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       The Filipinos were found to be a literate people by the Spanish colonizers when they reached the islands in 1521. They found the natives with systems of writing, with language of their own in many dialects, and with education and law to wit. Father Chirino wrote that the “islanders are much given to reading and writing and there is hardly a man, much less a woman, who does not read and write in letters proper to the island of Manila, very different from those of China, Japan and India” (1969, p. 280). The early Filipinos wrote on bamboos, barks of trees, leaves of plants which are perishable materials, hence no extant specimens exist today. The Spaniards brought the Roman alphabet which eventually superseded the old Tagalog syllabary. The Spaniards brought also the first printing press and the first books were called the Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Espanola y Tagala(Tagalog edition) and the Doctrina Christian en letra y lengua china (Chinese edition) by Keng Yong.


       The pre-Spanish Filipino had a syllabary derived from the south Indian development of the Brahmi scripts used in the Asoka Inscriptions about 300 years before Christ. According to J.R. Francisco, there are at least six theories in the introduction of the Tagalog syllabary (the sixth theory is the author’s). The first theory is credited to Isaac Taylor which states that the system of writing, particularly the Tagalog was introduced from the coast of Bengal sometime before the 8th century A.D. The second theory was advanced by Fletcher Gardner who said that the Philippine scripts came from India during Asoka’s reign. He said that Hindu missionaries visited the islands and established Manila as the center of Vedic learning. He based his theory on the fact that many words in the Philippine languages are Sanskrit in origin and deal with religious and philosophical concepts. David Diringer advanced the theory that the Indonesian script had its origin in India and that this constituted the earliest type of Philippine syllabic writing which was brought to the Philippines by the intervention of Buginese scripts about the 5th century A.D. Of interest is the theory of Constantino Lendayno who noted that the Philippine script was the invention of the Filipino people without any foreign influences. The fourth theory is called the Dravidian theory by V. A. Makarenko which states that Tagalog, both language and script originated from Tamil, an Indian language. This was further enhanced by H. Otley Beyer who said that these scripts reached the Philippines from the Asian continent about 200 B.C. The sixth theory, expounded by J. R. Francisco himself, states that the Sumatran scripts are similar to the Philippine scripts, particularly the Palawan Tagbanua and the Mindoro Mangyan and considering the movement of culture from one region to another or in reverse, this was quite possible.

       The ancient Filipino syllabary was non-pictographic, and resembled closely the scripts of Buginese, Java, Batak, etc. There were sixteen scripts used by regional groups, i.e., Tagalog, Bisayan, Pampangan, etc. The scripts show certain similarities in their origin and tradition. The Tagalog character was probably the most important script of the period. It consisted of seventeen letters – 14 consonants and 3 vowels. These vowels acquire a modified pronunciation when the vowel mark is placed either above or below the consonant. The consonants are Ba, Ka, Da, Ga, Ha, La, Ma, Pa, Ra, Sa, Ta, Wa, Ya. The vowels are a, e or i, o or u (depending on the vowel mark).

       The direction of writing was sometimes from top to bottom or right to left or left to right then top to bottom horizontally. This is a problem in reading the ancient Philippine script as no one knows which direction the writers wrote. Authorities differ in their opinion on the direction of writing. Father Colin believed that the direction is from bottom upwards and from left to right; Fr. Morgan thought the direction was from right to left, while T.H. Pardo de Tavera and Fr. Marcilla believed that the ancient Filipino wrote horizontally from left to right like the present day Filipino. Fr. Chirino thought they wrote vertically from top to bottom and from left to right.


       The Spaniards brought the art of printing to the Philippines. The first products of this art were books printed from woodblocks. The first products of the xylographic press were dated 1593, antedating printing in North America by over four decades. Based on the letter of then Governor Perez Dasmariñas to the King of Spain dated 20 June 1593, informing him that because of great need he has granted a license for the printing of two Doctrinas – one in the Tagalog language which is the “native and best of these islands, and the other in Chinese – from which I hope great benefits will result in the conversion and instruction of the people of both nations…” Based on the Dasmarinas letter (Quirino, p. 222) and up to 1948, bibliographers and scholars have been citing the two Doctrinas – Doctrina Christiana en lengua espanola y tagala, dated 1593 and printed by Juan de Vera, a Chinese, and the Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua China… printed by Keng Yong but undated. The Tagalog Doctrina was found in Italy and purchased in 1946 by American millionaire-bibliophile Lessing J. Rosenwald who donated it to the U.S. Library of Congress, while the Chinese Doctrina was found in 1948 in the Vatican Library by Fray Jose Ma. Gonzales of the Dominican Order in Manila. However, in 1952, a chinese scholar, the Rev. Maurus Fang-Hao of the University of Taiwan discovered another Chinese doctrina in the Bibliotica Nacional in Madrid. This discovery created quite a stir in the bibliographic world for there are now three Doctrinas printed xylographically in the Philippines in 1593. The third Docrtrina has the title Hsin-k’o seng shih Kao-mu Hsien chuan Wu-chi t’ien-chu cheng-chiao chen-chuan shih-lu or the Tratado de la Doctrina de la Santa Iglesia y de Ciencias Naturales which was dated 1593 and carried the signature of the secretary Juan de Cuellar and priced at four reales as was evident in the Tagalog Doctrina, but lacking in the Keng Yong Doctrina. Scholars have since accepted the third doctrina dubbed the Tratado to be the Chinese doctrina referred to in the Dasmarinas letter of 1593. Scholars have agreed that the Keng Yong Doctrina must have been printed around 1590 because of the need to christianize the Chinese community in Manila, but since it did not have the license to be printed, it was left undated.

       The origin of the first printing press brought to the islands is not known. Historians can only guess that it could have come from Mexico, Japan or India. The first printers were Chinese. It is believed that Juan de Vera whom Fray Francisco Blancas de San Jose taught and encouraged to print was Keng Yong. It was the practice then to baptize the heathens using Christian names. Juan de Vera became a very skilled printer.

       From 1602 to 1640, there were around twenty-seven books printed by typography (UPILS handout in the course LS 103). The first book printed by movable type is the Libro de Nuestra Señora del Rosario en lengua y letra de Filipinas, by Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose in Binondo in 1602. No extant copy is in existence and scholars doubt whether this was printed by movable types or by xylographic method. Through bibliographic sleuthing which brought Filipino scholars to the Vatican Library and the Newberry Library in Chicago, U.S.A., it was established that the first typographic book is the Libro de los Cuatro Postrimerias del Hombre by Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose, printed by Juan de Vera in Binondo in 1604. Most of the books printed during the period were on the teachings of the church, while some were vocabularies, and some were historical. The languages of the first products of the printing press were Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Latin, and Bisaya, Pampangan, Ilokano and Japanese.

       The first printers were Chinese – Juan de Vera, Pedro de Vera and one Luis Beltran who printed the doctrinas and many other books thereafter. Tomas Pinpin is regarded as the first Filipino printer and Patriarch of Filipino Printers. He was born in Abucay, Bataan but there are no records about his birth as the records of the town were destroyed by the Dutch in 1646. He learned the art of printing from the Chinese artisans when he worked in the shop of Luis Beltran. By 1610, he already knew how to compose and set type in the printing press managed by Father Blancas de San Jose. His works were Arte y Reglas de la Lengua Tagala (1610) and theLibrong Pagaaralan nang mga Tagalog nang Uicang Castila (1610) printed in Bataan. Tomas Pinpin printed also in Pila, Laguna (1613) and at Binondo, Manila (1623-1627). The early printing press was travelling from place to place to bring the art of printing to these places. From 1609 to 1639, Pinpin printed more than a dozen titles. It is not known when he died, but he devoted all his life to the propagation of printing in the country.

       The other Filipino printers were Manuel Gomez, (Tagalog), who printed in Manila in 1610, Domingo Laog, (Tagalog), (Pila, Laguna, 1613), Antonio Damba, (Pampangan), (Bacolor, Pampanga, 1618), Diego Talaghay, (Tagalo), (Abucay, Bataan, 1610), Jacinto Magarulao, (Tagalog), (Santo Tomas, Manila, 1629-1633) and Raimundo Magisa, (Tagalog), (Santos Tomas, Manila).

       The xylographic press was located either in Binondo or at the Dominican Convent of San Gabriel in Manila. Scholars are not agreed as to the location of the press, but it is presumed to have been at the Dominican Convent in San Gabriel which is adjoining the Parian on the south bank of the Pasig River as shown by the imprint of the Tagalog Doctrina. The typographic press is the one evolved by Father Francisco Blancas de San Jose with the help of Juan de Vera who printed Juan de Castro’s Ordinationes Generales of 1604. From Binondo where the press was first located, it was brought to Abucay, Bataan where Tomas Pinpin printed in 1610, then to Pila, Laguna where Tomas Pinpin and Domingo Laog printed in 1613, then to Bacolor, Pampanga in 1618 where Antonio Damba and a Japanese, Miguel Saixo printed and from 1621 onwards it was located at Binondo, then at Santo Tomas, at the Colegio de la Compania de Jesus, all in Manila. From 1593 to 1640, the period of Philippine incunabula, some 100 books had been published (Guide to the Exhibits at the International Book Fair, Manila, November 23-30, 1969).

       From the 17th century up to the American period 1890-1946, exciting events happened in the printing and publishing industries. Five religious orders consisting of the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Augustinians and the Recollects came to the country, and each one established printing presses for their own use. The Augustinians bought a press from Japan in 1565, the Jesuits bought from the Augustinians a printing press in 1623 and the Franciscans established one in 1702. There was a rapid growth of religious publications during this period and it is estimated that around 541 titles were printed (Buhain, 1998, p. 13).

       There are now over a thousand printers and publishers in the country, but two names stand out as having a long and distinguished history and impact on Philippine printing. These are Cacho Hermanos which started as Chofre y Cia in 1880 and printed religious and political materials. From a series of management changes, it became the Cacho Hermanos when it was purchased by Jesus Cacho in 1927. It is still in operation today. Salvador Chofre was the first lithographic printer in the country. The other one is the Carmelo and Bauermann set up by two distinguished Europeans, Don Eulalio Carmelo y Lakandula, artist-engraver and William Bauermann, German lithographer and cartographer working with the Bureau of Forestry at the time. It is the biggest and oldest commercial printing press in the country.

       The government is also into printing of government publications through its Government Printing Office (formerly Bureau of Printing). However, individual government agencies also print their own publication such as the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to name a few.

       It is estimated that from 1593-1900 around 6000 titles had been printed. Publishing in the Philippines rapidly developed. Almost all types of literature are produced, from belles lettres to history, political science, economics, science and technology, etc. Newspapers and magazines are also being produced. There are no statistics to show how many titles have been printed since 1593, but if the country is printing/publishing from 1000 to 1500 titles a year, then there would be over a hundred thousand titles from 1593 to date. But the Philippines lags in the production of books. It is only number 8 among 10 countries in Asia. (NBDB, National Book Policy, Nov. 1997, p. 25).

       Among the titles cited in the references used in this articles, the latest and most interesting title is the book by Dominador D. Buhain, A History of Publishing in the Philippines (Manila, 1998). It is a folio book of 145 pages, arranged chronologically, with many interesting and colored reproductions of titles of books and kindred materials for each period, from the pre-colonial Philippines to contemporary publishing. It is a very beautiful and informative book.

Buhain, Dominador D. A History of Publishing in the Philippines. Quezon City: Rex Book Store, Inc. 1998. 145 p.Canseco, Mario D. Ang Dating Mga Titik sa Filipinas. (Philippine Orthography) Maynila: 1942. 25 p.Cruz, Eulogio G. “History and Activities of the Bureau of Printing.” In Jose Rizal Centennial Celebration Conference of Librarians, Bibliographers, Archivists and Book Lovers Souvenir Program, June 14-19, 1961. 6 p. (typescript copy)Del Castillo, Jose Lopez. “The First Typographical Book Printed in the Philippines. Journal of History 3 pages 25-31.Diringer, David. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. 3rd ed. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1968. pp. 432-441.Guide to the Exhibits at the International Book Fair, Manila November 23-30, 1969 – The History and Making of the Book in the Philippines.Francisco, Juan R. Philippine Paleography. Quezon City: Linguistic Society of the Philippines, 1973. (Special Monograph Issue June 1973)Francisco, Juan R. “Tracing the Origin of the Philippine Syllabary.” Archipelago 7 (March 1980): 11-14.

Medina, Jose Toribio. La Imprenta en Manila desde sus Origines hasta 1810. Reprint ed. Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1964. 203 p.

Montilla, Lorna R. “The Evolution of the Philippine Printing Press.” Department of Foreign Affairs, Special Features Bulletin, Series of 1965, no. 9, March 1, 1965. 6 p.

National Book Development Board. “Policy Study Towards the Development of a National Book Policy” submitted to the NBDB (by the) Center for Policy and Administrative Development, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Q.C. Nov. 1997

Quirino, Carlos. “The First Philippine Imprints.” Journal of History 8: (Sept. 1960): 219-228.

Retana y Gamboa, Wenceslao E. La Imprenta en Manila: Adiciones y Observaciones a la Imprenta en Manila de d. J.T. Medina. Madrid: 1897, 276 p.

Tolentino, Guillermo. Ang Wika at Baybaying Tagalog. Maynila, 1937. 99 p.

Vallejo, Rosa M. “Philippine Librarianship: A Historical Perspective” Journal of Philippine Librarianship 5 (March-September 1981): 56-74.

Vallejo, Rosa M. Notes about the covers of the Journal of Philippine Librarianship, vol. 3, no. 1, March 1970, on the Chinese Doctrina now known as the Tratado or Shih Lu, p. ii.iv; Philippine Journal of Librarianship cover on the Doctrina Christiana… printed by Keng Yong, v. 3, no. 2, September 1970, p. 85-87.

Wolf, Edwin 2nd. Introductory essay. In Doctrina Christiana: the First Book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593; a facsimile of the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress, Wash. D.C., p. 1-50.

About the Author:
Rosa M. Vallejo organized the First Summer Institute on Information Science in 1977 (at the University of the Philippines), and initiated the offering of Summer Institute on Library and Information Services, which benefitted Filipino librarians since. She sits as a member of the Execom-Committee on Libraries and Information Services of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.