Bibliographical Notes, Biographical Entries, Critical Notes, Extracts and Anecdotes by Wenceslao Emilio Retana
With The History of the Philippine Press, 1811-1910 by Jose Victor Z. Torres
Translated and Annotated by Jaime M. Marco
Wenceslao E. Retana’s El Periodismo Filipino captures the glorious struggle of Filipino thought as it strove to break free in public media. Retana’s voluminous research on the first century of Philippine journalism is a thrilling documentation of the emancipation of Filipino intellectuality following a surprisingly linear emplotment: from halting ignorance to tentative expressions, then to raging radicalism and freethinking that exploded into the Philippine Revolution of 1896, only for its republican and progressive ideals to be dashed once again by a new and insidious colonial master.
In the book we witness print culture slipping away from two and a half centuries of Spanish friar control, which previously had only emphasized translation and doctrinal dissemination. The nascent colonial press controlled by both public and religious authorities gave rise for the first time to a “reading public” that led to a third sphere of opinion, thus setting the stage for ambivalence, insubordination, and conflict. From being a mouthpiece for elite Spaniards, the Philippine press grew amidst political divisions to become a site of contestation between the regime and a growing nationalistic class of indios, mestizos, and hijos del país who became increasingly united and were supported by liberal Spanish sympathizers.
The discourse and counter-discourse of a Philippines caught between two empires and an independent republic is mirrored in the book’s heady mixture of propagandist tracts, racially prejudiced editorials, biting satire, humorous poems, reviews of European novels, bureaucratic reports, stirringly inspirational plays and essays, costumbrista sketches, revolutionary manifestos, and endearing sundry ephemera, all of which resurrect for us the nuanced and deeply layered colonial sphere of ideas that spanned the archipelago, Europe, and the world.
Above this brew towers the sharply critical figure of Wenceslao Retana—as proud a figure as Spain has ever produced—who with his supreme authorial voice as the book’s protagonist seduces us with his own personal tales as he himself becomes the news at varying points in the narrative.
This illustrated scholarly book is enriched with over 200 images of rare periodicals and ephemera as well as over 500 notes that offer bibliographical and biographical information and fascinating insights into the era. El Periodismo represents the fourth volume in Vibal Foundation’s Seryeng Kinsentenaryo (Quincentennial Series) that commemorates five hundred years of Filipino and Spanish encounters from 1521 to 2021. It also forms the last tome of Retana’s three-volume Aparato Bibliográfico de la Historia General de Filipinas, a major study of Philippine print and thought from 1524 to 1905. Highly opinionated, searingly acerbic, yet whimsically humorous and sometimes abject in its mission to win over the reader, this book will certainly occupy a privileged niche in the history of Filipino intellectual thought.
Philippine society is presently beset and besieged by the proliferation of misleading headlines, blogs, dissimulation, and fake news. Reading and re-reading Retana’s El Periodismo covering the Philippines from 1811 to 1910 from various avisos, semanales, and periódicos that propelled reading and serious discourse among Filipinos, one can verily conclude that Journalism, even in its modern forms that are designed to foment malaise and stress, merely repeats itself like History.
—Lino L. Dizon
Head, Tarlac State University,
Center for Tarlaqueño History
El Periodismo Filipino, an essential work on the birth and development of Philippine journalism, is both a pleasure for the mind and the eye. Congratulations are due to Sr. Marcó for bringing to a wider audience a classic Philippine bibliographical study with an accurate translation. His highly useful and intriguing footnotes will no doubt please the demands of scholars of Philippine history and culture. The lavish illustrations, the result of intense archival research, transform what initially was an arid work of erudition into a landmark publication that can be enjoyed by any reader with an insatiable intellectual curiosity. I have no doubt that Wenceslao Retana himself would rejoice in this book, the summation of his wit and genius.
University of Santo Tomás
About the Author
Wenceslao Emilio Retana y Gamboa (1862–1924) was the leading nineteenth-century Spanish scholar on the Philippines and a consummate bibliophile. Arriving in the Philippines in 1884, he was a witness to the raging conflict between the friars and colonial authorities who desperately held on tothe status quo against those who advocated reform and even separatism. Returning to Spain in 1890, he founded an anti-Solidaridad periodical to combat the increasingly nationalistic propaganda of Filipino intellectuals. As a deputy in the Spanish parliament and an active journalist, he debated the Philippine Revolution as it raged in two stages. A contemporary and erstwhile enemy of Filipino hero José Rizal, Retana publicly retracted his anti-Filipino thoughts after Rizal’s tragic execution by penning the first monumental biography of the Filipino national hero as a spiritual expiation of what he considered as Spain’s gravest mistake.