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Cebu's American Colonial Media


THE heat of Cebuano nationalists' fervor was undeniably behind the publications that emerged in the first three decades of the 20th century. Even when the Americans granted the Filipinos some measure of self-determination, and participation in governance, the heat continued to swelter in the journalistic output of the younger Cebuano writers who did not cultivate any distinction between creative writing and journalism.

Given the fiery output of the Sottos, and with the new democratic idealism of the younger ones like Vicente Ranudo who also wrote poetry, Uldarico Alviola , Juan Villagonzalo, Elpidio Rama who was an essayist, novelist, poet, and short story writer, among a host of others, contemporary cultural observers cannot fail to note a deep sense of nation among the young turn-of-the-century Cebuano journalists and creative writers.

The fact that they were all attempting and seriously trying to write in their native tongue was indication that they were seriously shedding off vestiges of Spanish political and cultural influences, and yet, they were not quite ready to embrace unhesitatingly the American import of the same commodity. While they were writing in Cebuano, trying to standardize its spelling to distinguish it from Spanish orthography, they shunned English.

But what distinguishes the initial period of American "occupation" of the country, was the extension of a rather "friendly" colonial hand-even if it was obviously an imperialist one-to the natives. After 300 years of Spanish rule which confined "education" to the cartilla and the Doctrina Cristiana, the Americans offered a "free market of ideas and of values" that were freely demonstrated through the serious efforts to educate the people.

Whereas the Spaniards came with the intent to convert the natives to Christianity, the Americans wanted to "educate" the Filipinos to become economic consumers of "mass produced American goods". The Spanish goal was spiritual "subjection" while that of the Americans, was economic domination. And all that the developing Filipino intellectuals and nationalists could do was resist, react, and make a lot of noise orally and in writing.

In Professor Mojares' observation, the years between "1910-1940 constituted a high watermark in vernacular publishing in Cebu. The surge of literature and journalism in Cebuano can be explained by a number of factors. It was a time of rising expectations: independence, nationalism, increasing commercial activity, the rise of the middle class, comparatively liberal polices, popular education." It was a celebration of "liberation."

Under such circumstance, the liberation from Spain's conservatism that confined native thought within the parameters of colonial goals, was a big thing to the Cebuano writers and journalists. The 1857 censorship law "barred the propagation of principles and doctrine contrary to the rights of the Spanish throne, or to the religion of the State. Thus, the censorship all but stifled the Filipino creative thought and intellectual discourse.

In a paper titled "Mass Media and the Filipino Family", Ramon A. Tagle, Jr. wrote: "Whereas Spain used the pulpit, America used the classroom, textbooks, newspapers and other printed materials to 'educate' the Filipinos. The American teachers called 'Thomasites' came with their textbooks and began what historian Renato Constantino rightly calls the 'The Misdeducation of the Filipino."

In Cebu, Cebuano writers in the early years of American colonization tried to tone down the American acculturation efforts through the development of what they considered as the indigenous ways of life of the Filipino before they were unexpectedly discovered by Spain, and rescued from their nomadic ways. In those days, according to Tagle, the Philippines was nothing but a group of "warring barangays" or families.

And yet, they were not without a culture of their own. "Before the Spaniards came, the Filipino had already discovered the art of writing. Unfortunately, the Spaniards destroyed most, if not all, of these-in the name of Christianity…The Spaniards brought the sword and the cross, and with these two combined forces, introduced new ways of working." The new ideas and ways of living soon became the norm of life of colonial Cebuanos.

But the select few who were conscious of their heritage as Orientals, with a deep sense of being "not white" but brown, and certainly different from either Spaniards or Americans, turned to the emotional search for cultural identity, and hence went strongly to come up with an outlet of their sentiments. The result was a deluge of publications of all sorts, initially in Spanish, then in bi-lingual Spanish-Cebuano, and then in Cebuano-English.

In 1905, the Ang Camatuoran or The Truth of Padre Pedro Julia saw its first light of day as the third vernacular paper to come out since 1901 when two Cebuano publications were founded that year. The Ang Suga (The Lamp) of Vicente Sotto came out as a tri-weekly, while the Ang Magbabaol (TheFarmer) of Bonifacio Minoza, was a weekly. It signaled the deluge later on of publications in the vernacular.

From 1905 to 1935, some 38 publications saw print in Cebu City, majority of which were weeklies. Only nine were in Spanish five of which were weeklies. Among the four dailies was the El Paez, founded in 1906, and edited by Joaquin Pellicina Y Lopez. The three other dailies in Spanish were the La Boletin Catolico of Mariano Jesus Cuenco, El Espectador of Manuel Briones, and La Opinion of Isidro Vamenta, all founded in 1915.

The two bilingual periodicals that won considerable readership, were the Spanish-Cebuano La Revolucion of 1910, founded by Don Filemon Sotto and El Precursor of Don Mariano Jesus Cuenco founded in 1911. It is interesting to note that in the 10-year period between 1905 and 1915, of 15 periodicals published, there were six dailies and nine weeklies. Of the medium used, nine were in Spanish, four in Cebuano, and two bilingual. This period may be considered the peak of the Spanish language era in the province.

From then on, Spanish as medium of mass communication in Cebu steadily declined. The Cebuano newspapers during the three decades up to 1935, saw the rising patronage of the vernacular publications, with the younger writers deeply immersed in nationalist sentiments and the pursuit of independence, writing not only political features but also poetry, short stories, and novels with the zeal of the newly liberated creative psyche.

The more serious and highly regarded publication during this time were Don Filemon Sotto's La Revolucion in 1910, the Spanish-Cebuano daily which got a competitor on the following year from the El Precursor of Don Mariano Jesus Cuenco. During this period, there were only four Cebuano dailies, but were said to have a field day with the enthusiastic response the publications got from the developing potential Cebuano readers.

One of them was the Ang Kaluwasan of Don Filemon Sotto. Founded in 1907, it went on for three years, but in 1910 was superseded by the La Revolucion, considered to be one of "the most important of Cebuano Periodicals. The La Revolucion lasted until the outbreak of World War II in 1941. El Precursor was not to be outdone. Like a duel to the death, the two bilingual dailies "fought" each other to the bitter end 'till WW II.

The other Cebuano weeklies that saw birth in 1907 was Francisco Labrador's Ang Kauswagan, Ang Pilipinhon of Nicolas Rafols, and the Bag-ong Kusog of Vicente Rama. The other Spanish weeklies during the 1905-1935 period were generally short-lived, and did not really make a dent in the minds of the Cebuano reading public. Many of them were of course publications that had politics as the central motives in the founders' mind.

It is needless to say though that Don Filemon Sotto was accepted as journalist statesman of Cebu; brother Vicente was a maverick politician who became a senator; and so did Mariano Jesus Cuenco, Vicente Rama and Manuel Briones.. Publishers as they were of Cebuano dailies, it could quite be positively asserted that the tradition of publishing newspapers for political purposes started with them. Until 1972, it was still so.