Textbook history lists Del Superior Govierno as the first Philippine newspaper whose maiden issue saw print on Aug. 8, 1811. While 19th century periodicals are one of the main primary sources for this column, I have not used [Gaceta] del Superior Govierno (Gazette of the High Government) because it has no Philippine content. It was filled with foreign news translated into Spanish by the editor, Fernández de Folgueras, the Spanish governor-general of the Philippines. The first newspaper in the Philippines was short-lived, folding up on Feb. 7, 1812, after publishing 15 issues.
Contrary to what I was taught in Philippine history class, and what I saw in the Ayala Museum dioramas as a boy, Doreen Fernandez told our freshman English class that the first Philippine newspaper should rightfully be the 14-page Sucesos Felices (Fortunate Events) published in 1637 by Tomas Pinpin, the first Filipino printer. Sucesos Felices was one of many flyers or hojas volantes (flying sheets) that circulated in Manila providing notices and news for the public.
Del Superior Govierno has come to be considered the first Philippine newspaper because all histories of the Philippine press and journalism begin with Wenceslao Emilio Retana’s El Periodismo Filipino that opens with Del Superior Govierno. Periodismo was Retana’s listing of Philippine periodicals that was an appendix to his magisterial three-volume Aparato bibliografico de la historia general de Filipinas. The Aparato lists over 4,400 Philippine books dating from 1524 to 1905 owned by the Tabacalera company. Each publication comes with complete bibliographic information: author, title, date of imprint, physical size, number of pages, as well as notes on content and context. Sometimes the portada or title page is also reproduced as a guide for librarians and bibliophiles. The Tabacalera Collection was acquired for the prewar National Library of the Philippines as the jewel of the Filipiniana Division. Contrary to popular belief, the Tabacalera Collection was not completely destroyed during the 1945 Battle of Manila and many of its rare and obscure items await researchers to unlock their secrets. An English translation of the Aparato by Jaime M. Marco is forthcoming from Vibal Publishing and I am sad that my secret weapon for the last 35 years will now be accessible to competition.
I first handled early Tagalog periodicals in the Lopez Museum for an undergrad term paper on satirical cartoons from: Lipang Kalabaw, Bagong Lipang Kalabaw, Telembang, Pakakak, Aray! and Aruy! Fernando Amorsolo and Jorge Pineda poked fun and made sharp digs at Filipino politics and politicians. Also in the Lopez Museum was the collection of a certain Braulio Francisco who focused on “Volume 1 Number 1” issues of many periodicals displayed in a large plastic binder for easy reference. Lopez also had the 1898 revolutionary newspapers: La Independencia, whose first issue dated Sept. 3, 1898, was edited by the fiery Antonio Luna; La Republica Filipina, whose first issue dated Sept. 15, 1898, was edited by the weasel Pedro Paterno; and El Heraldo dela Revolucion, whose first issue dated Sept. 28, 1898, was the official newspaper of the revolutionary government. From these I gained a sense of the uncertain times when the Filipino nation was born.
In the 1980s, I bought from Heritage Gallery 30 issues of La Independencia for P3,000 and sold all but three copies after reading each one and taking notes. While discussing the Philippine press with the late Armando J. Malay, he brought out a copy of La Solidaridad, the Filipino reformist paper in Spain. I was shocked that it was smaller than a piece of short bond or A5 paper. I had always thought it was a daily broadsheet when it was a fortnightly on bad paper with small text printed in two columns. Malay had two copies of Solidaridad so I traded it for La Independencia and completed our collections.
World Press Freedom Day last Monday reminded me of old newspapers and my writing for the Philippines Daily Express in 1985, and the Philippine Daily Globe in 1988, before moving to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I realized I am one of the last of the analog generation who used to pound off our copy on manual typewriters and submit these physically to the editors. Today everything is done on computers and through email. Soon we may drop “papers” from newspapers and simply have “news.”
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