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The Turn of the Century Media


THE advent of the Americans late in the final decade of the 19th century, elicited an onrush of nationalism and determined pursuit of independence, particularly among those who were in the thick of the earlier revolution against Spain. Frustration level was high among Cebuano members of the illustrados who must have been deeply disappointed to realize the ouster of the Spanish colonials merely allowed the entry of the Americans.

Thus, the Spanish-language weekly newspaper, El Boletin de Cebu, came out during the penultimate decade of the 19th century. It was considered as the only commercial paper in the island. When it folded up in 1898, under pressure most probably by the developing events, there was a flurry among Cebuano nationalists to fill up the journalistic void. Men of strong nationalist sentiments came up to put out the turn-of-the-century weeklies.

The influx of liberal ideas during the revolution against Spain and the American entry into the country as the new colonials during the last years of the 19th century, generated strong nationalistic sentiments among the young educated men. There were the brothers Vicente and Filemon Sotto, both irrepressible nationalists, who must have noted the need for a media outlet and so, came out almost simultaneously with their separate weeklies.

The first newspaper that came out in 1899 was the La Justicia of Vicente Sotto and a partner, Matias de Arrieta.

At the time of its birth, Cebu was experiencing a fast changing environment. The Americans had already started a measure of censorship.

De Arrieta was not quite well known in the Cebu community, so that it is possible he came in as partner-investor in such a high-risk venture that was made even riskier with Sotto's nationalism The Spanish weekly was "born" at a time when the Filipinos were caught in a cross current of international politics. It was not known then that the United States' military strategists had coveted a place in the Orient that would give the US a tactical advantage in the sea lanes of Asia. And the Philippines fitted the bill of particulars. The "purchase" of the Philippines from Spain was said to be actually a fulfillment of such strategic need.

It was thus understandable why at the outset of US occupation of the Philippines, the Americans immediately set out to tighten its hold of the archipelago. The La Justicia was styled by the publishers as the first Filipino newspaper published in Cebu, which indeed, it was. Its immediate predecessor, the El Boletin, was Spanish-owned and was "like all Spanish periodicals of the time, devoted to the promotion of Spanish colonial aims…"

It was said the Spanish weekly was accepted for printing in the Vincentians' Imprenta de S. Carlos, but only after Sotto agreed that he would never attack the church in its pages. Sotto, it seems, was already well known for his anti-church stance as well as his abrasive ways as a journalist and as a politician. It was probably for this reason, too, that the La Justicia was short-lived. The American military authorities suspended it forthwith.

But Don Vicente Sotto, irrepressible a person that he was, did not wait long to come up with another Spanish weekly, the El Nacional. But like the La Justicia, it was also soon suspended after its first appearance. Then on top of being identified as a nationalist, he was suspected of being an intelligence agent of the revolutionary committee in Manila, and that earned him a two-month incarceration at Fort San Pedro.

If anyone wonders why later on he was using the pen name Taga-Kotta, that 60-day incarceration at the fort was the most appropriate answer. The following year, the last one of the 19th century, El Pueblo appeared also as a Spanish weekly, and was soon enough earning for its publisher/editor a reported 54 cases for libel and sedition. Finally, his political enemies succeeded in "exiling" him to Hongkong for an abduction case.

However, what could be considered then as most significant in the mass media history of Cebu was the appearance in 1901 of the Ang Suga, the first newspaper published in vernacular Cebuano. "A tri-weekly, sold at five centavos a copy, it carried a Spanish section and, as early as 1907, started printing English reports." It was in this tri-weekly's pages that the early Cebuano creative writers saw their work in print.

On the other hand, Don Vicente's less volatile brother, Don Filemon founded in 1899 the El Imparcial which was reportedly a sober and more stable publication. But Don Filemon who was looked up to as a "journalist and a statesman…is better known in publishing as the founder of one of the most important of Cebuano periodicals, the La Revolucion." First published in Spanish in 1910, the periodical survived until 1941, just before WW II.

There were other publications in Cebu at the turn of the century, the most prominent of these was the El Nuevo Dia of then Don Sergio Osmena , Sr. Jointly edited by Rafael Palma and Jaime C. de Veyra, it was the first daily in the developing city of the Visayas. The El Nuevo Dia was in four-page Spanish, and initially sold at P0.05, then at P0.10, with a circulation of more than a thousand. Unfortunately, it lasted only up to 1903.

In 1902, following the appearance of Don Vicente's Ang Suga, Don Filemon came out with his own Cebuano language periodical called Ang Kaluwasan which was short-lived and gave way to La Revolucion. Another vernacular periodical appeared at about the same time called Ang Camatuoran which was considered as "semi-official organ of the Church." Two Cebu Church groups, PP Paules and Hermanas de la Caridad managed it.

To be sure, there were still a good number of publications that came out in Cebu during the first years of the 20th century. Reading of various observations about the mass media of Cebu at this time, one cannot help likening it to a rambunctious frontier town of mass media where publishing was a fair game, as long as one had money enough to invest and to risk losing. Publishing was like a hobby among Cebuano "activists" in the early 1900s.

The other publications include El Pais that appeared in 1903, the La Opinion and Tingog sa Lungsod in 1904, the Ang Bandila in 1906, and the Kauswagan and the El Precursor both in 1907. The latter was the most important of this particular group of papers according to Dr.Resil B. Mojares, writing about Cebuano literature, "which lasted until the eve of World War II." It was bilingual founded by Mariano Alba Cuenco.

But the turn-of-the-century publications in Cebu were not really a monopoly of the island's capital town. There were also publications from some progressive municipalities, spurred as they must have been with the blooming nationalist sentiments of the period. There were the La Voz de Argao in 1906 and the La Solidaridad in 1907. In 1909, the town of Barili came out with two, the Bagong Dila and Atong Catungod.

All these papers regularly published Fiction and verse in their pages. With these outlets, there was much literacy activity. In the August 8, 1914 issue of La Revolution, editor Amando Osorio reported, in an item entitled "100 ka balak Hingtuk-an kami" that he had on his desk a hunded poems by a hundred different writers. Photo: Sun.Star Cebu