Periods of Philippine Literature: Representative Compositions Through The Years

How did Philippine literature evolve? What are the most notable works during each of the periods of Philippine Literature?

The Philippines has seen the production of a wide variety of literature throughout its history. While this article will not be able to cover all representatives of Philippine Literature, it will give an overview and discussion of some of the most notable pieces from each historical period in order to provide you with a clear idea of the content and significance of each period.

Historical Background

  • The Filipino Revolutionists won against the Spaniards who colonized us for more than 300 years.
  • Our flag was hoisted on June 12, 1898, as a symbol of our independence.
  • Emilio Aguinaldo was elected the first president of the Philippine Republic, but this was short-lived.
  • The Filipino–American war resulted in the defeat of Gen. Miguel Malvar in 1903.
  • The peace movements started as early as 1900.
  • Many Filipinos started writing again, and the nationalism of the people remained undaunted.
  • Filipino writers went into all forms of literature, like news reporting, poetry, stories, plays, essays, and novels.
  • Their writings clearly depicted their love of the country and their longings for independence.

1. Period of Re-Orientation 1898-1910

  • Air Castles (Poetry) by Juan F. Salazar (1909-1910)
  • English as a literary vehicle came with the American occupation on August 13, 1898
  • By 1900, English came to be used as a medium of instruction in public schools. From the American forces were recruited the first teachers of English.
  • By 1908, the primary and intermediate grades were using English. It was also about this time when UP, the forerunner in the use of English in higher education, was founded.
  • Writers of this period were still adjusting to the newfound freedom after the paralyzing effect of repression of thought and speech under the Spanish regime.
  • They were adjusting the idea of democracy, to the new phraseology of the English language and to the standards of the English literary style Writers had to learn direct expression as conditioned by direct thinking.
  • They had to learn that sentence construction, sounds, and speech in English were not the same as in the vernacular.
  • The first attempts in English were in two periodicals of this time:
    • El Renacimiento: founded in Manila by Rafael Palma in 1901
    • Philippines Free Press: established in Manila in 1905 by R. McCullough Dick and D. Theo Rogers

2. Period of Imitation (1911-1925)

By 1919, the UP College Folio published the literary compositions of the first Filipino writers in English. They were the pioneers in short story writing. They were then groping their way into imitating American and British models which resulted in a stilted, artificial, and unnatural style, lacking vitality and spontaneity. Their models included Longfellow and Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau, Wordsworth and Tennyson, Thackeray and Macaulay, Longfellow, Allan Poe, Irving, and other American writers of the Romantic School.

Writers of this folio included Fernando Maramag (the best editorial writer of this period), Juan F. Salazar, Jose M. Hernandez, Vicente del Fierro, Francisco M. Africa, and Victoriano Yamzon. They pioneered in English poetry.

Representative compositions during this period:


The Sea by Natividad Marquez (Poetry)


The noted essayists of this time were Carlos P. Romulo, Jorge C. Bocobo, Mauro Mendez, and Vicente Hilario.

Their essays were truly scholarly and characterized by substance and structure. They excelled in the serious essay, especially the editorial type. The next group of writers introduced informal essays, criticism, and journalistic columns. They spiced their work with humor, wit, and satire. These groups included Ignacio Manlapaz, Godefredo Rivera, Federico Mangahas, Francisco B. Icasiano, Salvador P. Lopez, Jose Lansang, and Amando G. Dayrit.

Short Stories

In the field of short stories, DEAD STARS by Paz Marquez Benitez, written in the early 1920s, stands out as a model of perfection in character delineation, local color, plot, and message.

Other short stories published during this time were but poor imitations of their foreign models. The UP College Folio was later replaced by the Philippine Collegian. Newspapers and periodicals also saw print during this time like the Bulletin, the Philippines Herald (1920), the Philippine Review, the Independent, Rising Philippines and Citizens, and the Philippine Education Magazine 1924

3. Period of Self-Discovery (1925-1941)

By this time, Filipino writers had acquired a mastery of English writing. They now confidently and competently wrote on a lot of subjects although the old-time favorites of love and youth persisted. They went into all forms of writing like the novel and the drama.

Poets wrote not only love poems but patriotic, religious, descriptive, and reflective poems as well. They wrote in free verse, in odes and sonnets, and in other types. Poetry was original, spontaneous, competently written, and later, incorporated social consciousness.

Probably because of the incentives provided by publications like the Philippine Free Press, The Graphic, The Philippine Magazine, and college publications like the UP Literary Apprentice, poetry and the short story flourished during these times.

Representative compositions during this period:


1896 by Aurelio Alvero

To a Lost One by Angela Manalang Gloria

Prayer of a Student by Trinidad L. Tarrosa Subido

Short Stories

Dead Stars by Paz Marquez-Benitez

The Making of a Writer by Salvador P. Lopez

Shadow and Solitude (A translation of Solo Entre Las Sombras) by Claro M. Recto, translated by Nick Joaquin

Historical Background

Between 1941 and 1945, Philippine Literature was interrupted in its development when the Philippines was again conquered by another foreign country, Japan. Philippine literature in English came to a halt. Except for the TRIBUNE and the PHILIPPINE REVIEW, the Japanese stopped almost all newspapers in English.

This had an advantageous effect on Filipino Literature, which experienced renewed attention because writers in English turned to writing in Filipino.

Juan Laya, who used to write in English, turned to Filipino because of the strict prohibitions of the Japanese regarding any writing in English. The weekly LIWAYWAY was placed under strict surveillance until it was managed by a Japanese named Ishiwara.

Filipino literature was given a break during this period. Many writers wrote plays, poems, short stories, etc. The topics and themes were often about life in the provinces.

Filipino Poetry

The common themes of most poems during the Japanese occupation were nationalism, country, love, life in the barrios, faith, religion, and the arts.

Filipino Drama

The drama experienced a lull during the Japanese period because movie houses showing American films were closed. The big movie houses were just made to show stage shows.

Many of the plays were reproductions of English plays to Tagalog. The translators were Francisco Soc Rodrigo, Alberto Concio, and Narciso Pimentel. They also founded the organization of Filipino players named the Dramatic Philippines. A few of the playwriters were:

  1. Jose Ma. Hernandez –wrote PANDAY PIRA
  2. Francisco Soc Rodrigo –wrote sa PULA, SA PUTI
  3. Clodualdo del Mundo –wrote BULAGA (an expression in the game Hide and Seek).
  4. Julian Cruz Balmaceda –wrote SINO BA KAYO?, DAHIL SA ANAK, and HIGANTE NG PATAY

Philippine Literature in English (1941-1945)

Because of the strict prohibitions imposed by the Japanese on the writing and publishing of works in English, Philippine literature in English experienced a dark period. The few who dared to write did so for their bread and butter or for propaganda.

Writings that came out during this period were journalistic in nature. Writers felt suppressed, but slowly, the spirit of nationalism started to seep into their consciousness. While some continued to write, the majority waited for a better climate to publish their works.

A noteworthy writer of the period was Carlos P. Romulo, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his bestsellers I SAW THE FALL OF THE PHILIPPINES, I SEE THE PHILIPPINES RISE and his MOTHER AMERICA AND MY BROTHER AMERICANS

Historical Background

When the Americans returned in 1945, Filipinos rejoiced, and guerrillas who had fled to the mountains joined the liberating American Army.

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines regained its freedom, and the Filipino flag waved joyously alone. The chains were broken.

Palanca Awards

Another inspiration for Filipino writers was the launching of the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, headed by Carlos Palanca Sr. in 1950. (The awards are still given, although the man who founded them has passed away.) The awards were given to writers of short stories, plays, and poetry.

The first awardees in its first year (1950-51) short story was the following:

  • First Prize: KUWENTO NI MABUTI by Genoveva Edroza
  • Second Prize: MABANGIS NA KAMAY…MAAMONG KAMAY by Pedro S. Dandan
  • Third Prize: PLANETA, BUWAN AT MGA BITUIN by Elpidio P. Kapulong

New Filipino Literature

Philippines literature in Tagalog was revived during this period. Most themes in the writings dealt with Japanese brutalities, the poverty of life under the Japanese government, and the brave guerilla exploits.

Newspapers and magazine publications, like the Bulaklak, Liwayway, Ilang-Ilang, and Sinag Tala, were re-opened. Tagalog poetry acquired not only rhyme but substance and meaning. Short stories had better characters and events based on facts and realities, and themes were more meaningful. Novels became common but were still read by the people for recreation. The people’s love for listening to poetic jousts increased more than before, and people started flocking to places to hear poetic debates.

Representative compositions during this period:


When I See a Barong-Barong by Maximo Ramos (1946)

Short Story

Plighted Word by Narciso G. Reyes

Scent of Apples by Bienvenido Santos

Cadaver by Alberto S. Florentino

They Called It “BROTHERHOOD” by Maximo V. Soliven

Historical Background

According to Ponciano Pineda, youth activism in 1970-72 activism was due to domestic and worldwide causes. Activism is connected with the history of our Filipino youth.

Because of the ills of society, the youth moved to seek reforms.

Some continued to believe that the democratic government is stable and that only the people running it are at fault. Others believed that socialism or communism should replace democracy.

Some armed groups were formed to bring down the democratic form of government. Many young people became activists to ask for changes in the government. In the expression of this desire for change, keen were the writings of some youth who were fired with nationalism in order to emphasize the importance of their petitions.

Many young activists were imprisoned in military camps together with rebel writers.

Representative compositions during this period:

  • Valedictorian sa Hillcrest ni Rolando Tinio
  • Beggar Children by Emmanuel Torres

Historical Background

The period of the New Society started on September 21, 1972. The Carlos Palanca Awards continued to give annual awards.

Almost all themes in most writings dealt with the development or progress of the country –like the Green Revolution, family planning, proper nutrition, environment, drug addiction, and pollution.

The New Society tried to stop pornography or writings that negatively influenced people’s morals. All school newspapers were temporarily stopped, and so were school organizations.

The military government established a new office called the Ministry of Public Affairs that supervised the newspapers, books, and other publications.

The government participated in reviving old plays like the Cenaculo, the Zarzuela, and the Embayoka of the Muslims. The Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Folk Arts Theater, and even the old Metropolitan Theater were rebuilt to accommodate these plays.

Singing both Filipino and English songs received fresh incentives. Those sent abroad promoted many Filipino songs. The weekly publications like KISLAP and LIWAYWAY helped a lot in the development of literature. These became outlets for our writers to publish many of their works.

Representative compositions during this period:

       Philosopher’s Love Song by Tita Lacambra-Ayala

       The Tomato Game by N.V.M. Gonzales

       I Married a Newspaperman by Maria Luna-Lopez

Historical Background

After ten years of military rule and some changes in the Filipino people’s lives that started under the New Society, martial rule was finally lifted on January 2, 1981.

To those in government, the lifting of military rule heralded a change. To their perceptions, the Philippines became a new nation, and this is what former President Marcos called “The New Republic of the Philippines.” A historian called this the Third Republic. The First Republic, he claimed, was during the Philippine Republic of Emilio Aguinaldo when we first got our independence from the Spaniards on June 12, 1898.

The Second was when the Americans granted us our independence on July 4, 1946. This period, January 2, 1981, was the Third Republic when we were freed from Military Rule.

During this period, it cannot be denied that many people seethed with rebellion and protest because of the continued oppression and suppression. This was further aggravated when former Senator Benigno S. Aquno Jr., the idol of the Filipino masses, whom they hoped to be the next president, was president, was brutally murdered on August 21, 1983.

This stage of the nation had its effect on our literature. After Aquino was assassinated, the people’s voices could no longer be contained. Both the public and private sectors in government were chanting, and shouting; women, men, and the youth became bolder and their voices were raised in dissent. We can say that Philippine literature, in spite of the many restrictions, still surreptitiously retained its luster.

Representative compositions during this period:


Death Like Stone for Benigno S. Aquino Jr. from Philippine Panorama


The Emperor’s New Underwear by Mynardo A. Macaraig

The Crown Jewels of Heezenhurst by Sylvia Mendez Ventura

The King’s Cold by Babeth Lolarga

Short Story

Hunger by Gilda Cordero-Fernando


Sepang Loca by Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio


Aquino’s Speech in Singapore

President Aquino’s Speech before the U.S. Congress

Cory Bats for the Rights of the World’s Oppressed

Literature in our country has a milestone of its own. Inspired by historical events and culture, it has evolved to become one of the best sources of inspiration. These marvelous compositions bring words from the deepest depths of Filipinos’ hearts.

This post was originally published on my previous website at Teacher Anele <>

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