What Happened to Philippine Literature During the Contemporary Period?

The Filipino literary contemporary period is characterized by the use of native languages as the main tool of literary expression rather than foreign languages. The contemporary period began in the 1960s but truly began to flourish following the end of the martial-law dictatorship in 1986.

The Philippines were first invaded by the Spanish in 1521, followed by the United States in 1898 and the Japanese in 1941. Filipino literature transformed to take on the occupiers’ language during these times.

A rich culture of folk narratives and traditions served as the foundation of Filipino literature prior to the Spanish invasion in 1521. With the Spanish invasion, these native literary traditions were undermined and replaced with Spanish language traditions. One of the most heralded Filipino writers, Jose Rizal, wrote all his works in Spanish when he called for a revolution against Spanish occupation.

With the invasion of the United States in 1898, the language for literary works turned to English, and new literary forms were introduced, including the short story, essay and free-verse poem. Many Filipino writers during this period attended American and British schools and brought Western literary traditions back to the Philippines. English was suppressed during the Japanese occupation in 1941 and replaced with Japanese literary traditions until 1946, when the Philippines became independent.

The contemporary movement toward the use of native languages in Filipino literature was slow to begin due to the oppressive martial-law dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1986. However, following the end of the dictatorship, the Philippines undertook an effort to resurface their native language literary history, and the Philippine Commission on Higher Education made it obligatory to teach Philippine literature to students.