The Philippine revolutionary press, 1896-1900

By Ricardo T. Jose

IN MAY 1898, the American Asiatic Squadron defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay. General Emilio Aguinaldo returned from exile in Hongkong shortly thereafter, and with his return, the war against Spain was resumed. Shortly after the resumption of the revolution, an enterprising writer and bibliophile, Clemente J. Zulueta, decided to exercise the freedom of the press that the revolution had fought for. On June 20, 1898, he published the first issue of La Libertad, a nationalistic paper. 9

Unfortunately, Aguinaldo was not quite prepared for independent newspapers, lest they adopt ideas dangerous to the still unsteady Philippine government. Accordingly, on July 4, Aguinaldo issued a decree which stated that “while abnormal circumstances due to the war still prevail, all publications without permission from the government are strictly prohibited.” 10 La Libertad thus had to close. The July 4 decree also paved the way for an official government publication which would publish decrees, announcements and other official government notices.

Luna newspaper:

General Antonio Luna, learning of the Aguinaldo decree, quickly secured a license and prepared to publish his own newspaper. Luna, together with his brother Joaquin and a few friends, decided that the newly independent Philippines needed a newspaper that would speak for it, and thus decided to publish one. A Spaniard was chosen as publisher-editor, but when he refused (he was extremely pro-Spanish), Luna decided to handle the newspaper himself. He chose the name La Patria, but the American Provost General in Manila, whom Luna consulted (this was before the Filipino-American War, when the Americans were still seen as allies), rejected the name, fearing it would fan anew the flames of Filipino-Spanish hostility.

The staff decided on the name La Independencia, and it became the most famous and most important paper of the Revolution. The first issue appeared on September 3, 1899, and it continued to appear daily until November 11, 1900. 11

The editorial staff of La Independencia was composed of highly literate men and women. Antonio Luna was its director, with Salvador Vivencio del Rosario as editor, Jose C. Abreu, Cecilio Apostol, Fernando Ma. Guerrero, Mariano V. del Rosario, and Clemente J. Zulueta as staff writers. Felipe G. Calderon was the proofreader.

The contributors included T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Jose Palma, Rosa R. Sevilla, Florentina Arellano, Apolinario Mabini and several other illustrious individuals.

Support from the educated class

La Independencia, like Kalayaan, concealed its place of publication. The masthead announced that it was published in the Augustinian orphanage in Malabon (Asilo de Malabon) when it was actually published in the heart of Manila. It used the same press that La Libertad had used, and quickly gained support from the educated class. La Independencia had four pages, with one page fully devoted to ads. It had a smattering of news items, with the foreign news taken (at least in the early issues) from the newly opened Manila Times’ cable.

But it was La Independencia’s editorials and essays which put it head and shoulders above the other papers. The “refined expression and literary finesse” of the paper attracted readership and even caused some Spaniards to believe that traitorous Spaniards were writing and editing the paper. 12

Campaign for independence

La Independencia spearheaded the campaign for Philippine independence during the second phase of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, and during the Filipino-American War. It rejected all Spanish attempts at reconciliation. When hostilities between the Filipinos and Americans broke, La Independencia moved its offices to San Fernando, Pampanga. When the Filipino-American War broke out on February 4, 1899, Gen. Luna’s military duties pulled him away from the newspaper, and Rafael Palma became Acting Editor. When the Americans occupied Malolos, some members of the editorial staff had to part ways, because of various reasons. Only Fernando Guerrero, Cecilio Apostol and Rafael Palma remained to continue the newspaper.

With the American occupation of Malolos, which had been the capital of the First Philippine Republic, the other independent newspaper which had been granted permission, La Republica Filipina, shut down. La Independencia became the lone publication to struggle for independence. Survival became its chief concern in late 1899, and for its safety and mobility, moved its offices to a railway coach. As the Americans advanced, the press moved northward: to Angeles, Tarlac and finally to Bautista, Pangasinan.

Due to the difficult conditions and shortage of printing materials, the size of the paper shrunk and the number of pages dropped to two. Paper was never totally lacking, as loyal Filipinos somehow were able to maintain the supply of newsprint, but the difficulties of putting out the paper under siege conditions finally became so great that the press and its materials were buried near the final office of the paper. Palma and his compatriots then escaped to Camiling, Tarlac. 13

Second nationalist daily

Till the end, however, La Independencia kept the torch burning. The last issue defiantly stated:

“We are near the mountain, there our look is directed; there our liberty will be secure. But to compromise with the enemy, to shake hands with him while with a gun he is opening for us in the future a new era of slavery and sufferings, no, one thousand times no… In spite of his victories and because of them, the enemy will be abhorred, not feared… Not a moment of peace and tranquility shall we give to his soldiers!” 14

Together with La Independencia was a second nationalist and independent daily, La Republica Filipina, which first appeared on September 15, 1898. It was published in Mandaluyong, and its first director was Pedro A. Paterno. Paterno was later succeeded by Leon Ma. Guerrero. Like La Independencia, La Republica Filipina was written in a refined style, and was an example of “editorial excellence and direction.” 15 The newspaper hoped to achieve national unity under a democratic Philippine Republic. It closed down in early 1899.

The official government publication Aguinaldo authorized in his July 4, 1898 decree made its first appearance on September 29, 1898, in Malolos. It was a bilingual (Spanish and Tagalog and also Spanish and Ilocano) bi-weekly, at first without a fixed name. Arsenio Cruz Herrera was the director of the paper. Being the official mouthpiece of the government, it was less of a newspaper unlike La Independencia or La Republica Filipina, and was full of decrees, government notices and the like. In January 1899 it settled on a name, Heraldo Filipino; this changed in April to Indice Oficial and in May it changed name to Gaceta de Filipinas, which remained until the newspaper ceased publication in October 1899. 16

Smaller newspapers

Besides the three big papers mentioned above, there were also several smaller papers which appeared between 1898 to 1900. In Jaro, Iloilo was born the weekly La Revolucion. Small in size, it explained that “our claims are as great as our strength,” and its aims were “to defend the rights that the Filipino people have won.” In Lipa, Batangas, a newspaper called Columnas Volantes (“Flying Sheets”) was published, starting March 24, 1899. Published by young college graduates who belonged to the “Club Democratico Independiente,” it “looked like a real newspaper because besides recording the events mostly about Lipa it commented on general politics and military movements.” In Tagbilaran, Bohol, a fortnightly, La Oportunidad, appeared in May 1899. It described itself as “nationalist revolutionary.” 17

There were other local nationalistic papers. Malolos had its own Ang Kaibigan nang Bayan, a weekly which first appeared in November 1898, and closed on Valentine’s Day 1899; Bayambang, Pangasinan had Babasaey Ombaley, a bilingual paper in Pangasinan and Ilocano; Cebu had El Nuevo Dia, which was founded by Sergio Osmeña, and El Pueblo, both papers being staunchly nationalistic and anti-American.

In Manila, for a brief period, a flurry of newspapers appeared, following the seemingly “free press” policy of the Americans. Among these papers were Ang Bayang Kahapis-Hapis; La Liberal; Kapatid ng Bayan; El Grito del Pueblo; La Patria; Filipinas; and another La Solidaridad. There was even a Spanish-run newspaper, directed by Jaime Utor y Fernandez, which sided with the Filipino cause.18

‘Lighting the dark night’

While the revolutionary papers were not able to stop the American occupation of the Philippines, they were at least able to express the nationalistic ideals of the Filipinos. Teodoro M. Kalaw wrote that the revolutionary papers “aroused latent energies.” The press of the time “encouraged fearing hearts. It lighted the dark night. The Filipino people, prostrate in their misfortune under the yoke of tyranny, found at least a guide, leadership… an organ to voice their complaints and demands, to describe their conditions and to arouse with courage all responsibility.” 19

9 Wenceslao Retana, Aparato Bibliografio de la Historia General de Filipinas (Madrid: Imp. De M. Minues a de los Rios, 1906), entries 4570 and 4573; Jesus Valenzuela, History of Philippine Journalism (Manila: privately printed, 1933), pp. 98-100. 
10 De los Santos, p. 35. 
11 Rafael Palma, My Autobiography (Manila: Capitol Publishing House, 1953), pp. 31-32. 
12 Jesus Valenzuela, p. 109. 
13 Palma, pp. 35-36. 
14 Cited in Vivencio Jose, The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna (Quezon City: U.P. Press, 1971), p. 170. 
15 Jesus Valenzuela, p. 109. 
16 Carolina Afan, “Philippine Nationalist Newspapers and Periodicals (1898-1900)”, Philippine Research Bulletin, (Volume I, No. 1, August-September 1975), p. 12. Also Isagani Medina, Filipiniana Materials in the National Library (Quezon City: U.P. Press, 1972), pp. 18-19. 
17 Jesus Valenzuela, pp. 109-112; Afan, pp. 12-13. 
18 The press in American-occupied Manila was free to a limited extent only. One writer noted: “Scarcely had the American settled to the occupation before newspapers of all descriptions were published, and those papers unfortunately were permitted publicity, provided their attacks and abuse were confined to the Filipino or ‘insurgent’ people.” A censor made sure that the abuse didn’t go the wrong way. Richard Sheridan, The Filipino Martyrs (New York: John Lane, 1900), pp. 89 et seq. 
19 Cited in Paredes, p. 34. 

Ricardo T. Jose is a professor of history at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman. He is also the author of a book on the History of the Philippine Army during the commonwealth period.

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