AMONG the many foreigners who had lived in the Philippines and learned to love this land was Manuel María Rincón, sadly forgotten today. Born in Seville, Spain in 1859, Rincón, as did many of his peers who sought a secure career and a stable source of income, studied military engineering in Segovia. Two years later, he decided that the battles of his life should not be fought with weapons, but with words, and he started to work as a journalist for newspapers in Madrid. It was there that he met the well-connected, rising politician, Víctor Balaguer, who had connections and was Minister of the Overseas Provinces for a brief period. This encounter changed the former’s life forever — his patron secured for him a modest position in the bureaucratic administration of the Philippines, and Rincón arrived in Manila in November 1884.
Writing for the daily La Oceanía Española, Rincón drew the attention of the father of Philippine journalism, José Felipe del Pan, who noticed the young peninsular’s facility with words as well as certain praiseworthy characteristics of his personality that stood out, as he was incorruptible. As a man of integrity with great literary skills, he was respected by both Filipinos and Spaniards. As pointed out by the historian Wenceslao Retana, Rincón was always called upon to write on controversial news due to his publisher’s desire to avoid any impending conflicts. He not only achieved renown for his excellent reputation, but also for his fairness in narrating events without causing undue harm to anyone.
Eschewing direct clashes, the Spanish journalist cultivated both truth and circumspection, and eventually, he decided to move to the leading periodical Diario de Manila in order to keep away from a jealous colleague. Thereupon, his career prospered for he received three successive promotions within the colonial administration. However, he was fired from his government post for unknown reasons in February 1898; a not-so-unfortunate circumstance, considering Spain’s eventual loss of the colony within a few months.
Eventually, he succeeded as a journalist, becoming not only the director of Diario de Manila, but also the publisher of two other weekly periodicals: the humorous and beautifully illustrated Manililla (Little Manila), which lasted 10 years (1887 to 1896), and the whimsical but short-lived bullfighting journal La Puya (The Lance, 1885).
As a Diario de Manila reporter between 1886 and 1887, Rincón witnessed one of the memorable Spanish campaigns in Mindanao against Datu Uto and his followers. Those vivid articles were later compiled in 1894 under the title Cinco Meses en Mindanao (Five Months in Mindanao), where he peppered his fine Spanish prose with Tagalog words. Before 1898, he published two books wherein he portrayed Filipino culture in a gracious and empathetic way. After reading his books, I sensed that he did not write so much as a foreigner, but as a local insider, who felt considerably at ease within it. However, when the Katipunan arose, he chose allegiance to his mother country. After 1898, however, Rincón opted to stay on in Manila with his family even though he himself felt displaced.
In 1900, he published a very bizarre drama that was portentously titled Feudalismo. Although the conflict between its villains and landlords is located in the Pyrenees mountains during the medieval age, the play can be understood as a clear allegory criticizing US colonialism, albeit in a subtle way.
The peninsular writer was one of the persons behind the 1923 discussions that led to the founding of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (Philippine Academy of the Spanish Language), which had been encouraged by Antonio Maura, a leading Spanish politician and a sympathizer of the Filipino cause. This long-lived institution still exists under the directorship of Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera.
No research has yet been made about Manuel María Rincón, making it difficult to trace his life during the American colonial period. His most significant production was a series of biographical novels that he wrote between 1923 and 1936, published in totality by the University of Sto. Tomas printing press. With scenarios located in both Spain and the Philippines, these thick novels probably constitute his finest literary creations.
During the last years of his life, he was known to have supported many young Filipino writers and known also for his works of charity despite his modest circumstances. He also spearheaded the commemoration of the death of the Spanish literary great Miguel de Cervantes with a yearly mass at the Sto. Domingo Church held every April 23, which many Filipino Hispanistas used to attend, including Manuel Rávago and the industrialist and philanthropist Enrique Zóbel de Ayala.
Regarding his social standing, I discovered that he had married a Filipina, whom I have yet to identify. He had three offspring, all daughters who married British citizens in early 20th-century Manila. His granddaughter married a British aristocrat, whose descendant is Ms. María Cecilia Walford Hawkins y Borbón, the Duchess of Ansola.
At the tail end of World War 2, Manuel María Rincón died tragically on February 1945 while trying to escape from the bombardment of the refuge where he had sheltered on Carolina Street, which is today’s Madre Ignacia Street in Malate. Already infirm, he was too aged to sprint away even as his daughter Pilar insisted on staying behind with him. She too died tragically in the holocaust that consumed all of Spanish Manila.