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       Spanish colonization of the Philippines began in 1565 but it was not until the late 19th century that significant writing in Spanish by Filipino emerged. A key reason for the late development is that while printing was introduced in 1593 (with the first book printed in the Philippines, Doctrina Cristiana), the conditions for a “culture of literacy” – particularly, the rise of journalism and an educational system based on letters – developed only in the 19th century. Between 1593 and 1800, only 541 books were published in the Philippines. Before 1800, the only noteworthy Filipino writers in Spanish were those who wrote religious literature, usually in collaboration with the Spanish missionaries.

       The slow development of the Spanish language also drew from the ambivalence of Spanish authorities concerning its promotion. Racist and colonialist notions dictated the dominant view that the learning of the language by Filipinos would foster among the colonial subjects a spirit of assertiveness and rebellion.

       The late 19th century was a watershed because of political, economic, and social changes that “opened up” the colony to the world. While the first newspaper in the Philippines, Del Superior Gobierno, came out in 1811, it was the second half of the 19the century that saw the rise of popular journalism, with the publication of papers like Diario de Manila (1848-52,1860-98) and El Comercio (1869-1925). The increase in publishing outlets fostered the writing of fiction and poetry, particularly among Spanish and Creole citizens of the colonial capital. Equally important, the reforms of 1865 marked the beginning of a secular public school system and efforts in promoting teacher training.

       The production and circulation of literature were regulated by the colonial government. Censorship was in force, restricting the entry into the colony of books like those of Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and Eugene Sue. Even Cervantes’ Don Quixote was initially banned for depicting “immoral customs.” Yet, the force of social economic changes created openings for the emergence of Filipino writing in Spanish.

       An important vehicle was the nationalist “Propaganda Movement” carried out by Filipinos in Europe and the Philippines. The generation of the Propaganda Movement produced a major wave of literary activity. The most important figure is that of Jose Rizal (1861-1896), who produced, among many other writings, Noli me Tangere(1887) and El Filibusterismo (1891) which remain, to this day, the most important novels written by a Filipino. Important writers of Rizal’s generation include Pedro Paterno (1858-1911), Marcelo H. del Pilar (1850-1896), Graciano Lopez-Jaena (1856-1896), and Mariano Ponce (1863-1918). The organ of the Propaganda Movement in Spain, La Solidaridad (1889-1895), was the leading medium for 19th-century nationalist writings in Spanish.

       The end of Spanish rule in 1898 and the first decades of the American occupation saw a surge of literary activity in Spanish. Factors for this surge include the spread of secular and liberal ideas, advances in public education, and the expansion of journalism and book publishing. A key factor, too, was the language situation in the early 20th century. Three languages contended as medium for expression — the native language (whether Tagalog, Iloko, Cebuano, or some other Philippine language), Spanish (the language of the educated elite), and English (then in the process of being propagated in the U.S. -sponsored public school system). In this transition, Spanish persisted as a medium, particularly for the generation schooled in the Spanish system.

       The early years of the century — which some call “the golden age” of Philippine literature in Spanish – produced a substantial body of work. The most vigorous activity was in poetry, spurred by the presence of Spanish-language periodicals, like El Renacimiento and La Vanguardia, and the popularity of publicly-performed poetic jousts called balagtasan. The most important poets are Fernando Ma. Guerrero (1873-1929), Cecilio Apostol (1877-1936), Jesus Balmori (1886-1948), Manuel Bernabe (1890-1960), Claro M. Recto (1890-1960), and Flavio Zaragoza y Cano (1892-1965). Significant books of poetry include Recto’s Bajo los Cocoteros (1911), Guerrero’s Crisalidas (1914), Balmori’s Mi Casa de Nipa (1938), and Apostol’s Pentelicas (1941).

       In theater, there was a lot of creativity at the turn of the century–particularly in the zarzuela, a Spanish form introduced into the Philippines in the 19th century and subsequently “localized.” Recto, Pascual Poblete (1857-1921), and Antonio M. Abad (1894-1970) wrote plays in Spanish. These had limited appeal, however, as Spanish-language theater was quickly overshadowed by theater in the Philippine languages.

       The period saw important works in fiction. Leading novelists were Jesus Balmori, who wrote Bancarrota de Almas (1910) and Se Deshojo la Flor (1915), and Antonio M. Abad, the author of El Ultimo Romantico (1927), La Oveja de Nathan (1929), and El Campeon (1939). Among the outstanding writers of short stories were Jesus Balmori, Buenaventura Rodriguez (1893-1941), and Enrique K. Laygo (1897-1932).

       The achievement in the essay and other prose forms was substantial. The 19th-century propagandists produced prose which demonstrated how well Filipinos had taken the Spanish language as their own. Their example was carried into the early 20th-century in the work of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (1857-1925), Rafael Palma (1874-1939), Jaime C. De Veyra (1873-1963), and Teodoro M. Kalaw (1884-1940).

       The Spanish language, however, became increasingly marginal. It was not a popular language to begin with. At the end of the Spanish era, less than ten percent of the Christianized population was fully literate in the language. Spanish-language speakers were limited to the urban centers and the elite. With the decline in the prestige of the language in the post-Spanish era and the radical shift to English, Philippine literature in Spanish waned. The decline is illustrated in the disappearance of Spanish-language newspapers. Premio Zobel, a prestigious contest for Spanish writing established by the Zobel family in 1920, ceased in 1942. Though it was revived in 1951, it had an erratic existence because of the lack of entries. It was revised in 1975 as the Hispanidad Award. Courses in the Spanish language used to be compulsory for university students; they are now no longer required. Support has been given to the propagation of the language by the contemporary writers continue to labor in the language, Filipino writing in Spanish no longer has the visibility it once had.

About the Author:
Resil B. Mojares is an awardee of “Gawad Balagtas” from Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) for contributions to the development of Philippine Literature (1997) and “Gawad CCP Para sa Sining” for contributions in the field of cultural research (1993). He teaches at the Graduate School of University of San Carlos, Cebu City.