The History of Books in the Philippines

The Filipinos were found to be a literate people by the Spanish colonizers when they reached the islands in 1521. They found the natives with systems of writing, with language of their own in many dialects, and with education and law to wit. Father Chirino wrote that the “islanders are much given to reading and writing and there is hardly a man, much less a woman, who does not read and write in letters proper to the island of Manila, very different from those of China, Japan and India” (1969, p. 280). The early Filipinos wrote on bamboos, barks of trees, leaves of plants which are perishable materials, hence no extant specimens exist today. The Spaniards brought the Roman alphabet which eventually superseded the old Tagalog syllabary. The Spaniards brought also the first printing press and the first books were called the Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Espanola y Tagala(Tagalog edition) and the Doctrina Christian en letra y lengua china (Chinese edition) by Keng Yong.


The Spaniards brought the art of printing to the Philippines. The first products of this art were books printed from woodblocks. The first products of the xylographic press were dated 1593, antedating printing in North America by over four decades. Based on the letter of then Governor Perez Dasmariñas to the King of Spain dated 20 June 1593, informing him that because of great need he has granted a license for the printing of two Doctrinas – one in the Tagalog language which is the “native and best of these islands, and the other in Chinese – from which I hope great benefits will result in the conversion and instruction of the people of both nations…”

Based on the Dasmarinas letter (Quirino, p. 222) and up to 1948, bibliographers and scholars have been citing the two Doctrinas – Doctrina Christiana en lengua espanola y tagala, dated 1593 and printed by Juan de Vera, a Chinese, and the Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua China… printed by Keng Yong but undated. The Tagalog Doctrina was found in Italy and purchased in 1946 by American millionaire-bibliophile Lessing J. Rosenwald who donated it to the U.S. Library of Congress, while the Chinese Doctrina was found in 1948 in the Vatican Library by Fray Jose Ma. Gonzales of the Dominican Order in Manila. However, in 1952, a chinese scholar, the Rev. Maurus Fang-Hao of the University of Taiwan discovered another Chinese doctrina in the Bibliotica Nacional in Madrid. This discovery created quite a stir in the bibliographic world for there are now three Doctrinas printed xylographically in the Philippines in 1593.

The third Docrtrina has the title Hsin-k’o seng shih Kao-mu Hsien chuan Wu-chi t’ien-chu cheng-chiao chen-chuan shih-lu or the Tratado de la Doctrina de la Santa Iglesia y de Ciencias Naturales which was dated 1593 and carried the signature of the secretary Juan de Cuellar and priced at four reales as was evident in the Tagalog Doctrina, but lacking in the Keng Yong Doctrina. Scholars have since accepted the third doctrina dubbed the Tratado to be the Chinese doctrina referred to in the Dasmarinas letter of 1593. Scholars have agreed that the Keng Yong Doctrina must have been printed around 1590 because of the need to christianize the Chinese community in Manila, but since it did not have the license to be printed, it was left undated.

The origin of the first printing press brought to the islands is not known. Historians can only guess that it could have come from Mexico, Japan or India. The first printers were Chinese. It is believed that Juan de Vera whom Fray Francisco Blancas de San Jose taught and encouraged to print was Keng Yong. It was the practice then to baptize the heathens using Christian names. Juan de Vera became a very skilled printer.

From 1602 to 1640, there were around twenty-seven books printed by typography (UPILS handout in the course LS 103). The first book printed by movable type is the Libro de Nuestra Señora del Rosario en lengua y letra de Filipinas, by Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose in Binondo in 1602. No extant copy is in existence and scholars doubt whether this was printed by movable types or by xylographic method. Through bibliographic sleuthing which brought Filipino scholars to the Vatican Library and the Newberry Library in Chicago, U.S.A., it was established that the first typographic book is the Libro de los Cuatro Postrimerias del Hombre by Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose, printed by Juan de Vera in Binondo in 1604. Most of the books printed during the period were on the teachings of the church, while some were vocabularies, and some were historical. The languages of the first products of the printing press were Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Latin, and Bisaya, Pampangan, Ilokano and Japanese.

The first printers were Chinese – Juan de Vera, Pedro de Vera and one Luis Beltran who printed the doctrinas and many other books thereafter. Tomas Pinpin is regarded as the first Filipino printer and Patriarch of Filipino Printers. He was born in Abucay, Bataan but there are no records about his birth as the records of the town were destroyed by the Dutch in 1646. He learned the art of printing from the Chinese artisans when he worked in the shop of Luis Beltran. By 1610, he already knew how to compose and set type in the printing press managed by Father Blancas de San Jose. His works were Arte y Reglas de la Lengua Tagala (1610) and theLibrong Pagaaralan nang mga Tagalog nang Uicang Castila (1610) printed in Bataan. Tomas Pinpin printed also in Pila, Laguna (1613) and at Binondo, Manila (1623-1627). The early printing press was travelling from place to place to bring the art of printing to these places. From 1609 to 1639, Pinpin printed more than a dozen titles. It is not known when he died, but he devoted all his life to the propagation of printing in the country.

The other Filipino printers were Manuel Gomez, (Tagalog), who printed in Manila in 1610, Domingo Laog, (Tagalog), (Pila, Laguna, 1613), Antonio Damba, (Pampangan), (Bacolor, Pampanga, 1618), Diego Talaghay, (Tagalo), (Abucay, Bataan, 1610), Jacinto Magarulao, (Tagalog), (Santo Tomas, Manila, 1629-1633) and Raimundo Magisa, (Tagalog), (Santos Tomas, Manila).

The xylographic press was located either in Binondo or at the Dominican Convent of San Gabriel in Manila. Scholars are not agreed as to the location of the press, but it is presumed to have been at the Dominican Convent in San Gabriel which is adjoining the Parian on the south bank of the Pasig River as shown by the imprint of the Tagalog Doctrina. The typographic press is the one evolved by Father Francisco Blancas de San Jose with the help of Juan de Vera who printed Juan de Castro’s Ordinationes Generales of 1604. From Binondo where the press was first located, it was brought to Abucay, Bataan where Tomas Pinpin printed in 1610, then to Pila, Laguna where Tomas Pinpin and Domingo Laog printed in 1613, then to Bacolor, Pampanga in 1618 where Antonio Damba and a Japanese, Miguel Saixo printed and from 1621 onwards it was located at Binondo, then at Santo Tomas, at the Colegio de la Compania de Jesus, all in Manila. From 1593 to 1640, the period of Philippine incunabula, some 100 books had been published (Guide to the Exhibits at the International Book Fair, Manila, November 23-30, 1969).

From the 17th century up to the American period 1890-1946, exciting events happened in the printing and publishing industries. Five religious orders consisting of the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Augustinians and the Recollects came to the country, and each one established printing presses for their own use. The Augustinians bought a press from Japan in 1565, the Jesuits bought from the Augustinians a printing press in 1623 and the Franciscans established one in 1702. There was a rapid growth of religious publications during this period and it is estimated that around 541 titles were printed (Buhain, 1998, p. 13).

There are now over a thousand printers and publishers in the country, but two names stand out as having a long and distinguished history and impact on Philippine printing. These are Cacho Hermanos which started as Chofre y Cia in 1880 and printed religious and political materials. From a series of management changes, it became the Cacho Hermanos when it was purchased by Jesus Cacho in 1927. It is still in operation today. Salvador Chofre was the first lithographic printer in the country. The other one is the Carmelo and Bauermann set up by two distinguished Europeans, Don Eulalio Carmelo y Lakandula, artist-engraver and William Bauermann, German lithographer and cartographer working with the Bureau of Forestry at the time. It is the biggest and oldest commercial printing press in the country.

The government is also into printing of government publications through its Government Printing Office (formerly Bureau of Printing). However, individual government agencies also print their own publication such as the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to name a few.

It is estimated that from 1593-1900 around 6000 titles had been printed. Publishing in the Philippines rapidly developed. Almost all types of literature are produced, from belles lettres to history, political science, economics, science and technology, etc. Newspapers and magazines are also being produced. There are no statistics to show how many titles have been printed since 1593, but if the country is printing/publishing from 1000 to 1500 titles a year, then there would be over a hundred thousand titles from 1593 to date. But the Philippines lags in the production of books. It is only number 8 among 10 countries in Asia. (NBDB, National Book Policy, Nov. 1997, p. 25).

Tags : Philippine History
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