Gentleman of Philippine Studies

Gentleman of Philippine Studies

By Erlinda K. Alburo

One doesn’t have to look hard to find reasons for giving the National Artist for Literature award to Resil B. Mojares. His achievements in writing fiction, essay, journalism and literary criticism have resulted in an impressive multiplier effect seen in the innumerable works of many writers inspired by his pioneering ideas. The other half of his achievement, after the works themselves, is his influence on students, teachers and other scholars not only in Cebu, his work base, but elsewhere in the nation and the world.

His peers have recognized the importance of his seminal works.

Dr. Belinda A. Aquino of the University of Hawaii at Manoa considers his biography of Sergio Osmeña “a tour de force in Philippine biography… the intricate, compelling story of Philippine politics itself. Both in form and substance…”

Isagani Cruz, critic-at-large, considers Mojares as the major structuralist or post-structuralist or postmodern critic in this part of the world, “[who]… has not indigenized contemporary Western critical theory; instead he has universalized traditional Filipino critical theory.” Comparing him to Rizal, Cruz adds, “Mojares never seeks knowledge for its own sake, but always, in his own words, ‘knowledge at his country’s service.’”

Prof. Adam Lifshey of Georgetown University believes that “in a number of fields of scholarship on the Philippines, if Mojares has not written about a subject, no one has.”

Two fellow historians, Prof. Patricio N. Abinales of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Dr. Michael Cullinane of the University of Wisconsin, also give their tribute. Abinales calls The War against the Americans (1999) “a gem of a book (that) confirms that Resil Mojares is the foremost intellectual of our country today.” Cullinane writes that Mojares is “[the]… most authoritative social and cultural historian of Cebu.”

Alluding to Mojares’ writing style, Benedict Anderson of Cornell University comments that his enormous output is “not only often brilliant, but uses gentle irony rather than abuse when dealing with writers with whom he often does not agree. Maybe Philippine studies needs more gentlemen’.”


Mojares was born in 1943 in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, to two public school teachers. His father is from Tanjay, Negros Oriental, but was born in Ginatilan, Cebu. His mother is also from the same town, on the southwestern coast of Cebu island. Although Mojares spent his early years in Pagadian, with yearly visits to Ginatilan for the town fiesta in March, most of his life has been spent in Cebu City where he attended college after spending two years at Silliman University in Dumaguete. Mojares remained in Cebu to work after earning his A.B. and M.A. degrees in Literature at the University of San Carlos (USC), where he also received special postgraduate training from the German anthropologists then at USC, notably Fr. Rudolf Rahmann, SVD. Mojares later attended the University of the Philippines in Diliman where he earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature.

Mojares (center) directing the annual Faigao Memorial Writers Workshop of Cebu in 1990

The name “Resil” is derived from Rizal, his father being a Rizalist. His parents probably influenced his attachment to books and literature. He started writing short stories in 1965, and soon his fiction began to appear in national publications like the Philippines Free Press and Philippine Graphic. His finely crafted stories promptly received awards from the said publications and also from the Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature. His prize winning stories include “Island,” “In the Cave,” “Lawod,” “A Sickness in the Towns” and “Beast in the Fields.” Perhaps his most anthologized story is “Ark,” named by critic Isagani R. Cruz as one of the best Philippine short stories of the 20th century.

Currently professor emeritus of the University of San Carlos (USC), Mojares served as director of the Cebuano Studies Center from the time of its establishment in 1975 until 1996 when he assumed the directorship of San Carlos Publications. A noted writer, critic and cultural researcher, he has won several National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle for works in literary criticism, local and national history, urban and rural history and political biography. He is the recipient of fellowships from the UP Creative Writing Center, the Ford, Toyota and Rockefeller Foundations, Fulbright Program and Social Science Research Council (New York). He was also a winner of the Grant Goodman Prize for History from the Association of Asian Studies and the Fok Ying Tung Southeast Asia Prize for his contribution to the development of civilization, culture and science in Southeast Asian countries. He has served as visiting professor or fellow at the Universities of Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Michigan, Kyoto University, National University of Singapore and the University of California in Los Angeles.

In 1999 he was among the 100 recipients of the Centennial Honors for the Arts, given by the Cultural Center of the Philippines to those whose works have helped shape the nation. His scholarly output includes books in local history (The Man Who Would Be President [1986], The War Against the Americans [1999], and History of Cebu Province [2016]); literary history (Origins and Rise of the Filipino Novel [1983,1988]); and cultural history (Waiting for Mariang Makiling [2002] and Brains of the Nation[2006]).


When the Cebuano Studies Center was created in 1975, Mojares became its founding director. During the next few decades, he personally collected materials and resources for the center not only locally but also abroad. As director of a pioneering research center in local studies, he received various grants that facilitated his hunt for materials. This position also facilitated affiliation with many cultural agencies and organizations based in Manila and outside the country.

The new Cebuaniana became his main resource for producing works now considered classic by local researchers. The initial need, as he saw it, was for an inventory of the resources. For this, he produced research aids, notably Cebuano Literature: A Survey and Bio-Bibliography with Finding List, and bibliographies in Cebuano linguistics, Cebuano history, Sergio Osmeña and World War II in Cebu. Mojares also went to Iloilo City to look at and report on the collection of Cebuano periodicals that were brought there by the Cebuano bishop Cuenco.

Under his leadership, the Cebuano Studies Center became a model for other research centers in the country like the Center for Kapampangan Studies and the organizations affiliated with KABANSA, a network of local research centers. Mojares’ report entitled “Building a Center for Local Studies: The Case of the Cebuano Studies Center” became their guide.


In addition to his books, Mojares has produced shorter works, many of which have been anthologized. Many essays focus on the need for a non-Western approach to the study of literature and culture, providing a new and invaluable theoretical framework to countless studies by Filipino students.

Many of those essays focus on local Visayan studies like “The Function of Literature: The Cebuano Writer’s View,” “Vicente Sotto and the Rise of Realism in Cebuano Literature,” “Aspects of Sentimentality: Observations on Vernacular Fiction,” “On Native Grounds: The Significance of Regional Literature,” “Research Prospects in Bisayan Studies: History, Anthropology, and Literature,” “The Cebuano Linambay as Drama and History,” “Gugmang Kabus: Symbolic Action in Cebuano Fiction, 1910-1940,” “Do Regional Literatures Exist Today?”, “Decentralizing ‘Culture’ in the Philippines,” “From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation,” “Reclaiming Lost Ground: Regional Literature in the Philippines,” “Reading Ranudo: The Translation of Philippine Poetry,” “Tradition and the Bisayan Talent,” “Writing from the Margins,” “Locating the Visayan Writer,” “Will Magdalena Jalandoni Ever Be a National Artist?” and “The Visayas in the National Imagination.”

Mojares has also produced other papers that impact on studies in the Philippines and Asia, notably Southeast Asia. A good number are state-of-the-art review articles tackling issues of theory and methodology. Examples on the Philippines are “In Search of Theory: Some Problems in Philippine Studies,” “The Comparative Method and the Problem of Filipinization,” “The Filipino Scholar in a Time of Crisis,” “The Rugged Terrain: The State of Literary Research in the Philippines,” “Sojourners, Immigrants, Sharecroppers: Philippine Writing in English Today,” “Writing the National Literature,” “The Modern Literature of the Philippines,” “Folk Drama in the Philippines,” “The Unfinished Filipino Novel,” “The Imaginary Body of the Nation,” “Notes for the Production of a Brechtian Komedya,” “Jose Rizal and the Invention of a National Literature” and “Where in the World is the Filipino Writer?

On Asian themes, examples would be “Southeast Asian Literature: Imagining a Region,” “Redrawing Boundaries: Research Cooperation in Southeast Asia,” “Familiar Reprise: The Promotion of Southeast Asian Studies in Southeast Asia,” “Jose Rizal and Southeast Asian Studies,” “Appropriating ‘Malayness’ in Late Nineteenth-Century Philippines,” “Early Asianism in the Philippines,” “In a Noodle Shop in Hong Kong: Thoughts on the ‘Community’ of Asian Intellectuals,” “The Spaces of Southeast Asian Scholarship” and “The Making of Asian Public Intellectuals: Historical Reflections.”

There are more writings on education, history, folklore, political science, geography, arts and crafts, popular culture, language and communication, and religion. That these topics overlap in his papers is informative of the interdisciplinary orientation of his scholarship and the motivation to think outside the box. One may observe that in all these fields Mojares exhibits a predilection for the historical, and a special concern for ideas on identity-formation and the making of public intellectuals.

As a teacher, he is also concerned with pedagogy and curriculum as shown in “Teaching Literary Theory,” “Literary Studies in Our Universities,” “Modeling the Filipino: The Politics of Values Education,” “The Education of the Filipino,” “Serendipities: On the History of the Disciplines in the Philippines” and “Literary Studies in Our Universities.” With this concern, he sought to put together textbooks that include the non-Western perspective and basic texts for classroom use or as references: Introduction to Literary Theory (USC Department of English, 1970); Philippine Literature in English (with E. V. Manuel, 1973); and The Writers of Cebu: An Anthology of Prize-Winning Stories (1978). With the support of the Toyota Foundation, Mojares put up a team to collect, translate and edit a series in Cebuano Literature which are now standard texts in vernacular literature (for which he wrote the introductory essays): two volumes of Cebuano Poetry/Sugboanong Balak (1988); Dulaang Cebuano (1997); and two volumes of Sugilanong Sugboanon /Cebuano Fiction (2009).

Folklore is another field of interest. He wrote “The Myth of the Sleeping Hero: Three Philippine Cases,” “The Mythic Style in Two Philippine Folk Narratives,” “The Fairy Tale in the Classroom,” “Lapulapu in Folk Tradition,” and “Waiting for Mariang Makiling: History and Folklore.”

The bulk of his papers are on historiography and history. Some of these are “The Rebel Papers,” “History from the Periphery: Local History in Philippine History,” “The Writing of Rural History,” “Is There a Visayan Historiography?” “A History of the Dominant: National Historiography in the Philippines,” “The Historiography of the Japanese Occupation,” “The Philippine Islands According to Pigafetta,” “Non-Revolt in the Rural Context: Some Considerations,” “The First Encounter: Filipinos and Americans at the Turn of the Century,” “Cebuano Perceptions of the Hawaii Migration, 1900-1932,” “Worcester in Cebu: Filipino Response to American Business, 1915-1924,” “The Cebuano Intelligentsia in the Revolution: The Case of Seminario-Colegio de San Carlos” and “Guillermo Tolentino’s Grupo de Filipinos Ilustres and the Making of a National Pantheon.”

On socio-cultural and political issues, Mojares has written the following: “Andres Bonifacio and the Problem of Intellectuals,” “Cebuano Culture and Nationalism,” “The Formation of a City: Trade and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Cebu,” “The Dream Goes On and On: Three Generations of the Osmeñas, 1906-1990,” “Reinventing the Revolution: Sergio Osmeña and Post-Revolutionary Intellectuals in the Philippines,” “The Unsteady State: Philippine Elections and the Question of Continuity,” “Time, Memory, and the Birth of the Nation” and “`The People’: Unfinished Thoughts on a Troublesome Concept.”

Closely related to history is human geography, which Mojares tackled in “The Pulahanes of Cebu,” “Dakbayan: A Cultural History of Space in a Visayan City,” “Where is the Center? Ideology Formation and the Constitution of a Rural Cebuano Community, 1582-1988” and “Thinking About Cities.”

Mojares’ writings in biography and family history are in book form and are on prominent Cebuanos:  Lu Do & Lu Ym: Family, Firm and Industry in the Philippines, Escaño: A Family Portrait, Vicente Sotto: The Maverick Senator and Aboitiz: Family & Firm in the Philippines. He also edited An Exemplary Life: A Tribute to Hilario G. Davide, Jr.

On the arts and intangible heritage he wrote “Artist, Craftsman, Factory Worker: Concerns in the Study of Traditional Art,” “Cultural Preservation in the Philippines: A Question of Ethics,” “Letting the Past Speak: Interpretation in Historic Preservation,” “Remembering the Body: Notes on Philippine Dance History,” “Musica Moralia: The Buenaventuras, Music and Politics.”

Mojares’ columns in the local papers The Freeman and SunStar deal with popular culture, such as “Inventing History: Popular Historiography and Felix Sales,” “Deciphering a Meal,” “What is the Filipino Body Saying?” “Visayan Love,” and “Gloria [Sevilla] on My Mind.” They were not only on popular culture, however. He also wrote on politically sensitive material in his column “Of Sticks and Stones” in The Freeman, and became a political detainee during martial law because of this. An essay, “Talking Politics: Political Commentaries on Cebuano Radio,” is on popular culture, but also falls under the rubric of language and communication, together with “Imagining the Nation: Language and Politics Today,” “How We Speak of Culture: The Discourse on ‘Culture’ in Development,” “Words That Are Not Moving: Civil Society in the Philippines” and “Manuel Blanco’s El Indio and the History of a Rumor.”

At the launching of Casa Gorordo in Cebu

A religious person who attends Sunday mass regularly, Mojares has also written on “The Brief and Blessed Life of Miguel Ayatumo, a 16th-century Boholano,” “The Woman in the Cave: Genealogy of the Cebuano Virgin of Guadalupe,” “The Epiphany of Pedro Calungsod, 17th-century Visayan Martyr,” “The Combat Between Carnival and Lent: Disciplining the Body in Nineteenth Century Philippines,” and “The Feast of the Santo Niño: An Introduction to the History of a Cebuano Devotion.”

Although Mojares devoted his later writing to other topics, literature was always close to his heart. He started the annual Faigao Memorial Writers Workshop of the Cebuano Studies Center in 1984 which undoubtedly has been the seedbed of practically all grown and known Cebuano writers today.

Retirement in 2000 has given him more time to write. He can be seen often with pen and paper in any of the coffee shops in Cebu City that have reserved a cup for him with his name on it. He remains unassuming despite his achievements. Behind his success is his supportive wife, Sally Ouano Go with whom he has four children (Kim Carmel, Mark Soren, Ressa Gail and Anna Leigh).


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