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The Middle Period—1930 to 1960

(Under the Republic)


By Richard Croghan

Filipino writers in English began by mastering vocabulary, learning the mechanics of grammar,
and imitating established Western writers. Indeed, the early period of Philippine Literature in English was
a time of learning by trial and error. But by 1925 the extent and quality of writing had greatly improved.
Perhaps it is wrong to say that the early period ended in 1930. For it really faded out around the mid 20s
and the middle period of Philippine Literature began somewhere in the early 30s. The transition was gradual
and it overlapped.
Leopoldo Yabes has called the years 1930 to 1944 “...the most productive of distinctive work in
the half century of Filipino writing in English.” 4 There were several factors which encouraged writers at
this time. Led by Francisco Arcellana and inspired by Jose Garcia Villa, a group formed “The Veronicans."
The writers chose this name because they wanted their work to bear the imprint of Christ's face. Around
the same time, some women writers formed “The Bachelorettes." Among their number were Teresa Arzaga,
Luisa Barrera, Sally Barrera, Nelly X. Burgos, Olivia Calumpang, Corazon Juliano, Carmen Perez, and
Trinidad L. Tarrosa. Both groups explored new dimensions in literary forms. Some of their works appeared
in the quarterly Expression and in The Leader, which was edited by Federico Mangahas.
Another important outlet for writers in the 39s was the Graphic Weekly. With Alfredo Elfren
Litiatico as literary editor, new writers such as Estrella Alfon, Nick Joaquin, and Ligaya Victorio Reyes
were discovered and encouraged.
The Philippine Commonwealth Government was established on July 4, 1935. This event
encouraged writers to freely search for a national identity. On October 28, 1936, the Philippine Book Guild
was organized. Its early leaders included Manuel E. Arguilla, Carlos Quirino, and Arturo B. Rotor. Their
purpose was to create a wider reading public for Filipino writers by printing low-cost books. Among other
projects they published Rotor's The Wound and the Scar.
In 1937 a Brief History of the Philippine Literature was published by Teofilo del Castillo. This
book was of special importance since it was one of the first authoritative and objective studies of Philippine
Literature.
A few years later, on February 26, 1939, the Philippine Writers League was formed. This was a
highly influential organization during its brief existance. Its aims were to provide a center for the cultural
activities of Filipino writers, to uplift cultural standards. to stimulate the social consciousness of the writer,
to arrange for lectures and conferences, to establish friendly relations with writers for other countries, and
to defend freedom of thought and expression. Its first president was Federico Mangahas, while Salvador P.
Lopez, Jose A. Lansang, and I. P. Caballero served as Vice-Presidents.
At this time one of the outstanding spokesman for more social consciousness in literature was
Salvador P. Lopez. He defined proletarian literature as “The interpretation of the experience of the working
class in a world that has been rendered doubly dynamic by its struggles." 5 He stressed that the writer must
champion the cause of the proletariat and interpret the experience of the working class in the world. Lopez
directed the writer's attention to the real Philippines so that he saw and described things which had never
been notice or portrayed before.
In 1940 the first Commonwealth Literary Awards were granted by President Quezon. In the English
division the winners were: essay—Salvador P. Lopez for Literature and Society; short story-Manuel E.
Arguilla for How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories; poetry-R. Zulueta da Costa
for Like the Molave; and novel- Juan C. Laya for His Native Soil.
The recognition that these awards provided was an excellent stimulus for all writers. Hopes were
high for further developments in Philippine literature. But these hopes were shattered on December 7, 1941,
when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and war began in the Pacific. A period of uncertainty and fear began as
the Japanese entered Manila on January 3, 1942. Martial law was immediately proclaimed. Most writers
left the city and fled to the mountains. Many joined the army and fought in Bataan and Corregidor. Some
died in prison camps or were executed. Among the promising writers who died during the war years were
Manuel E. Arguilla, A. G. Dayrit, A. E. Litiaco, and Francisco B. Icasiano.
Victoria Abelardo has described Filipino writing during the Japanese occupation as being
pessimistic and bitter. There were some efforts at escapist literature, but in general the literary output was
minor and insignificant. Because of strict censorship, few literary works were printed during the war years.
However, some publications were allowed such as The Tribune, Philippine Review, Pillars, Free
Philippines, and Filipina.
On February 28, 1945, the long-exiled Commonwealth Government was reestablished in
Malacañang. As the country recovered from the war, its writers turned first to journalistic efforts and then
to creative works. The Filipino writer observed a country that was devastated by war, shattered
economically, and struggling politically. Many journalists freely described what they saw and commented
on necessary changes. It was a time of reevaluation and rebuilding. There was a sudden growth of
periodicals such as The Manila Post, The Evening News, The Philippine-American, The Manila Times, and
The Manila Chronicle. At the same time Philippines Free Press and the Philippines Herald resumed
publication. Once again various college journals appeared such as Literary Apprentice (University of the
Philippines), Varsitarian (University of Santo Tomas), National (National University), and Advocate (Far
Eastern University).
Among the new journals were Crossroads (Far Eastern University), Sands and Coral (Silliman
University), Standard (Arellano University), and Dawn (University of the East).
With the proclamation of Philippine Independence on July 4, 1946, most writers felt a new sense
of responsibility and freedom. The writers seemed more perceptive of their country and the world around
them. At first, a number of guerrilla and liberation stories appeared. Stevan Javellana's Without Seeing the
Dawn was the first postwar Filipino novel published in the United States. In 1946 the Barangay Writers
Project was organized to publish books by Filipino writers in English. N. V. M. Gonzalez served as first
president. Within a few years, they published Heart of the Island (1947) by Manuel A. Viray, Philippine
Cross Section (1950) by Maximo Ramos and Florentino B. Valeros, and Philippine Poetry Annual (1950)
by Manuel A. Viray.
At this time literary awards provided further encouragement for creative writing. Delfin Fresnosa
and Manuel A. Viray began in 1947 to publish annual honor roles for the best short stories and poems. The
Free Press in 1949, resumed its annual short story awards with first place going to Nick Joaquin for his
"Guardia de Honor.” In 1950 the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature were created. Juan T.
Gatbonton's “Clay” won first prize in the English Short Story division.
The early 1950s were a time of political unrest and even warfare as the government struggled with
the Hukbalahap guerrillas. The writers read each others works as well as the works of American and
European models. Their study of techniques and thematic treatments resulted in a literature that was varied
in form and content. N. V. M. Gonzalez explored his Mindoro land, while Nick Joaquin wrote old Manila
legends in modern form.
Signatures, the first Philippine poetry magazine in English, began publishing in 1955. It was
founded by Clemente Cancio, poet and neurosurgeon. The first editors were A. G. Hufana and R. V. Diaz.
In that same year, a new Philippine Writers Association was organized with N. V. M. Gonzalez as its first
president.
In Baguio, in 1958, an important national writers conference was held to discuss the role of the
Filipino writer in society. Also in 1958, a chapter of International Pen was inaugurated in the Philippines
with Alfredo T. Morales as its first president.
During the years 1930 to 1960 Philippine literature in English rapidly improved, especially in the
areas of the essay, the short story, and poetry.
Essays: During the middle period of Philippine literature in English, the essayists tried to capture
Filipino life and culture. In the 1930s Salvador P. Lopez led the school of writers who stressed social
consciousness. Others, following the view of Jose Garcia Villa wrote on art and literature. In 1940, Salvador
P. Lopez expressed his views Literature and Society.
Under the pseudonym "Mang Kiko,” Francisco B. Icasiano wrote, in 1941, Horizons from My Nipa
Hut. This book included humorous essays which revealed a deep sympathy for the common tao. During the
war years the essays improved in literary style but their content was severely limited by the Japanese
censors. After 1945 the essayists again turned to themes of nationalism, politics, and literary criticism. For
the next ten years or so these themes were treated with an ever growing proficiency. Among the important
essayists of the Middle Period might be included: F. M. Africa, Francisco Arcellana, Solomon V. Arnaldo,
Jorge Bocobo, Marcelo de Gracia Concepcion, Pura Santillan-Castrence, E. Aguilar Cruz, A. T. Daguio,
Amando G. Dayrit, Eugenio Ealdama, Antonio Estrada, Ariston Estrada, Josefa Gonzalez-Estrada, Antonio
S. Gabila, Alfredo Q. Gonzalez, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Jr., J. M. Hernandez, V. M., Hilario: F. B. Icasinao,
Maria Kalaw-Katigbak, J. A. Lansang, Jose P. Laurel. A P. Litiatco, T. M. Locsin, Salvador P. Lopez,
Maria Luna-Lopez, A. J. Malay, L v Mallari Federico Mangahas, Ignacio Manlapaz, Camilo Osias, Vicente
Albano Panie Carlos Quirino, Godofredo Rivera, Eulogio B. Rodriguez, Carlos P. Romulo. A R Botor Leon
O. Ty, Jose Garcia Villa, Manuel A. Viray, and Leopoldo Y. Yabes.
Short Stories: The form of Philippine literature which showed the most rapid development seemed
to be the short story. The early didactic stories and roman quickly gave way to stories about farm life and
city life, the problems of society, and human hardships. Local color was well used. Jose Garcia Villa was
among the first Filipino writers to receive international recognition. In 1932 Villa's "Untitled Storu was
selected by Edward J. O'Brien in New York for inclusion in the Best Short Stories of 1932. In 1933,
Scribner's published Villa's Footnote to Youth and Other Tales. "The Fence,” also by Villa, was included
in O'Brien's Best Short Stories of 1933.
After Villa came several significant writers. Manuel E. Arguilla wrote excellent stories about the
people of Nagrebcan in How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories. Delfin Fresnosa
vividly depicted the hardships of the poor. In his short stories Nick Joaquin included allegories of cultural
and moral situations in Philippine history. He frequently recreated the past to show its relevance and value
for the present. Joaquin's book Prose and Poems (1952) was voted by a panel of critics led by Leonard
Casper as the most distinguished book in fifty years of Philippine Literature in English.
In the 1950s another important writer was Nestor Vidali Mendoza Gonzalez. In Children of the
Ash-Covered Loam and Other Stories (1954) and A Season of Grace (1956), Gonzalez dealt with such
basic themes as loneliness, self-discovery, and hope amidst suffering.
The quality and depth of short story writing developed rapidly during the Middle Period. Among
the writers who contributed to this growth are: T. D. Agcaoili, Manuel E. Arguilla, Estrella D. Alfon,
Francisco Arcellana, Amante E. Bigornia, Consorcio Borje, Carlos Bulosan, Casiano T. Calalang, Fidel de
Castro, Augusto C. Catanjal, Mario P. Chanco, Amador T. Daguio, Amando G. Dayrit, Morli Dharam,
Delfin Fresnosa, Ligaya Victorio-Fruto, Antonio S. Gabila, Claro C. Gloria, N. V. M. Gonzalez, Sinai C.
Hamada, Jose M. Hernandez, Francisco B. Icasiano, Nick Joaquin, 1. Sonil Jose, Jose A. Lansang, Paz
Latorena, A. E. Litiatco, Alvaro L. Martinez, A. 5. Ner, Jose Villa Panganiban, Benjamin M. Pascual,
Mariano C. Pascual, C. V. Pedroche, Isidro L. Retizos, Narcsio G. Reyes, Vicente Rivera, Jr., Alejandro R.
Roces, auro B. Rotor, Clemente M. Roxas, Bienvenido N. Santos, G. D. Sicam, Loreto Paras-Sulit, Silvestre
L. Tagarao, Edilberto K. Tiempo, Edith L. Tiempo, Arturo M. Tolentino, J. Capiendo Tuvera, Kerima
Polotan Tuvera, Nita H. Umali, Jose Garcia Villa, and Manuel A. Viray.
Poems: The poetry of the Middle Period developed slowly. In the 1930s most poetry was still
romantic in character. Under the influence of Salvador P. Lopez, some poets like R. Zuelueta da Costa
became more conscious of the environment and dealt with themes of injustice and oppression. Jose Garcia
Villa continued to lead the way for all poets with his creative innovations. In the late 1930s Angela
Manalang Gloria emerged omising poet. She published her works in Poems just before World War II. 12
to 1945, few poems were written because of the war conditions and censorship. However, a few poets living
in the mountains managed to write verses. These poems were later published in 1946 by Juan L. Raso in
Guerrilla Flower.
The experiences of the war seemed to add wider vision and greater depth to Filipino poetry in
English. Several new poets published their works. In 1951 Jose Del Castillo's Antiphonal Earth: Coins of
Song was published in London. Dominidor I. Ilio published Diplomat and Other Poems in 1955. Ricaredo
Demetillo published No Certain Weather in 1956 and La Via in 1959. Among the poets who contributed to
the Middle Period of Philippine Literature in English are: T. D. Agcaoili, Aurelio Alvero, Carlos A.
Angeles, R. Vinzons Asis, Jorge Bocobo, G. Burce Bunao, Reuben R. Canoy, Guillermo Castillo, Jose del
Castillo, Fidel de Castro, Rafael Zulueta da Costa, Amador T. Daguio, Luis Dato, Ricaredo Demetillo,
Ramon Echevarria, Gregorio Estonanto, Cornelio C. Faigao, Rodrigo T. Feria, Virgilio Floresca, Vicente
L. del Fiero, Angela Manalang-Gloria, N. V. M. Gonzalez, J. M. Hernandez, Alejandrino G. Hufana,
Dominador I. Ilio, Nick Joaquin, A. E. Litiatco, Toribia Mano, Felizardo Martelino, Hernando R. Ocampo,
Conrado V. Pedroche, Maximo D. Ramos, N. G. Reyes, Conrado B. Rigor, Alfonso P. Santos, Bienvenido
N. Santos, Guillermo V. Sison, Abelardo Subido, Trinidad L. Tarrosa, Edith L. Tiempo, Francisco G.
Tonogbanua, Amado L. Unite, Celestino M. Vega, H. C. Veloso, Jose Garcia Villa, Manuel A. 'Viray,
Amado Yuson, and Oscar de Zuniga.

Source:
Croghan, R.V. (1975). The Development of Philippine Literature in English (Since 1900).