|Born||April 2, 1788|
Panginay, Bigaa, Bulacan
|Died||February 20, 1862|
Juana dela Cruz
|Other Name/s||Francisco Balagtas|
(To read the Filipino version of this article, click Francisco Baltazar)
Francisco Baltazar y dela Cruz (1788-1862) was the preeminent poet of the Tagalog language and author of the literary masterpiece Florante at Laura. He wrote countless poems, awits, komedyas and corridos. His literary achievements secured his place at the top of the pantheon of Tagalog poets. Other great Tagalog writers like Julian Cruz Balmaceda and Hermenegildo Cruz called him “Hari ng Makatang Tagalog.”
Baltazar is otherwise known as Francisco Balagtas, his original name. He had taken the name Balagtas from a Manila family whom he had served as a houseboy. He was affectionately called Kiko.
Baltazar was born in Panginay, Bigaa, Bulacan on April 2, 1788. His parents were Juan Balagtas, a blacksmith, and Juana dela Cruz. He was nicknamed Kiko and he had 3 siblings: Felipe, Concha, and Nicholasa.
He obtained his early education in prayers and catechism at the local parochial school. In 1799 he moved to Tondo, Manila to work as a houseboy for his aunt, Doña Trinidad. His mistress was impressed with the young boy’s literary talents, so she sent Balagtas to Colegio de San Juan de Letran and Colegio de San Jose where he took up theology, philosophy, and canonical law. In 1812, at the age of 24, he graduated, rounding out his classical education with courses in Latin, Spanish, humanities and law. Jose de la Cruz (or Huseng Sisiw), the famous Tondo poet became his influence and mentor in literature, particularly in the writing of awits, coridos and moro-moros. Another of his teachers was Dr. Mariano Pilapil, the author of Pasiong Pilapil.
The Flowering of His Career
In 1835, at the relatively mature age of 47, he moved to Pandacan, Manila, where he met Maria Asuncion Rivera, who would become his muse. However he had a more powerful rival by the name of Mariano Capule, the town cacique, who would use his wealth and influence to send Balagtas to jail on a trumped-up criminal complaint. Later Rivera would wed Capule, which caused Baltazar great anguish. It is believed that he wrote his masterpiece, the Philippine metrical romance Florante at Laura during his time in prison.
Two years after his prison release in 1838, he moved to Balanga, Bataan to work as an auxiliary or paralegal secretary of a residential judge. In 1841 he met a well-off mestiza Juana Tiambeng, a native of Orion, Bataan. It is said that Tiambeng financed the publication of his masterpiece at the Colegio de Santo Tomas press. She married him in 1842 and they had 11 children. Later he became a court clerk to Don Victor Figueroa. The Orion, Bataan history book describes his life there: “It was in Orion that he became involved in a fight for freedom. He joined a secret society of rebels and serves as a major lieutenant….Though a Bulakeño, it was in Bataan where he received his inspiration in writing his masterpieces: Mahomet at Constanza (1841), Almanzor y Rosalina, Orosman at Zafira, Don Nuño y Zelinda, La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante, Hatol Hari Kaya (a kundiman), Parangal sa Isang Binibining Ikakasal (a poem), Paalam sa Iyo (a song), Rodolfo at Rosamunda, Pagpupuri kay Isabel II, Reyna sa España, Auredata y Astrone, Nudo Gordiano, Abdol y Miserena, and Clara Belmori. Not content with his prolific literary output he also wrote a grammatical treatise El Ensayo de Gramatica Hispano-Tagala.
In 1849 he chose his new surname Baltazar when Governor-General Narciso Claveria ordered every Filipino to adopt Hispanic and native names from a master list. Henceforth all his descendants would identify themselves as Baltazars.
He became an assistant to the justice of peace and in 1856 he was appointed as translator of the court. He continued to reside in Orion where he was incarcerated a second time for having cut the hair of a housemaid. The local history book disclosed that “the victim sued in court and demanded renumeration. Baltazar paid damages by selling their lands and escaped jail term. This made the family suffer financially.” He continued writing awits and moro-moros until his death on 20 February 1862 at the age of 74. It is said that on his death bed he asked that his children not follow in his footsteps as poets, because he had suffered greatly due to his literary gift. He said it would be better to cut off their hands than to let any of them become writers. He left behind volumes of manuscripts, finished and unfinished, which were consumed in the great fire of Orion in 1892.
Analysis of His Masterworks
Florante at Laura is considered an awit, or long narrative poem. The genre consists of fantastic or chivalric-heroic themes written in rhyming quatrains running to hundreds or thousands of lines. Although apparently set in a distant land with non-Filipino characters, even a cursory reading of the text reveals parallel situations in Filipino life.
In 1838 was published perhaps the most influential of all Filipino poetry – the metrical romance entitled Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Florante at ni Laura sa Cahariang Albania – Quinuha sa Madlang Cuadro Historico o Pinturang Nagsasabi nang manga Nangyari nang unang Panahon sa Imperio nang Grecia – at Tinula nang isang Matouian sa Versong Tagalog (The Life Story of Florante and Laura in the Kingdom of Albania: Culled from historical accounts and paintings which describe what happened in ancient Greece, and written by one who enjoys Tagalog verse). Today its long title has been simply shortened to Florante at Laura. Baltazar was a true pioneer in early 19th century Philippines. Writing in Tagalog was a courageous and novel move, for at that time most published work was in Spanish. His Tagalog works established the legitimacy of writing literary works in Tagalog, demonstrating the heights the language could reach.
Florante at Laura is set in a distant land, but the protagonists suffer similar fates as Filipinos of the Spanish colonial era. The protagonist is Florante, son of the second in command of the Kingdom of Albania. The other title character is Laura, the daughter of King Linceus, inspired by Rivera, Baltazar’s former muse. The romance juxtaposes the stories of these ill-fated lovers with the similarly-fated romance of Flerida, a Muslim princess and Aladdin, the son of Sultan Ali-Adab of Persia. On the surface the work resembles a typical Filipino komedya or moro-moro, a morality theatrical work depicting the eternal duel of Moors and Christians set in a mythical or distant kingdom. But when the Filipinos first heard Baltazar’s work, it sounded almost revolutionary, because the lines dared to depict common injustices that Filipinos had suffered at the hands of Spaniards, as well as the typical evils that beset them during the colonial regime.
Florante at Laura is filled with passages on living the upright life and respecting elders and the values of love for country, industry and patriotism. One of its central themes is that religious differences should not be used to discriminate against another. The themes mined by Baltazar continue to reverberate within Philippine society, so much so that the work is considered along with Jose Rizal’s ''Noli Me Tangere'' as part of the Philippine literary canon and was made obligatory reading at the secondary level.
UP historian Jaime Veneracion assesses its impact: “Contemporaneous with Varela's ‘Proclama Historia’ was Francisco (Balagtas) Baltazar's Florante at Laura, which, though written in the Spanish corrido genre, didn't tell the usual religious story. Instead, it told of a hero, Florante, who was a deposed ruler of a faraway kingdom of Albania. The pretender to the throne exploited the people, took away Florante's sweetheart, Laura, and had Florante tied to a tree in the forest where he could be devoured by lions. Florante was saved by a Moro prince who, just like him, was a victim of schemers and pretenders. The Christian and the Moro then found themselves together in the struggle to recover their respective kingdoms. Francisco Baltazar referred to the lost kingdom as ‘ang bayan kong sawi,’ roughly, ‘my unfortunate bayan,’ a bayan exploited by pretenders and colonizers and which should be defended by Christian and Moro brothers-in-arms. And used here, ‘bayan’ already presaged the concept of a nation, a construct presupposing the existence of other nations. The knowledge that there already existed certain places such as Albania made it valid for one to have a ‘bayan’ of one's own.”
A true child of Hispanic Philippines and master of both Tagalog and Spanish, Baltazar produced Tagalog writings full of native, Spanish and foreign literary allusions and inspirations. University of the Philippines academics Francis and Priscilla Macasantos write: “….the crucial element in Balagtas’ unique genius is that, being caught between two cultures (the native and the colonial/classical), he could switch codes (or was perceived by his compatriot audience to be switching codes), provide insight and information to his oppressed compatriots in the very style and guise of a tradition provided him by a foreign (and oppressive) culture. His narrative poem Florante at Laura written in sublime Tagalog, is about tyranny in Albanya, but it is also perceived to be about tyranny in his Filipino homeland (Lumbera)…. Despite the foreign influence, however, he remained true to his native traditions. His verse plays were performed to the motley crowd. His poems were sung by the literate for the benefit of the unlettered. The metrical regularity and rhyme performed their age-old mnemonic function, despite and because of the introduction of printing.”
Tempo newspaper wrote on the occasion of Baltazar’s birth anniversary: “The era when Baltazar lived was already dominated by European ideals and practices. Repressive colonial policies, like press censorship, inhibited the growth of native creativity and conditioned most local intellectuals to conform to colonial models. Thus, the moro, corido, and pasyon dominated Philippine literary works….Unlike his contemporaries, however, Baltazar broke free from this restrictive mold. His Florante at Laura became the first Filipino literary piece. It blazed a new trail for native writers. His insertion of what many people were saying, e.g., ‘Sa loob at labas ng kaharian kong sawi, kaliluhan ang naghahari’ (Evil reigns throughout my unfortunate land) exposed the oppressive conditions prevailing in the country and made his people aware of the social cancer that afflicted them. He also included native adages, e.g., ‘Ang laki sa layaw karaniwa’y hubad’ (Spare the rod, spoil the child). Thus, his work became a tool against evil and a means to educate his people. Through Florante at Laura, he laid the foundations of a new literary tradition in the Philippines, one that was not subservient to colonial models, that expressed the people’s own feelings and sentiments.”
A partial list of his works both published and unpublished:
- Mahomet at Constanza (1841)
- Almanzor y Rosalina (1841)
- Orosman at Zafira (1860) (a komedya in four parts)
- Don Nuño at Zelinda (a komedya in three parts)
- La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante: sayneteng may isang yugto (a farce in one act)
- Hatol Hari Kaya (a kundiman)
- Parangal sa Isang Binibining Ikakasal (a poem)
- Paalam sa Iyo (a song)
- Rodolfo at Rosamunda (a komedya)
- Pagpupuri kay Isabel II, Reyna sa España (poems)
- Auredato y Astrone (a komedya staged in Abucay 1857)
- Bayaseto at Dorlisca (a 3-part komedya staged in Udyong 1857)
- Nudo Gordiano (a komedya)
- Abdol y Miserena (1859) (a komedya)
- Clara Belmori (a komedya).
- El Ensayo de Gramatica Hispano-Tagala
- Claus (translated into Tagalog from Latin)
- Bigaa, Baltazar’s birthplace, was renamed Balagtas in his honor. It was established as a regular barangay on 4 February 1972. Today there is a museum and a birthplace marker in honor of Baltazar in the town.
- Jose Rizal, speaking through Noli Me Tangere’s Pilosopo Tasio, declared : "Mahusay na makata at mahusay mag-isip si Baltazar" (Baltazar is a great poet and a great thinker).
- Balagtasan is the term given by Filipinos to the art of extemporaneous debating in verse
- Plaza Balagtas in Pandacan was named in his honor by Manila Mayor Antonio J. Villegas. It is located on Estero de Beata where he once lived and whose many estuaries or esteros he described in his writings.
- Balagtas Day has been celebrated in Orion, Bataan since 2 April 1959.
- “Himno de San Miguel,” locally known as “Pagpupuri kay San Miguel” is sung in Catholic churches on special occasions. The song’s verses are lifted directly from one of his poems.
Baltazar’s wife Juana Tiambeng y Rodriguez came from a well-off family. Juana’s parents were Don Juan Tiambeng and Doña Dominga Rodriguez. She was born in barangay Hipolito dela Cruz, now called Wakas. Francisco and Juana were married on 22 July 1842. Fr. Cayetano Arellano, the uncle of the Philippines' first Supreme Court Justice Cayetano Arellano, officiated at their wedding. They had 11 children, among them Isabel, Silveria, Victor, Ceferino, and Josefa.
Among their descendants are:
- Victor Baltazar y Tiambeng, his son, who organized the Katipunan unit in Orion in 1896. He freed the town from Spaniards and was recognized as Orion’s hero.
- Jose Lonzon Baltazar (1886-1967), his grandson, who became the 13th mayor of Orion, Bataan, serving from 1931 to 1934. His father was Ceferino, the fifth child of Baltazar. He was considered a stalwart of local politics until his death.
- Luis Lonzon Baltazar, his grandson and the eldest brother of Jose. He was the first elected mayor of Orion from 1903 to 1905. He was the personal friend of Manuel L. Quezon and a revolutionary officer.
- Fr. Primitivo Lonzon Baltazar (1871-1942), his grandson, and brother of both Luis and Jose, who served as parish priest of Orion from 1904 to 1940. He was instrumental in evacuating the Baltazar clan to Bulacan during the Japanese Occupation.
- Francisca Perrera Baltazar (1904-1993), his granddaughter and mother of Atty. Efren Baltazar Pascual, the 24th governor of Bataan (1972-1986). Her children became prominent Bataeños: Benjamin, an engineer, was mayor of Orani and Bataan provincial board member. Efren became mayor of Orani, then vice-governor and finally governor.
In His Own Words
- "Pag-ibig, 'pag na'sok sa puso nino man, hahamakin ang lahat masunod ka lamang".
- Awit at Korido, including a list of over 50 titles
- Florante at Laura, including complete list of characters, and a summary of each chapter
- Full text of Florante at Laura at Filipiniana.net 1921 edition with introductory text by Carlos Ronquillo
- Full text of Florante at Laura, with introductory notes by Carlos Ronquillo, and published in Manila in 1921
- NCCA article on Philippine literature in the Spanish Colonial period by Francis and Priscilla Macasantos
- Orion: A Glimpse of the Past, the Grandeur of the Present. Orion, Batangas: Orion Municipal Government and Orion Municipal Historical Committee. 2007.
- Eugenio. Damiana L. 'Awit and Corrido: Philippine Metrical Romances'. Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippine Press. 1987.
- La Solidaridad, Quincerio democratico, vol. 1,1889, translated by Guadalupe Fores-Ganzon, Fundacion Santiago, 1995.
- Mojares, Resil B. 'Origin and Rise of the Filipino Novel: A Generic Study of the Novel until 1940.' Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1983.