Blair & Robertson Deconstructed

26 October 2008 at 4:27 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

During the 2008 Manila International Book Fair, Gus Vibal, founder of, gave a lecture on James Alexander Robertson, the Robertson of “Blair and Robertson,” the 53-volume standard reference work entitled The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898.

The work of Blair and Robertson has been cited thousands of times by scholars, who have always assumed that it is accurate and comprehensive. Vibal proved, in an extended treatise, that we should not trust the work.

Vibal’s thesis was simple but provocative: “Far from being a neutral and scientific enterprise, Robertson’s acquisition policies were strongly guided by American colonialist considerations, overriding the B&R’s claims to historical objectivity. What seemed to be a monumental scholarly undertaking also masked an imperialist ideological bias which has been picked up unwittingly by nationalist historians and passed on today as orthodoxy and accepted as textbook truth.”

Painstakingly tracing the career of Robertson as first director of the National Library, Vibal showed how the American librarian was part of a grand conspiracy “to stitch together a cohesive imperialist narrative to justify white rule over the Philippines.” Unlike Wenceslao Retana, who collected even anti-Spanish texts, Robertson saw to it that only pro-American and anti-Filipino texts were included in his collection. In fact, Robertson even included hoaxes such as the Code of Kalantiao.

Vibal concluded his lecture with these words: “In the guise of ‘tutelary democracy’ the ‘savage people’ of the Philippine islands would be shaped into a democratic nation by white people who would act as their moral and political superiors. Not satisfied with political victory, the new American masters were determined to achieve cultural hegemony and in so doing unleashed an insidious war against hispanismo, the last dying trace of Spain in the Philippines. Its methods were the supplanting of the very language in which the nationalist aspirations were framed, as well as the gradual erosion of Hispanic elements in Philipine society as the Americans sought to renovate the national culture after their image.”

“The proof of this,” said Vibal, “is today’s lecture where I stand before you, a Filipino speaking in English, and still interpreting my Hispanic Philippine past through readings of the highly selective and skewed Blair and Robertson translations. I find it difficult to read the works, all in Spanish, of Isabelo de los Reyes, Wenceslao Retana, Epifanio de los Santos, Pedro Paterno, Jaime de Veyra, or Teodoro Kalaw. It is a laborious effort to read the classic seditious novels of early Tagalog writers such as Lope K. Santos, Faustino Aguilar, and Iñigo Ed. Regalado.”
Renato Constantino called this “the miseducation of the Filipino.” Unfortunately, until today, that miseducation still continues.

Very few Filipinos know enough Spanish to read at least the two novels of Jose Rizal, not to mention the other masterpieces of 19th century and even early 20th century Filipino writers. The vast majority of Filipinos can read modern Tagalog, but even Tagalogs find it hard to understand the old Tagalog of the early 20th century.

It is time to return Spanish to the curriculum. Unless we know where we have been, we will never get to where we want to go. In fact, we will not even know where we should go.

It is also time for our scholars to translate all our historical and cultural documents in Spanish into languages young Filipinos easily understand. Even the old Tagalog novels have to be translated into Filipino, if we want the next generation to continue reading them.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 16 October 2008.)


National Book Award 07 Finalists

26 October 2008 at 4:06 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

According to the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board, these are the finalists for the National Book Awards for books published in 2007:

ANTHOLOGY: A la Carte, edited by Cecile Manguerra Brainard and Marily Ysip Orosa; At Home in Unhomeliness, edited by J. Neil C. Garcia; Best Filipino Stories, edited by Gemino H. Abad and Gregorio C. Brillantes; Cordillera in June, edited by B. P. Tapang; Ang Dagling Tagalog, 1903-1936, edited by Rolando B. Tolentino and Aristotle Atienza; Mga Piling Dulang Mindanao, edited by Arthur P. Casanova; Very Short Stories for Harried Readers, edited by Vicente Garcia Groyon.

ART / ALFONSO T. ONGPIN PRIZE: Philippine Church Façades, by Pedro G. Galende, OSA; Pinoy Dressing, by Barge Ramos; Salvador F. Bernal, by Nicanor G. Tiongson.

BIOGRAPHY / AUTOBIOGRAPHY : From Barrio to Senado, by Juan M. Flavier; Legends & Adventures, by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil; A Man and His Music, by Angel M. Peña; Maria Kalaw Katigbak, by Monina Allarey Mercado.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: The Boy Who Touched Heaven / Ang Batang Humipo sa Langit, by Iris Gem Li, translated by Roberto Añonuevo; Dalawang Bayani ng Bansa, by Rene O. Villanueva; Sampu Pataas, Sampu Pababa, by Russell Molina; Tight Times, by Jeanette C. Patindol.

COOKBOOKS AND FOOD: Cooking for Health, by Cris C. Abiva, Luz S. Callanta, and Atel E. Jazmines; An Introduction to Coffee, by Pacita U. Juan and Ma. Regina S. Francisco.

DRAMA: Psychedelia Apocalypsis at Iba Pang Dula, by Nicolas B. Pichay; Tatlong Paglalakbay, by Tony Perez.

EDUCATION: Magaling ang Pinoy!, by Queena N. Lee-Chua, Ma. Isabel Sison-Dionisio, and Nerisa C. Fernandez.

ESSAY / CREATIVE NONFICTION: Into the Country of Standing Men, by Rey Ventura; Pagmumuni-muni at Pagtatalak ng Sirenang Nagpapanggap na Prinsesa, by J. I. E. Teodoro; Tongues on Fire, by Conrado de Quiros.

FICTION / JUAN C. LAYA PRIZE: Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street, by Benjamin Pimentel.

SHORT FICTION: The Kite of Stars & Other Stories, by Dean Francis Alfar.

HISTORY: Assembly of the Nation, by Manuel L. Quezon III, Jeremy R. Barns, Emmanuel A. Albano, Ricardo T. Jose, and Manuel F. Martinez; Forcing the Pace, by Ken Fuller; Kolonyal na Patakaran at Nagbabagong Kamalayang Filipino, by Raul C. Navarro; Occupation, by Benito J. Legarda Jr.; The Saga of La Naval, edited by Lito B. Zulueta.

JOURNALISM: Dateline Manila, by Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines; Exposé, by Boy Villasanta; The Rulemakers, by Sheila S. Coronel, Yvonne T. Chua, Luz Rimban, and Booma B. Cruz.

LAW: A Living Constitution, by Joaquin G. Bernas SJ.

LINGUISTICS: (Re)making Society, edited by T. Ruanni F. Tupas.

LITERARY CRITICISM: Ang Bayan sa Labas ng Maynila / The Nation Beyond Manila, by Rosario Cruz-Lucero; A Handbook of Philippine Folklore, by Mellie Leandicho Lopez; Sipat Kultura, by Rolando B. Tolentino.

MEDICINE: Bone Tumors in Filipinos, by Edward H. M. Wang and Ariel Vergel de Dios.

POETRY: Antisi*Pasyon asin iba pang Rawitdawit sa Bikol asin Ingles / Anticipation and Other Poems in Bikol and English, by Victor Dennis T. Nierva, translated by Marne L. Kilates and H. Francisco V. Peñones Jr.; Dissonant Umbrellas, by Angelo V. Suarez; Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles, by Santiago B. Villafania; Mannahatta Mahal, by Luis Cabalquinto; Mostly in Monsoon Weather, by Marne L. Kilates; Passage, by Edgar B. Maranan; Pusuanon, by Kristian Sendon Cordero, translated by Marne L. Kilates and H. Francisco V. Peñones Jr.; Textual Relations, by Ramil Digal Gulle.

SCIENCES: Living with Nature in Our Times, by Abercio V. Rotor.

SOCIAL SCIENCES: Colonial Pathologies, by Warwick Anderson; The Dynamics of Regional Development, edited by Arsenio M. Balisacan and Hal Hill.

SPORTS: Sports @ Far Eastern University, by Manolo R. Iñigo, Mark Molina, and Gloria R. Aligada.

THEOLOGY & RELIGION: Body and Sexuality, edited by Agnes M. Brazal and Andrea Lizares Si; God’s Global Household, by Andrew Gimenez Recepcion; Investing in Miracles, by Katharine L. Wiegele.

TRANSLATION: Lagalag sa Nanyang, translated by Joaquin Sy from Nanyang Piaoliuji, by Bai Ren.

TRAVEL: Baler, Aurora, by Edgardo J. Angara, Jesus T. Peralta, Domingo Madulid, Jose Maria A. Cariño, Xavier Brisset, Enrique Quezon Avanceña, Manuel L. Quezon III, Ricardo T. Jose, and Juan Edgardo M. Angara; Iloilo, edited by Anita Feleo.

BEST DESIGN: Dissonant Umbrellas, designed by Angelo V. Suarez, Constantino Zicarelli, Keith Dador, Sandra Palomar, Mark Salvatus, Stephanie Yapnayon, Macy Cruz, Mike Mendoza, Julie Grafia, and Dwein Trahata Baltazar; Cebu, designed by Norrino C. Hernandez; Lola Puti, designed by Vanessa Tamayo; Pearl of the Orient, designed by Felix Mago Miguel; The Saga of La Naval, designed by Bong Bundag, Florentino Bolo OP, and Robbie Villegas; Salvador F. Bernal, designed by Brian Tenorio; Sol, designed by Farley del Rosario; Tight Times, designed by Sergio T. Bumatay III.

The book entitled Vocabulary of the Kapampangan Language in Spanish and Dictionary of the Spanish Language in Kapampangan will be given a citation.

For further details, email me at

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