Balita (news) in ancient times

In the days of Lapu Lapu, the “umalohokan” (town crier) was the main source of breaking news. As soon as towns people heard his gongs and horns, they quickly gathered around him to hear the latest which could be new laws of their datus, instructions of barangay elders, or the goings-on in neighboring settlements.  The Visayans had their version, the “palatauag” or “paratuag” who, for dramatic effect, climbed the tallest trees to broadcast the news. Nothing was recorded in writing.  Chinese traders who sailed around the islands were reliable sources of commercial information.  While in Panay, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and his men were desperate for food and other basics, the Chinese told him of a settlement farther north called Maynilad, richer than Panay, but ruled by a young irascible Raja Suleiman.

It can be argued that “balita” (news) or “baliga” is one of the oldest words in Tagalog and other native languages.  It first appeared in print in the “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala”, a glossary, or dictionary if you may, compiled by Pedro de San Buenaventura, a Franciscan friar. This seminal work was printed in Pila, Laguna, in 1613 by Tomas Pinpin, the first native “cajista” (block printer).    Fray San Buenaventura included examples of how to use “balita” or “baliga”: “May baligang bago ngayon sa inio?” which literally means, “Any new news from your place?” He gave a second example: “Masama and baliga ngayon sa Maynila.” (Bad news today from Manila). Those early dictionaries were circulated among Spanish missionaries, a useful aid for Christianizing the natives.

In 1794, Franciscan Friar Domingo de los Santos compiled a dictionary with the same title, published in Sampaloc at the Imprenta de N. S. de Loreto by Hermano Balthazar Mariano, a Franciscan brother. Here are examples of usage:” Ano dala mong balita?”  (Que corre nueva?); “Masamang pagsabalita” (mala nueva); “Uala pang balita sa caniya” (Aun no hay nueva de el); “Pagbalitaan mo cami” (Quenta nos las nuevas). The Spanish translations are from Fray de los Santos himself.

Another dictionary with the same title, compiled by Augustinian Friars Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar was published in 1860, in Manila, by printers Ramirez y Giraudier. As always, the word “balita” had to mean something new (nueva) and translated into “noticias” which is Spanish for news.  “Balita” was also a verb; “maquibalita” in Spanish is “ir a preguntar nuevas”. A bearer of news was called “magbabalibalitang tauo”; a “cabalitaang tauo” was someone who was always in the news, a celebrity perhaps.

There were two Visayan-Spanish dictionaries, the earlier one, “Diccionario de la Lengua Bisaya, Hiligueina y Hiraya de las Isla de Panay” was published in Manila by the Imprenta de D. Manuel y D. Felix Dayot in 1884, and the second, “Diccionario Bisaya-Español” of Fray Antonio Sanchez de la Rosa was also printed in Manila by Tipo-Litografía Chofre in 1895.

Fray Diego de Bergaño, an Augustinian, compiled the “Bocabulario de Pampango en Romance” and “Diccionario de Romance en Pampango” both printed in 1731 by the Convento de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles in Manila.  News was “balita” or “sabio”; “sicamuang”meant unverified news, gossip, or something heard in passing. Significantly, “balita” also referred to information from official gazettes brought by   the galleons of the Manila-Acapulco trade. In the Ilocos region an Augustinian friar, Andres Caro,  edited  the “Vocabulario  Iloco-Español”, printed in 1888 at the Establecimiento  Tipo-Litográfico  de M. Perez, hijo. “Damag” is news in Ilocano, so “agipadamag” was to convey news, whether certain or not (ciertas o inciertas); “agdindinamag”  meant by word of mouth. As early as 1754, the Franciscans of Bicol compiled “Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol”, printed by the Convento de Nuestra Señora de Loreto in Sampaloc, Manila.

Out of curiosity, I  began reading this textbook written by my good friend, Dr. José Victor Z. Torres, who began as a police beat reporter, morphed into a researcher of the Intramuros Administration where he burrowed the archives, wrote history books and occasional plays.  A full-time professor of history at De La Salle University, he is an authority on Jose Rizal.

Dr. Torres’ latest opus is titled “Balita, the Story of Philippine Journalism, 1811-2019,” published by Vibal Group, Inc. Each chapter has a list of objectives so students will make no mistake about their goals, and at the end guide, questions test their comprehension.  Dr. Torres says that is an excellent way of stimulating the critical faculties of the young.  There are marginal notes on each page in fine print, though difficult to read for seniors like me, those delightful tidbits  add spice to the story of Philippine journalism. My infinite gratitude to whoever left Vic Torres’ book at my doorstep; reading it will work up my cerebrum,  cerebellum, and Wernicke area during this interminable pandemic.