Literature And Society Essay By Salvador Lopez

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DR. LILIA QUINDOZA-SANTIAGO

       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 schools.

        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 middle class.

        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:

Vacation 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 GermanAnthology of Poetsedited 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 Societyprovoked 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 then.

        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 , Conrado Ramirez.

        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 period.

        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 Housebecame very popular in campuses throughout the archipelago.

        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 jealous husband.

        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 isimprisoned 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. Thebalagtasan 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 thebukanegan, in honor of Pedro Bukaneg, the supposed transcriber of the epic, Biag ni Lam-ang; and theCrissottan, 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 Agoncillo.

        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 Tagalog

        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 angTigang 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 pre-war era.

        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.

About the Author:
Lilia Quindoza-Santiago is the author behind “Kagampanan at Iba Pang Tula” and “Ang Manggagamot ng Salay-Salay” (a collection of stories). She was named Makata ng Taon (1989) in the annual Talaang Ginto of the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa for her work “Sa Ngalan ng Ina, ng Anak, ng Diwata’t Paraluman”. She teaches Philippine Literature at the University of the Philippines.

May 1 Labor Day was made into law in 1913 but its first actual celebration was held in this country in 1903 by more than a hundred thousand workers who marched to Malacanang to demand better working conditions. Their slogans included “down with U.S. imperialism.”

Just as the American interventionists were claiming the defeat of the Filipino “insurgents” with the capture of Aguinaldo and other leaders, the workers, true to their nature as the class vanguard, had risen to continue the struggle not just for economic reasons but for Philippine sovereignty as well. Isabelo de los Reyes, an ilustrado who learned his socialism in street fighting and as a prisoner in Montjuich Castle in Barcelona (where Rizal was briefly detained before he was sent back to the Philippines for trial and execution) played a leading role in organizing the workers, first through the printers union and the Union Obrero Democratica, the country’s first labor federation that organized the 1903 May 1 march to Malacanang. Isabelo de los Reyes is acknowledged as the “Father of Philippine Labor.”

Workers all over the world have had a long tradition of struggle marked by triumphs and setbacks ever since they became class conscious as a result of socialized production. In time socialist theory formed the basis of their ideology.

Lope K. Santos who worked closely with de los Reyes in labor organizing wrote what may well be the first proletarian novel in this country – Banaag at Sikat published in 1906. Aurelio Tolentino, writer of what the colonizers called “seditious plays,” contributed greatly to the creation of anti-imperialist literature – a legacy that did not affect writers in English who were among the early products of “benevolent assimilation” (through English instruction and pensionadoships in the U.S.) until the thirties.


It was Salvador P. Lopez who first defined “proletarian literature” or writing from the working class during the Commonwealth period, the period before the war characterized by labor and peasant unrest.

As James Allen in his book The Radical Left on the Eve of the War saw it, the country “was at the height of a strike wave which began early in the Depression decade. Workers walked out of the tobacco and other industrial enterprises, in transportation and on the docks for higher wages, the eight hours day, the right to organize and other demands.”

Allen (known as Sol Auerbach locally) also wrote that “the struggle was even more acute in the haciendas including those belonging to the church and friar orders. The burning of the crops, rice marches on the provincial towns and the seizure of food supplies in plantation bodegas were not uncommon. Bloody clashes occurred between peasants fighting eviction and the private armed gangs of the big landowners.”

Looking back I do remember the stories about the Sakdalistas (whom we were warned about being in Manila like Tondo and Sampaloc) and the crucified Asedillo — together with memories of visits of relatives from Bicol for the Eucharistic Congress and the carnivals. Then the guerra civil in Spain, the young uniformed falangists (falanghe as my mother called them) trooping to hear mass and give the fascist salute in San Marcelino church, and later the war in Europe (discussed earnestly in school) before the Japanese bombs started falling in Manila.

I did not know anything then about the literary scene though we were introduced in Grade Six to Hernando Ocampo’s “Rice and Bullets” (originally “We or They”) by a liberal student teacher at the Normal Training School.

This I gathered after the war: that the Philippine Writers League had sponsored a literary contest, with cash prizes from the office of President Manuel L. Quezon, in 1940 and 1941; and that Lopez’s collection of essays Literature and Society won the first prize in the English essay division. The book contained the pioneering piece “Proletarian Literature: A Definition” plus other essays that dealt with writing and social change and lyrical pieces. Manuel E. Arguilla won the first prize for the short story for How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and other stories which included stories like “The Socialists”, “Epilogue to Revolt,” and “Caps and Lower Case” which are in line with the new orientation proposed by the Philippine Writers League, that literature be responsive to the critical times.

Hernando Ocampo, before he became known as a visual artist, wrote stories like “We and They,” depicting hungry peasants looting a rice warehouse and getting killed by the guards. As Lopez put it, the “truly sensitive writer” is one who “reacts positively to the social milieu wherein he is born by becoming the interpreter of the hope and despair, the freedom and predicament, the tradition and destiny of man in his time.”

This position was challenged by writers like Francisco Arcellana, Alfredo E. Litiatco, and Jose Lardizabal (inclined to the formalism of Villa) who debated with Lopez, Arturo B. Rotor, and Federico Mangahas in the pages of the Herald Midweek Magazine and other journals before the war.

Rotor was cutting in his remarks: “That no Filipino has shown a notable grasp of the events that now absorb the country’s attention indicated the extent to which he has failed in his art. No notable story, for example, has appeared thus far about the peasants in Central Luzon and their efforts to improve their living conditions. While the rest of the country are talking about the slums of Tondo, our poets still sing ecstactically about the sunset in Manila Bay. What then shall we think of these writers who debate so learnedly about rhythm and balance in prose and who do not even glance at the newspapers? What shall we say of them who will work for weeks over a single phrase but who will not spend five minutes trying to understand what is social justice and why some peasants in Bulacan were caught stealing firewood from a rich landowner’s preserves?”

This comment might have been addressed to Manila writers in English. But left-leaning intellectuals themselves were not spared by Manuel Arguilla in his story “The Socialists” where he drew the contrast between the arm-chair Marxists and the peasant organizers. In his other story “Caps and Lower Case” Arguilla no longer caricatures his radical colleagues but obliges Lopez’s definition of proletarian literature.

The 1940 Commonwealth awards went to writers who seemed to have fulfilled the objectives of the contest for socially conscious and patriotic literature. In the English division, the top prize for the novel went to Juan C. Laya’s His Native Soil which treats of the question of cultural conflict through the perception of balikbayan Martin Romero. For poetry the prize went to Rafael Zulueta da Costa’s Like the Molave, inspired by Quezon’s words and remarkable for its stridently anti-American rhetoric. Honorable mention went to N.V.M. Gonzalez’s The Winds of April which Resil Mojares ( Origins and Rise of the Filipino Novel) says gives us a glimpse of a “marginal life, of peddlers, immigrant workers, and homesteaders in the provincial hinterlands.” I noted elsewhere that Winds of April, particularly the lyrical and exuberant “A Room of My Own” (the last chapter) was stylistically different from the restrained prose of his later novels.

In the multi-language contest, prizes were given to writers in Tagalog (Lazaro Francisco, Rosalia Aguinaldo, and Antonio Sempio), Spanish (Antonio M. Abad), and Hiligaynon (Ramon Muzones and Conrado Norada), Cebuano (Tomas Hermosisima) for hewing to the requirement of proletarian writing.

In a country where the workers and other marginalized sectors are always in struggle for social justice, proletarian literature will continue to be written, not because of literary contests, but for a deeply felt need that the aspirations of the dispossessed are expressed. Amado Hernandez detained for his work in the Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO) wrote Mga Ibong Mandaragit and his poetry Isang Dipang Langit in prison. The reading list on proletarian literature in this country is now a long one.

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