Philippine literary production during the
American Period in the Philippines was spurred by two significant
developments in education and culture. One is the introduction of free
public instruction for all children of school age and two, the use of
English as medium of instruction in all levels of education in public
Free public education made knowledge and information
accessible to a greater number of Filipinos. Those who availed of this
education through college were able to improve their social status and
joined a good number of educated masses who became part of the country’s
The use of English as medium of instruction introduced Filipinos
to Anglo-American modes of thought, culture and life ways that would be
embedded not only in the literature produced but also in the psyche of the
country’s educated class. It was this educated class that would be the
wellspring of a vibrant Philippine Literature in English.
Philippine literature in English, as a direct result of American
colonization of the country, could not escape being imitative of American
models of writing especially during its period of apprenticeship. The poetry
written by early poets manifested studied attempts at versification as in
the following poem which is proof of the poet’s rather elementary exercise
in the English language:
days at last are here,
And we have time for fun so dear,
All boys and girls do gladly cheer,
This welcomed season of the year.
In early June in school we’ll meet;
A harder task shall we complete
And if we fail we must repeat
That self same task without retreat.
We simply rest to come again
To school where boys and girls obtain
The Creator’s gift to men
Whose sanguine hopes in us remain.
Vacation means a time for play
For young and old in night and day
My wish for all is to be gay,
And evil none lead you astray
- Juan F. Salazar Philippines Free Press, May 9, 1909
The poem was anthologized in the first collection of poetry in
English, Filipino Poetry, edited by Rodolfo Dato (1909 –
1924). Among the poets featured in this anthology were Proceso Sebastian
Maximo Kalaw, Fernando Maramag, Leopoldo Uichanco, Jose Ledesma, Vicente
Callao, Santiago Sevilla, Bernardo Garcia, Francisco Africa, Pablo Anzures,
Carlos P. Romulo, Francisco Tonogbanua, Juan Pastrana, Maria Agoncillo, Paz
Marquez Benitez, Luis Dato and many others. Another anthology, The
English German Anthology of Poets edited by Pablo
Laslo was published and covered poets published from 1924-1934 among whom
were Teofilo D. Agcaoili, Aurelio Alvero, Horacio de la Costa, Amador T.
Daguio, Salvador P. Lopez, Angela Manalang Gloria, Trinidad Tarrosa,
Abelardo Subido and Jose Garcia Villa, among others. A third pre-war
collection of poetry was edited by Carlos Bulosan, Chorus for America:
Six Philippine Poets. The six poets in this collection were Jose
Garcia Villa, Rafael Zulueta da Costa, Rodrigo T. Feria, C.B. Rigor, Cecilio
Baroga and Carlos Bulosan.
In fiction, the period of apprenticeship in literary writing in
English is marked by imitation of the style of storytelling and strict
adherence to the craft of the short story as practiced by popular American
fictionists. Early short story writers in English were often dubbed as the
Andersons or Saroyans or the Hemingways of Philippine letters. Leopoldo
Yabes in his study of the Philippine short story in English from 1925 to
1955 points to these models of American fiction exerting profound influence
on the early writings of story writers like Francisco Arcellana, A.E.
Litiatco, Paz Latorena. .
When the University of the Philippines was founded in 1908, an
elite group of writers in English began to exert influence among the
culturati. The U.P. Writers Club founded in 1926, had stated that one of its
aims was to enhance and propagate the "language of Shakespeare." In 1925,
Paz Marquez Benitez short story, "Dead Stars" was published
and was made the landmark of the maturity of the Filipino writer in English.
Soon after Benitez, short story writers began publishing stories no longer
imitative of American models. Thus, story writers like Icasiano Calalang,
A.E. Litiatco, Arturo Rotor, Lydia Villanueva, Paz Latorena , Manuel
Arguilla began publishing stories manifesting both skilled use of the
language and a keen Filipino sensibility.
This combination of writing in a borrowed tongue while dwelling
on Filipino customs and traditions earmarked the literary output of major
Filipino fictionists in English during the American period. Thus, the major
novels of the period, such as the Filipino Rebel, by Maximo
Kalaw, and His Native Soil by Juan C. Laya, are discourses on
cultural identity, nationhood and being Filipino done in the English
language. Stories such as "How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife"
by Manuel Arguilla scanned the scenery as well as the folkways of Ilocandia
while N.V. M. Gonzales’s novels and stories such as "Children of the
Ash Covered Loam," present the panorama of Mindoro, in all its
customs and traditions while configuring its characters in the human dilemma
of nostalgia and poverty. Apart from Arguilla and Gonzales, noted
fictionists during the period included Francisco Arcellana, whom Jose Garcia
Villa lauded as a "genius" storyteller, Consorcio Borje, Aida Rivera,
Conrado Pedroche, Amador Daguio, Sinai Hamada, Hernando Ocampo, Fernando
Maria Guerrero. Jose Garcia Villa himself wrote several short stories but
devoted most of his time to poetry.
In 1936, when the Philippine Writers League was organized,
Filipino writers in English began discussing the value of literature in
society. Initiated and led by Salvador P. Lopez, whose essays on
Literature and Society provoked debates, the discussion centered on
proletarian literature, i.e., engaged or committed literature versus the art
for art’s sake literary orientation. But this discussion curiously left out
the issue of colonialism and colonial literature and the whole place of
literary writing in English under a colonial set-up that was the Philippines
With Salvador P. Lopez, the essay in English gained the upper
hand in day to day discourse on politics and governance. Polemicists who
used to write in Spanish like Claro M. Recto, slowly started using English
in the discussion of current events even as newspaper dailies moved away
from Spanish reporting into English. Among the essayists, Federico Mangahas
had an easy facility with the language and the essay as genre. Other noted
essayists during the period were Fernando Maramag, Carlos P. Romulo ,
On the other hand, the flowering of a vibrant literary tradition
due to historical events did not altogether hamper literary production in
the native or indigenous languages. In fact, the early period of the 20th
century was remarkable for the significant literary output of all major
languages in the various literary genre.
It was during the early American period that seditious plays,
using the form of the zarsuwela, were mounted. Zarsuwelistas Juan Abad,
Aurelio Tolentino ,Juan Matapang Cruz. Juan Crisostomo Sotto mounted the
classics like Tanikalang Ginto, Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas and
Hindi Ako Patay, all directed against the American imperialists.
Patricio Mariano’s Anak ng Dagat and Severino Reyes’s
Walang Sugat are equally remarkable zarsuwelas staged during the
On the eve of World War II, Wilfredo Maria Guerrero would gain
dominance in theatre through his one-act plays which he toured through his
"mobile theatre". Thus, Wanted a Chaperone and The
Forsaken House became very popular in campuses throughout the
The novel in Tagalog, Iloko, Hiligaynon and Sugbuanon also
developed during the period aided largely by the steady publication of
weekly magazines like the Liwayway, Bannawag and Bisaya
which serialized the novels.
Among the early Tagalog novelists of the 20th century
were Ishmael Amado, Valeriano Hernandez Peña, Faustino Aguilar, Lope K.
Santos and Lazaro Francisco.
Ishmael Amado’s Bulalakaw ng Pag-asa published in
1909 was one of the earliest novels that dealt with the theme of American
imperialism in the Philippines. The novel, however, was not released from
the printing press until 1916, at which time, the author, by his own
admission and after having been sent as a pensionado to the U.S., had
other ideas apart from those he wrote in the novel.
Valeriano Hernandez Peña’s Nena at Neneng narrates
the story of two women who happened to be best of friends as they cope with
their relationships with the men in their lives. Nena succeeds in her
married life while Neneng suffers from a stormy marriage because of her
Faustino Aguilar published Pinaglahuan, a love
triangle set in the early years of the century when the worker's movement
was being formed. The novel’s hero, Luis Gatbuhay, is a worker in a printery
who is imprisoned for a false accusation and loses his love,
Danding, to his rival Rojalde, son of a wealthy capitalist. Lope K. Santos,
Banaag at Sikat has almost the same theme and motif as the
hero of the novel, Delfin, also falls in love with a rich woman, daughter of
a wealthy landlord. The love story of course is set also within the
background of development of the worker’s trade union movement and
throughout the novel, Santos engages the readers in lengthy treatises and
discourses on socialism and capitalism. Many other Tagalog novelists wrote
on variations of the same theme, i.e., the interplay of fate, love and
social justice. Among these writers are Inigo Ed Regalado, Roman Reyes,
Fausto J. Galauran, Susana de Guzman, Rosario de Guzman-Lingat, Lazaro
Francisco, Hilaria Labog, Rosalia Aguinaldo, Amado V. Hernandez. Many of
these writers were able to produce three or more novels as Soledad Reyes
would bear out in her book which is the result of her dissertation,
Ang Nobelang Tagalog (1979).
Among the Iloko writers, noted novelists were Leon Pichay, who
was also the region’s poet laureate then, Hermogenes Belen, and Mena Pecson
Crisologo whose Mining wenno Ayat ti Kararwa is considered to
be the Iloko version of a Noli me Tangere.
In the Visayas, Magdalena Jalandoni and Ramon Muzones would lead
most writers in writing the novels that dwelt on the themes of love,
courtship, life in the farmlands, and other social upheavals of the period.
Marcel Navarra wrote stories and novels in Sugbuhanon.
Poetry in all languages continued to flourish in all regions of
the country during the American period. The Tagalogs, hailing Francisco F.
Balagtas as the nation’s foremost poet invented the balagtasan
in his honor. The balagtasan is a debate in verse, a poetical
joust done almost spontaneously between protagonists who debate over the
pros and cons of an issue.
The first balagtasan was held in March 1924 at the
Instituto de Mujeres, with Jose Corazon de Jesus and Florentino Collantes as
rivals, bubuyog (bee) and paru-paro (butterfly) aiming for the love of
kampupot (jasmine). It was during this balagtasan that Jose Corazon
de Jesus, known as Huseng Batute, emerged triumphant to become the
first king of the Balagtasan. Jose Corazon de Jesus was the finest
master of the genre. He was later followed by balagtasistas, Emilio
Mar Antonio and Crescenciano Marquez, who also became King of the
Balagtasan in their own time.
As Huseng Batute, de Jesus also produced the finest poems
and lyrics during the period. His debates with Amado V. Hernandez on the
political issue of independence from America and nationhood were mostly done
in verse and are testament to the vitality of Tagalog poetry during the era.
Lope K. Santos, epic poem, Ang Panggingera is also proof of
how poets of the period have come to master the language to be able to
translate it into effective poetry.
The balagtasan would be echoed as a poetical fiesta and
would be duplicated in the Ilocos as the bukanegan, in honor
of Pedro Bukaneg, the supposed transcriber of the epic, Biag ni Lam-ang;
and the Crissottan, in Pampanga, in honor of the esteemed poet
of the Pampango, Juan Crisostomo Sotto.
In 1932, Alejandro G. Abadilla , armed with new criticism and an
orientation on modernist poetry would taunt traditional Tagalog poetics with
the publication of his poem, "Ako ang Daigdig." Abadilla’s
poetry began the era of modernism in Tagalog poetry, a departure from the
traditional rhymed, measured and orally recited poems. Modernist poetry
which utilized free or blank verses was intended more for silent reading
than oral delivery.
Noted poets in Tagalog during the American period were Julian
Cruz Balmaceda, Florentino Collantes, Pedro Gatmaitan, Jose Corazon de
Jesus, Benigno Ramos, Inigo Ed. Regalado, Ildefonso Santos, Lope K. Santos,
Aniceto Silvestre, Emilio Mar. Antonio , Alejandro Abadilla and Teodoro
Like the writers in English who formed themselves into
organizations, Tagalog writers also formed the Ilaw at Panitik, and
held discussions and workshops on the value of literature in society.
Benigno Ramos, was one of the most politicized poets of the period as he
aligned himself with the peasants of the Sakdal Movement.
Fiction in Tagalog as well as in the other languages of the
regions developed alongside the novel. Most fictionists are also novelists.
Brigido Batungbakal , Macario Pineda and other writers chose to dwell on the
vicissitudes of life in a changing rural landscape. Deogracias Del Rosario
on the other hand, chose the city and the emerging social elite as subjects
of his stories. He is considered the father of the modern short story in
Among the more popular fictionists who emerged during the period
are two women writers, Liwayway Arceo and Genoveva Edroza Matute, considered
forerunners in the use of "light" fiction, a kind of story telling that uses
language through poignant rendition. Genoveva Edroza Matute’s "Ako’y
Isang Tinig" and Liwayway Arceo’s "Uhaw ang
Tigang na Lupa" have been used as models of fine writing in Filipino
by teachers of composition throughout the school system.
Teodoro Agoncillo’s anthology 25 Pinakamahusay na Maiikling
Kuwento (1945) included the foremost writers of fiction in the
The separate, yet parallel developments of Philippine literature
in English and those in Tagalog and other languages of the archipelago
during the American period only prove that literature and writing in
whatever language and in whatever climate are able to survive mainly through
the active imagination of writers. Apparently, what was lacking during the
period was for the writers in the various languages to come together, share
experiences and come to a conclusion on the elements that constitute good
writing in the Philippines.