted by Bryle Albano. Creative Direction by Nicole Almero. Styling by Quayn Pedroso, assisted by Celene Sakurako. Hair and Makeup by Nix Institute of Beauty. Shoot Coordination by Mikaela Cruz. Written by Kara Angan. Billboard Philippines, December 2023.