A literary virtuoso in Spanish, Jesus Balmori was born in Ermita, Manila on January 10, 1887. He studied at the Collegio de San Juan de Letran and the University of Santo. Tomas, where excelled in Literature. He was married to Dolores Rodriguez. Joaquin Balmori, a pioneer labor leader of the foremost organizer of Labor unions in their Philippines, was his brother.
While still is his teens, Balmori was already gathering literary honors and prizes for his poetry. In a Rizal Day contest, his three poems, each bearing a different pen name, won the first, second, third prizes.
Later, he figured in friendly poetical joust with other well-known poets in Spanish of his time, notably Manuel Bernabe of Parañaque and the Ilonggo Flavio Zaragosa Cano, emerging triumphant each time.
Before the war, Balmori popularly known as “Batikuling” write a column in Vanguardia, a daily afternoon newspaper belonging to the TVT publications called “Vida Manileña”, it was a trenchant critique of society’s power elite, showcasing, his gift for irony and satirical humor, as well as serious verses. After the war, he wrote a similar column, “Vida Filipina”, for the Vox de Manila. However, the number of Spanish-speaking readers was already diminishing by that time.
Balmori already wrote three novels: “Bancarrota de Almas”, “Se Desho la flor”, and “Pájaros de Fuego” which was completed during the Japanese occupation, along with three- act dramas, which was performed to the capacity crowd at the Manila Grand Opera House: Compañados de Gloria”, “Las de Sungkit en Malacañang”, Doña Juana LA Oca”, Flor del Carmelo”, and Hidra.
It was as a lyric poet, however, on which his fame and reputation rested. In 1908, his poem “Gloria” was adjudged first prized winner in a contest sponsored by El Renacimiento. In 1920, another poem of his “A Nuestro Señor Don Quijote de la Mancha”, copped the major award in a contest promoted by Casas de España.
He reached the pinnacle of his success as a poet in November 1938 when his Mi Casa de Nipa, a collection of his best poems, gave him the first prize in the national literary contests held under the auspices of the Commonwealth Government, as a part of its third anniversary celebration.
Sent aboard as Philippine Ambassador of Goodwill, Balmori was received enthusiastically in Spain, Mexico, South America, and Japan. In Spain, Generalissimo Francisco Franco decorated him with the Cross-of the Falangistas.
He was traveling in Mexico when he suffered partial paralysis. He died on May 23, 1948, of the cancer of the throat. At the time of his death, he was a presidential technical assistant and a member of the Philippine Historical Research Committee. He died shortly after dictating his last poem, “A Cristo”, to his wife. Even at death’s door, he was still breathing poetry.
The glory of Spanish poetry was Balmori’s. In the words of Antonio Perez de Olaguer. “Had been in Spain, he would be primerisimo poeta lirico and his inseparable Batikuling would be catalogue as the first figure cultivating satire with fringe if large humor in the manner of Quevedo.
In 1904, when he was 17, he published his first book of verses, Rimas Malayas, it was noted for its spiritual and nationalistic themes. A second volume containing his satirical verses, El Librode mis Vidas Manileñas, came out in 1928.
Critics began to notice his literary skills more when he joined a contest sponsored by the newspaper El Renacimiento in commemoration of Rizal Day. Three poems of his poems won. These were Specs, Vae Victis (Woe to the Victor), and Himno A Rizal (Hymn to Rizal).
He wrote three novels: Bancarrota de Almas (Failure of the Soul), Se Deshojó la Flor (I Tear The Pages Out of The Flower), and Pájaros de Fuego (Birds of Fire). The themes of these novels revolved around the issues of sensuality, the privacy of morality, the existence of God, and man's limitations in society.
Balmori was able to regularly contributed to the literary pages of newspapers during his time. In La Vanguardia, El Debate, La Voz de Manila, Philippines Free Press, and El Renacimiento, he established his pseudonym Batikuling.
In 1926, he and Bernabé were awarded the Premio Zobel for his contributions to Philippine literature.
He died of throat cancer, shortly after writing his last poem, A Cristo (To Christ), which he dedicated to his wife.
- Brillantes, Lourdes. 81 Years of Premio Zobel: A Legacy of Philippine Literature in Spanish. Philippines:Filipinas Heritage Library, 2006.
- * 80 Años del Premio Zóbel by Lourdes Brillantes, Instituto Cervantes y Fundación Santiago, Manila, 2001