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RICARDO DE UNGRIA

       Philippine Literature in English has its roots in the efforts of the American forces at the turn of the century to pacify the Filipino people and instill in them the American ideals of “universality, practicality, and democracy.” By 1901, public education was institutionalized, with English serving as the medium of instruction. Around 600 educators who arrived in that year aboard the S.S. Thomas replaced the soldiers who also functioned as teachers. The people learned the language quickly, helped no doubt by the many support systems, e.g., books, magazines, newspapers, etc., outside of the academe.

       Today, around 80% of the population could understand and speak English

       The founding of Philippine Normal School in 1901 and the University of the Philippines in 1908, as well as of English newspapers like the Daily Bulletin (1900), The Cablenews (1902), and the Philippines Free Press (1905), helped boost the spread of English. The first ten years of the century already saw the verse and prose efforts of the Filipinos in such student publications as The Filipino Students’ Magazine (first issue, 1905), which was a short-lived quarterly published in Berkeley, California, by Filipino pensionados (or government scholars); the UP College Folio (first issue, 1910); The Coconut of the Manila High School (first issue, 1912); and The Torch of the PNS (first issue, 1913). But it was not until the ‘30s and ‘40s that Filipino writers in English emerged into their own.

       Newspapers and magazines were founded—like the Philippines Herald in 1920, the Philippine Education Magazine in 1924 (renamed Philippine Magazine in 1928), and later the Manila Tribune , the Graphic, theWoman’s Outlook, and the Woman’s Home Journal—that helped introduce to the reading public the works of Paz Marquez Benitez, Jose Garcia Villa, Loreto Paras, and Casiano Calalang among others. Cash incentives were given to writers in 1921 when the Free Press started to pay for published contributions and awarded P1,000 for the best stories. The organization in 1925 of the Philippine Writers Association and in 1927 of the U.P. Writers Club, which put out the Literary Apprentice, also helped encourage literary production. In 1939, the Philippine Writers League was put up by politically conscious writers, intensifying their debate with those in the “art for art’s sake” school of Villa.

       Among the significant publications of this fertile period were: Filipino Poetry (1924) by Rodolfo Dato;English-German Anthology of Filipino Poets (1934) by Pablo Laslo; Jose Garcia Villa’s Many Voices (1939) andPoems of Doveglion (1941); Poems (1940) by Angela Manalang Gloria; Chorus for America: Six Philippine Poets(1942) by Carlos Bulosan; Zoilo Galang’s A Child of Sorrow (1921), the first Filipino novel in English, and Box of Ashes and Other Stories (1925), the first collection of stories in book form; Villa’s Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others (1933); The Wound and the Scar (1937) by Arturo Rotor, a collection of stories; Winds of April (1940) by NVM Gonzalez; His Native Soil (1941) by Juan C. Laya; Manuel Arguilla’s How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories ( 1941); Galangs’s Life and Success (1921), the first volume of essays in English; and the influential Literature and Society (1940) by Salvador P. Lopez. Dramatic writing took a backseat due to the popularity of vaudeville and Tagalog movies, although it was kept alive by the playwright Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero.

       In 1940, the first Commonwealth Literary Awards were given by Pres. Manuel Quezon to the following winners: Salvador P. Lopez for Literature and Society (essay); Manuel Arguilla for How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories (short story); R. Zulueta da Costa for Like the Molave (poetry); and Juan C. Laya for His Native Soil (novel).

       During the Japanese Occupation when Tagalog was favored by the Japanese military authority, English writing was consigned to limbo. After the war however, it picked up anew and claimed the fervor and drive for excellence that continue to this day. Stevan Javellana’s Without Seeing the Dawn (1947), the first postwar novel in English, was published in the USA. In 1946, the Barangay Writers Project was founded to help publish books in English.

       Against a background marked by political unrest and government battles with Hukbalahap guerrillas, writers in English in the postwar period honed their sense of craft and techniques. Among the writers who came to their own during this time were: Nick Joaquin, NVM Gonzalez, Francisco Arcellana, Carlos Bulosan, F. Sionil Jose, Ricaredo Demetillo, Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Carlos Angeles, Edilberto Tiempo, Amador Daguio, Estrella Alfon, Alejandrino Hufana, Gregorio Brillantes, Bienvenido Santos, Dominador Ilio, T.D. Agcaoili, Alejandro Roces, Sinai C. Hamada, Linda Ty-Casper, Virginia Moreno, Luis Dato, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Abelardo and Tarrosa Subido, Manuel A. Viray, Vicente Rivera Jr., and Oscar de Zuniga, among many others.

       Fresh from studies in American universities, usually as Fulbright or Rockefeller scholars, a number of these writers introduced New Criticism to the country and applied its tenets in literature classes and writing workshops. In this way were born the Silliman Writers Summer Workshop (started in 1962 by Edilberto and Edith Tiempo) and the U.P. Writers Summer Workshop (started in 1965 by the Department of English at the U.P.).To this day, these workshops help discover writing talents and develop them in their craft.

       The Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature were instituted in 1950 and became synonymous with quality literature and the new writer’s rite of passage to fame. It gave awards in the various genres in English and Pilipino, and more recently, expanded its range to include categories for regional writings. Government recognition of literary merit took a turn for the better through the Republic Cultural Heritage Awards (1960), the Pro Patria Awards for Literature (1961), and the National Artist Awards (1973). Only the last survives today, and such honor and privilege had been given only to the following creative writers: Amado V. Hernandez and Jose Garcia Villa (1973), Nick Joaquin (1976), Carlos P. Romulo (1982), Francisco Arcellana (1990), NVM Gonzalez, and Rolando Tinio (1997) (Ed’s note: Edith Tiempo was named National Artist in 2000). The prestigious international Magsaysay Award has also been given to just three Filipinos for their literary achievements: F. Sionil Jose, Nick Joaquin, and Bienvenido Lumbera. To this day, yearly awards are handed out by the Philippines Free Press and Graphic magazines for the best poetry and fiction published in their pages.

       Like the Veronicans in the thirties, writers continued to form groups, the better to compete with and advance one another’s writings. Notable of these literary barkadas are the Ravens in the fifties (with Adrian Cristobal, Virginia Moreno, Alejandrino Hufana, Andres Cristobal Cruz, and Hilario Francia Jr., among others), the Bagay poets of Ateneo in the sixties (Rolando Tinio, Bienvenido Lumbera, Jose Lacaba, and Edgar Alegre), and the Philippine Literary Arts Council in the eighties ( Gemino H. Abad, Cirilo Bautista, Ricardo de Ungria, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, and Alfred Yuson).

       In spite of a lack of a critical tradition, poetry and fiction in English continue to thrive and be written with depth, sophistication, and insight. Among the important and still active fictionists of recent years are: F.Sionil Jose, Erwin Castillo, Ninotchka Rosca, Antonio Enriquez, Resil Mojares, Renato Madrid, Wilfredo Nolledo, Alfred Yuson, Amadis Ma. Guerrero, Jose Dalisay Jr., Jaime An Lim, Eric Gamalinda, and Charlson Ong. And among the poets: Emmanuel Torres, Cirilo Bautista, Gemino Abad, Federico Licsi Espino Jr., Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Emmanuel Lacaba, Marjorie Evasco, Simeon Dumdum Jr., Ma. Luisa Aguilar Carino, Anthony Tan, Elsa Coscoluella, Ramon Sunico, Ricardo de Ungria, and Marne Kilates.

       Dramatic writing never really took off after Guerrero and Joaquin, due perhaps to the awareness by the writers, especially in the seventies, of the implausibility and severe limitations of using English on stage. Nevertheless, theater in English continues to be presented through Broadway adaptations and the like by Repertory Philippines and other small drama groups.

       Not yet a hundred years old, Philippine writing in English has already established a tradition for itself and continues to help define—together with the literatures in the regions—the self and soul of the Filipino.

About the Author:
Ricardo de Ungria is a founding member of the Philippine Literary Arts Council and Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL). His poetry collection “Cages” won first prize in the CCP Literary Contest (1976) while “Decimal Places” received the National Book Award for poetry from the Manila Critics Circle in 1992. He chairs UP Manila’s Department of Arts and Communications.