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Ancient Philippine literature is a composite product of the rich cultural heritage of the Filipinos
linked closely with the religious beliefs and ceremonies of the time, and enriched with the influences
of the Chinese, Arabs, Persians, and other foreigners who came to trade with them. The literature
reflects the culture of the original inhabitants of the Philippine Archipelago.
The Spanish conquest gave rise to marked Spanish influences not only in content
Christianity but also in form passion, moro-moro, comedia, among others. Later as the Filipino
grew in social awareness, a rich output of nationalistic and revolutionary literature was stimulated.
Long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, the Filipinos already had their own culture.
It was similar in some aspects to that of the Malays but was enriched through their contact with other
Asians like the Chinese and the Japanese and with the people India and some Arab countries.
According to the early missionaries, the Filipinos had their own alphabet. The early Filipinos
wrote on clay, barks of trees, bamboo tubes or palm leaves materials that were easily destroyed,
thus, explaining the lack of written literature of the time. For pens, they used the point of a knife, a
piece of iron, or any pointed instrument like birds quills. Soot and sap from certain trees were used
for ink.
Much of Philippine literature was oral. It consisted of folk narratives, riddles, proverbs, songs,
ritual chants, and epics. The literature was community-bound and sprang from the experiences and
observations of the people.
The most substantial of pre-Spanish literature is the epic. The Filipino epic is a long narrative
revolving heroic deeds and supernatural events. It embodies beliefs, customs, ideals, or life-values of
the people and used to be sung or chanted in communal gatherings like the celebration of a good
harvest, a tribal victory, or at ceremonies mournings the death of chieftain.
The epic hero is imbued with characteristics of idealism courage, wisdoms, beauty,
endurance, chivalry, and justice. His legendary adventures are full of obstacles put up by
supernatural forces or by people with supernatural powers. To overcome these supernatural
obstacles, the hero has to be aided by friendly supernatural beings.
On March 17, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan landed on Philippine shores, but it was not about half
a century later, that colonization and evangelization began. By 1593, the Dominicans had introduced
printing equipment, a xylographic press that was rather cumbersome but which produced religious
literature consisting of booklets on catechism, narratives of mission and martyrs, religious stories, and
the passion of Christ.
Tagalog versifiers called ladinos led the pioneering groups of poetically inclined writers, two of
whom were Fernando Bagonbata and Tomas Pinpin. Most of the versifications pertained to religion
and to morality.
The folk song mirrored the inevitable modifications of their folk ways. These songs were
spontaneous and informal expressions of the peoples nature and their reaction to their environment,
thus the songs Bahay Kubo, Planting Rice, Fishermans Song, Tuba Gatherers Song, etc. Love
songs, serenades, lullabies, and even comic songs proliferated.
The precursors of drama were the carillo, a play of cardboard figures projected on a white
screen; the duplo, an elaborate dramatic debate in verse dealing with contemporary personalities and
social questions of the day; and the karagatan, a less elaborate debate. The duplo and karagratan
were usually done during a wake.
Then came the moro-moro, a play depicting encounters between Christian and Muslim

Other literary forms that flourished were the corrido and the awit. Both are metrical tales
usually based on European tales or legends like Charlemagne, Song of Roland, etc.
When our country was opened to world trade, liberal ideas from other countries began to come
in. This helped awaken the nationalistic consciousness of the Filipinos. Those who were actively
involved in the struggle for reform were called, at first, propagandists, and later, revolutionaries.
Among them were Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Graciano Lopez-Jaena.
The literature of the period was fiercely nationalistic and mostly satirical and critical in nature.
The bulk of Filipino writing was published in the Diaryong Tagalog, a Spanish-Tagalog newspaper,
the publication which signaled the open campaign for reforms. In 1889, The La Solidaridad, an
underground newspaper, became the mouthpiece of the Reform Movement.
The literature of the Reform Movement centered around the writings of Jose Rizal whose
novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo emphasized the need for radical changes in the social,
political, and religious affairs of the country.
Some of the foremost writers of the period were Andres Bonifacio, the founder of Katipunan;
Emilio Jacinto, the Brains of Katipunan; Apolinario Mabini, the Brains of the Revolution and als0o
known as the Sublime Paralytic; and Jose Palma, the soldier who sang songs in the battle field
instead of killing enemies.
The defeat of the Spanish Armanda from the hands of American forces in 1898brought to a
close the Spanish regime in the Philippines. However, Filipino writers continued to write in Spanish
as English was still foreign to most of them.
Most of the Filipino journalist encouraged their countrymen to break the chain of unquestioning
obedience and to seek redress. They exposed what was wrong and inimical to public interest. They
made their readers aware of the ills of society by exposing intolerance and narrow-mindedness.
Consistently, the writers exposed contemporary problems and reflected the true state of formative
The Nationalistic fervor born during the dying years of the Spanish regime was carried on into
the early years of the American Occupation. But as the pace of Americanization became accelerated,
the voices demanding political freedom gradually waned and new literary themes appeared. One of
these themes was the psychology of the fallen woman. Most writings during the first few years of
American Occupation were confined to Spanish and Tagalog.
Weeks after the American forces overpowered the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the military
government of the United States set up public schools in the country. This was considered necessary
to popularize democracy, train the Filipinos for citizenship and disseminate the English language.
The introduction of the English language and the American system of education made possible the
birth of a new type of literature.
The first writings in English were imitations of American and English literature, for this was the
literature which the early writers were exposed to. The writers followed the conventional forms of
writing and they emphasized form rather than substance.
Although there were few standouts during this period, most of the literature produced was
imitated, stilted, stereotyped, and too sentimental. But a beginning had been made in the stream of
Philippine literature in English.

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was born on November 15, 1935 with Manuel L.
Quezon as the first President. During this period, there was a great emphasis on social justice.
Several laws to improve the lot of the poor and the laboring classes were passed. Consequently, the
literature of the period showed interest in the social consciousness. The stories, essays, poems, and
plays centered on the common tao, the forgotten people of the fields and the slums, the men and
women who enjoyed no patronage.
The various literary contests held and their attractive prizes encouraged much literary output.
Filipino poets became skillful in the use of English. They tried out their own forms and conventions to
match the mood of the times. The short stories showed a new sense of freedom in the choice of
subject matter, style, and language. The plays written during this period were more spontaneous and
Altogether, this was the most productive period in the history of Philippine literature in English.
And many of the works were excellent quality.
In the morning of December 8, 1941, after raining bombs on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the
Japanese planes turned their sights on the Philippines and bombed the military installations in Baguio,
Clark Field, Tuguegarao, Iba, Tarlac, and Davao. Two days later, the invasion of the country started.
Though the combined Filipino and American forces resisted valiantly, they had to yield to the superior
and better-armed invaders.
But the battle was not over. Despite efforts of the conquerors to win over the Filipinos and
accept their policy of co-prosperity and Asia for the Asiatics, many Filipinos continued the fight
underground. Many civilians suffered for the Japanese wrought vengeance on the relatives of
suspected guerillas.
The enemy occupation lasted from 1942 to 1945. During this time there was no freedom of
speech and of the press. All forms of writings were censored. Books and magazines from the United
States and Europe were banned. The only contact with the outside world was done with utmost
secrecy through the underground radio program called Voice of Freedom.
The only Filipino writers who could write freely were those who were living in the United States.
These included Carlos P. Romulo who wrote I Saw the Fall of the Philippines, Mother America, I See
the Philippines Rise, among others, and President anuel L. Quezon whose autobiography The Good
Fight appeared posthumously.
The long-exiled Commonwealth was reestablished in Malacanang on February 28, 1945,
about four months after the Liberation Forces arrived at Red Beach, Palo, Leyte. As the country
struggled to rebuild itself economically and politically, periodicals resumed publication. Various
jpurnals of colleges and universities appeared. Most of the writings of the period were about the
horror of the war years and the devastation suffered during the liberation effort.
With the proclamation of Philippine Independence from the United States on July 4, 1946,
there emerged a new sense of responsibility and freedom. The writers seemed more sensitive to the
needs of the country and the world around them. Again, literary awards from various agencies
provided further encouragement for creative writing.
As the years moved into the fifties, political unrest buffeted the young Republic. But most of
the writers continued their study of literary techniques and thematic treatments. Literature at this time
was varied in form and content. Philippine literature in English improved rapidly with writers
developing a growing sense of nationalism and a deeper search for identity only to slow down
considerably with the imposition of martial law.
On August 4, 1944, American carrier-based planes bombed the Japanese installations in
Davao. A month later, more American bombs were dropped, this time on Japanese ships at Manila

Bay and all the air strips around the city. By October 20, 1944, General MacArthur, accompanied by
President Sergio Osmena and General Carlos P. Romulo, landed in Leyte to start the liberation of the
whole country.
The war in the Pacific ended with the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945, but
the liberation of Manila had turned the city into a wild funeral pyre. The holocaust and misery of war
might have stunned many of the writers for it took a long time before they could find their bearings
and resume their literary craft.
After the war, it took some time before the writers could find their bearing. Until the fifties, the
literary output still carried the stock theme of war and its hardship. Bitterness was a common tone.
Later, however, a new group of writers sprang up. The writings of this new group were
characterized by liberalism in thought and outlook. They were influenced by new literary theories, by
a new type of symbolism, by existentialism, by the post-war European theater, by new communication
modes, and by ideology and practice of communism.
From about the year 1950, the literary output grew by leaps and bounds. Marked by variety,
versatility, and greater facility in the use of English, these excellent pieces came as a result of various
incentives offered by periodicals, magazines, and patrons of literature.
As the country recovered from the travails of war, the literary output grew by leaps and bounds.
Equipped with greater facility in the use of the English language, the writers explored new channels of
though and turned out literary productions marked by variety, versatility, a growing sense of
nationalism, and a deeper search for identity. The first Pro Patria Awards for literature, presented in
1961, had for its winners Jose Garcia Villa, N.V.M. Gonzales, and Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero.
During the literary period, the writers grouped into two different schools of thought. One group
upheld the proletarian form of literature introduced by Salvador P. Lopez in the 1930s and 1940s.
This group with its motto Literature for the Masses, for the Masses, aimed at social reform and
revolution through literature. The other school of thought reflected the ideas of Jose Garcia Villa who
maintained that art is created for arts sake.
From these two schools of thought, there emerged Filipino writers skilled in the command of
the language and who reflected in their works the political and social unrest around them.
The declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 stifled the creativity of most writers. A
board of censors was established to review all printed materials. Probably afraid to be taken in for
investigation or jailed for some perceived infraction no matter how baseless, many writers preferred to
write on trivial matters.
At first, only the Romualdez-owned Daily Express was allowed to continue publications. Later,
the Bulletin Today and Times Journal appeared.
A magazine, Focus Philippines, published its first issue on November 18, 1972. To encourage
literary contributions, the magazines held a literary contest.
The government also gave
encouragement and provided special awards in recognition. Awards were given as incentives for
The Contemporary Period is seeing a renaissance in publishing which some publishers have
attributed to two factors reinstitution of democratic processes and a strong economy. The
dismantling of martial law and its repressive measures has made the writers feel free again to write
on all sorts of topics according to their mood and mold. The proliferation of newspapers and
magazines brought about by the new freedom has also contributed to the sudden abundance of
literary works of all genre. In addition, several agencies and institutions sponsor literary contests.

Probably the best known is the Palanca Awards given by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation
which, lately, had added a new category the category for children writers.
The style of writings varies as widely as the spectrum of views and values that crop up.
Content also varies with some writers opting to be introspective while others choose to dwell on social
Contemporary literature is a see-sawing balance between cosmopolitanism and nationalism,
elitism, and democracy, art and politics.
The characteristics of the poems of contemporary times are as varied as the mood of the
writers. Some poets have stuck to the conventions of regular rhyme and rhythm. Others have
foregone these traditional elements but have achieved musicality through different devices. Still other
poets do not bother with rhythmic effects so that their poems seem to be more like short stories.
Sometime, symbolism if there is any is very difficult to interpret. But there are still many
poems that flow gracefully and convey a pithy message in vivid and picturesque language.
Many contemporary writers want the youth to understand the culture of their ancestors, for
their culture is part of their heritage. So the customs and traditions of the past and their practice in
present times as well as their relevance have become common subject matter in the literature
Marked by variety, versatility, and greater facility in the use of English language, literature in
these recent times has been growing by leaps and bounds. The literary output is not bound together
by a common theme or style and it is this very variance that makes the work more appealing and