August is considered as the National Language month here in the Philippines. Balagtasan (taken from Francisco Balagtas, a famous and considered as one of the robust Philippine writers) or poetic debate is commonly held within the month and students from different schools participate in this event.
I am grateful that I am a Filipino and I’d like to share to the world one of the many great poets that we have. So, for the month of August, may I present José Corazón de Jesús.
José Corazón de Jesús, also known by his pen name Huseng Batute, was a Filipino poet who used Tagalog poetry to express the Filipinos’ desire for independence during the American occupation of the Philippines, a period that lasted from 1901 to 1946. He is best known for being the lyricist of the Filipino song Bayan Ko. Buhay Huseng Batute was born on November 22, 1896 in Santa Cruz, Manila to Vicente de Jesús, the first health bureau director of the American occupation government, and Susana Pangilinan of Pampanga. He was christened José Cecilio de Jesús but he later dropped Cecilio and replaced it with the Spanish name Corazón (heart) because he said it best described his character.
De Jesús spent his childhood in Santa Maria, Bulacan, his father’s hometown. He completed his education at the defunct Liceo de Manila, where he graduated in 1916. His first published poem was Pangungulila (Yearning), which was published in the defunct Ang Mithi (The Ideal) in 1913 when he was 17 years old.
José Corazón de Jesús’s works appeared on several magazines and newspapers, notably Ang Democracia, Taliba, Liwayway, El Debate and Sampagita. In addition, his works have appeared in various anthologies and textbooks from grade school to college.
On March 28, 1924, de Jesús and other leading Tagalog writers met at a women’s school in Tondo, Manila, under the auspices of Filipino educator Rosa Sevilla, to discuss how to celebrate the birth anniversary of Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas on April 2. They decided to hold a traditional duplo, or a dramatic debate in verse that was in its waning days in the 1920s. They changed the format of the duplo and renamed it balagtasan in honor of Balagtas. There were three pairs of poets who participated in the first balagtasan on April 6, 1924 at the defunct Instituto de Mujeres (Women’s Institute), founded by Sevilla, but the audience were most impressed by de Jesús and another Filipino poet, Florentino Collantes. The balagtasan was an instant hit, later becoming became a common feature in Manila’s biggest and most expensive theaters until the 1950s. De Jesús and Collantes were pitted against each other in a contrived rivalry and a showdown was set for Oct. 18, 1925 at the Olympic Stadium. De Jesús was acclaimed winner of the showdown and was dubbed “Haring Balagtasan” (king of versified debate). He held the title until his death in 1932.