The poet Gémino H. Abad, introducing his collection Care of Light: New Poems and Found (2010), believes that there is no English language, no Tagalog language, no Filipino language. "There is only one language—language itself. And that language is most manifest in our finest writers, whatever the provenance of their idiom. " It is a refreshing position, a more open and more expansive position than the ultra-nationalist championing of a single national language.
The literary text, as language purposefully worked [sic], may be the clearest expression of one's sense of country; in that light, a poet's sense for language—whatever the language he has mastered—may be his most intimate sense of his country's landscape, and his people's lived lives.
For the writer, one's country is what one's imagination owes its allegiance to.
The "poet's sense of language" might as well be the novelist's, the playwright's, or the essayist's. A poetical work might be any literary work of great poetical sensibility and imaginative distinction, any carefully wrought feeling.
Abad's nationalist poetics is a particularly welcome position in a country of many languages and whose literary tradition is as linguistically diverse as its biological diversity. Philippine literature exists in dozens of languages (the estimate is 150). The traces of its Spanish and American colonial past are evident in the texts published in these languages. A lot of Philippine literary works in Spanish still await translation for the benefit of the present generation of readers.
The works produced in other Philippine languages (Bicolano, Hiligayon, Kapampangan, Ilocano, Cebuano, Kinaray-a, Cuyuno, etc.) also make apparent a cultural richness and literary minefield. Translation, obviously, is a critical specialization the country direly needs right now if it wants to introduce to the world its cultural and intellectual heritage. Sadly, a healthy dose of translation appears to be what the country sorely lacks.
There are currently 100 million Filipinos living in the planet, making the country the 12th most populous nation. A large proportion of them are speakers, readers, and writers of at least two languages: English and Filipino. But population only correlates with potential readers of translation, not with translation outputs. In fact, familiarity with English is probably a major reason why literary translation is ignored in the country. As a former American colony, it is not surprising that the production (and perhaps reception) of translation, from any language to English, is not thriving.
Translation is said to enrich the resources of a language or to deepen our appreciation of a language's strength and dynamism. These apply to both the target language and the source language. There remains, for instance, Filipino fiction in Spanish (which was still a major language in the country in the 19th up to the early 20th century) that remains to be translated. These period pieces can provide essential information (cultural, literary, philosophical) that can still illuminate aspects of the present.
Translation is probably an indicator of progressiveness in a society as it values openness to cultural exchange and free interplay of ideas. The state of translation in a country may, therefore, be indicative of its prospects of sustainable development. A healthy culture of translation can be an indicator of the values of tolerance and cosmopolitanism.
I want to talk about the production and publication of Philippine book translations not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well. But it is safe to assume that translations of Philippine literature outside the country is close to none (or downright non-existing). The database of Three Percent shows that from 2008 to present the number of translations from the Philippines or from the Filipino language published in the United States is zero. Wala. Nada.
But what exactly is the state of literary translation in the Philippines? In the past two years I have been fortunate to read and review selected locally published works that appear just recently in translation. I want to see what a reading list of translated Philippine literature would look like, specifically English versions of Philippine novels in any language.
I want first to focus on the English translations, apropos of the many translations of novels from several languages (local or international) into the vernacular Filipino (or Tagalog) and perhaps to other Philippine languages. Eventually, of course, to talk about translation culture in the Philippine setting is to include all possible target languages. A preliminary focus on English translations of Filipino novels makes for a rapid assessment of the health of Philippine translation because, as it turned out, there are only a handful available so far . Probably only a few Philippine languages have a strong novelistic tradition.
The result of the listing exercise is pathetic really. The pitiable number of English translations of Philippine novels, the only novels that are potentially accessible to readers of world literature, makes it very necessary for the Philippine arts and literature establishment to develop aggressive programs that will incentivize translation and cultivate a strong interest in it among its local and international readers. In the first place, novel writing in the Philippines is probably not a very lucrative business. There are only a handful of published novels each year. As for short fiction, I can't think of any full length Filipino book translated into English.
At first I want to think that the low number of English-translated novels in the Philippines reflects more on my poor investigation since I only used online search, which really did not make a difference because the list consists of the very same ones I basically found in local bookstores in the past few years. Anyone with information about the titles I missed out, let me know though a comment to this post below.
Philippine Novels in English Translation: [Note: This post is updated only as of August 7, 2016. The updated list can be found at this link. The updated blog post can be found here.]
1-2. Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo by José Rizal. These two revolutionary and political works in Spanish, published in 1887 and 1891, are the Bible of Philippine nationalism. They are widely translated.  There are multiple English translations of this book, the most important are probably the ones by Charles Derbyshire (1912, gothic/baroque style, dense vocabulary, probably the closest in flavor to the original 19th century diction, Faulknerian, in public domain), Leon Ma. Guerrero (1961/62, minimalist, Hemingwayesque), Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin (1997, romantic, Hemingwayesque, faithful to anger and subtle humor, recommended), and Harold Augenbraum (2006/2011, most recent, stiff). The 2011 Penguin edition of the Fili should appear in the Three Percent database but apparently retranslations are not counted.
3. The Gold in Makiling (2012) by Macario Pineda, tr. Soledad S. Reyes. A Filipino classic published in 1947, this magic realist love story is finally made available through this fine translation of Reyes, who is also a brilliant literary and cultural critic. [review]
4. What Now, Ricky? (2013) by Rosario de Guzman Lingat, tr. Soledad S. Reyes. A 1971 political novel about the tumultuous events leading to the declaration of martial law in the Philippines. Reyes is definitely a champion of translation. I do hope her translations of two other novels by Lingat would come out soon. [review]
5. Eight Muses of the Fall (2013) by Edgar Calabia Samar, tr. Mikael de Lara Co and Sasha Martinez. Originally published in 2008, this nonlinear coming of age novel contains metaphysical and metafictional qualities and references to local folklore. Here's hoping its young translators will pursue more novel translation projects in the future. [review]
6. Margosatubig: The Story of Salagunting (2012) by Ramon L. Muzones, tr. Ma. Cecilia Locsin-Nava. An epic adventure and fantasy novel from Hiligaynon language, first published in 1946. [review] There is an earlier translation of this book by Edward D. Defensor (Iloilo City: Visayan Studies Program, 1979).
7. La Oveja de Nathán (Nathan's Sheep) (2013) by Antonio M. Abad, tr. Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes. Originally in Spanish, this 1928 historical novel was written during the time when Spanish language was still widely taught and spoken in the country. Winner of the Premio Zobel (a literary prize established back in 1920), it is considered the Philippine War and Peace. I'm wary of the comparison. The book appears in a bilingual edition. 
8. Orosa-Nakpil, Malate (2009) by Louie Mar A. Gangcuangco; transliterators: Carla Mae Sioson and Louie Mar Gangcuangco. A novel dealing with the issues of HIV-AIDS and homosexuality through the erotic adventures of a young medical student. It was self-published in 2006 when the author was just 19 years old and it became a certified local bestseller a year later. [Wiki]
9. The Birthing of Hannibal Valdez (1984) by Alfrredo Navarro Salanga. The novella was actually written in English, appearing alongside its "Pilipino" translation.
9. El Folk-Lore Filipino (1994, orig. 1889) by Isabelo de los Reyes, tr. Salud C. Dizon and Maria Elinora Peralta-Imson. Translation of the first of two volumes of this classic work in Spanish. This may or may not be a novel, one of the Philippines' so-called "proto-novels".
10. The Cloak of God (2013, orig. 1975) by Rosario de Guzman Lingat, tr. Soledad S. Reyes. [publisher's page] [review]
11. The Death of Summer (2013, orig. 1969) by Rosario de Guzman Lingat, tr. Soledad S. Reyes. [publisher's page]
12. Ang Diablo sa Filipinas ayon sa nasasabi sa mga casulatan luma sa Kastila (The Devil in the Philippines according to ancient Spanish documents) (2014) by Isabelo de los Reyes, tr. Benedict Anderson, Carlos Sardiña Galache, and Ramon Guillermo. It's only a short story. [publisher's page] [two-part post]
13. Driftwood on Dry Land by T. S. Sungkit Jr. (2013), translated from Cebuano by the author. [news]
14. Nínay (1885) by Pedro Alejandro Paterno, translated from Spanish by E. F. du Fresne (1907). In The Pact of Biyak-na-Bato; and Nínay (National Historical Institute, 2004). The first Philippine novel. [wiki; article (pdf)] [review]
15. The Golden Dagger by Antonio G. Sempio, translated from Filipino by Soledad S. Reyes (De la Salle University Publishing House, 2016). Published in 1933 by Benipayo Press. [review]
16. Typewriter Altar by Luna Sicat Cleto, translated by Marne L. Kilates. [publisher's page] [review]
17. Ang Inahan ni Mila (Mila's Mother) by Austregelina Espina-Moore, translated by Hope Sabanpan-Yu (National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2008). [review]
18. Diin May Punoan sa Arbol (Where a Fire Tree Grows) by Austregelina Espina-Moore, translated by Hope Sabanpan-Yu (USC Press, 2010). [post]
19. House of Cards by Austregelina Espina-Moore, translated by Hope Sabanpan-Yu (National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2013).
20. Juanita Cruz by Magdalena Gonzaga Jalandoni, translated by Ofelia Ledesma Jalandoni (University of the Philippines Press, 2006). [review]
21. The Lady in the Market by Magdalena G. Jalandoni, translated by Edward D. Defensor (U.P. College of Iloilo, 1976).
22. Shri-Bishaya by Ramon Muzones, translated by Maria Cecilia Locsin-Nava (New Day Publishers, 2016). [publisher's page] [review]
Short Story Collections by a Single Author in English Translation
1. Love in the Rice Fields and Other Short Stories by Macario Pineda, tr. Soledad S. Reyes (Anvil, 2016). [publisher's page]
2. Men at Sea and other stories by Gremer Chan Reyes, tr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu (National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2009).
3. Crack Shot and Other Stories by Ernesto D. Lariosa, tr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu (USC Press, 2010).
4. Reawakened Bliss by Gardeopatra Quijano, tr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu and Haidee Emmie K. Palapar (USC Press, 2011).
5. Hunger in Nayawak and other stories by Lamberto Ceballos, tr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu and Trizer Dale Mansueto (USC Press, 2012).
6. Because Love Is Not Blind by Temistokles M. Adlawan, tr. Merlie Alunan (National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2012).
The fact that these novels practically appeared in the 2000s—in the last five years, to be precise—shows that English translation in the country is a recent phenomenon. Considering that English language has been used in the country for more than a century now, it's a bit puzzling why novel translation has not been cultivated.
The consolation, if there's any, is that there's no other way but up. Translation is starting to be recognized and the market for it is starting to respond to some hidden and positive Jedi forces. (For instance, the emergence of "outsourcing" culture in the country can be an opportunity to be tapped, representing a large audience of readers out there.)
It is clear that translation work in the country still has to peak and to make its important presence felt. There is a compelling need for the mainstreaming of translation in the local literary scene, for a massive information drive on the tangible and intangible benefits of translation, including the enrichment of languages and culture. With a disappointingly few titles to show for it, I am thinking of posting on something with more competitive choices, say, The 10 Best Philippine Classic/Contemporary Novels in English or The 10 Best Philippine Novelists or 20 Under 40 and such-like.
1. Gémino H. Abad. "The Poem Is the Real: A Poetics". Introduction to Care of Light: New Poems and Found (Anvil, 2010).
2. At the back of my mind, there's also Nick Joaquín advocating for Filipino writers to engage in long form fiction writing, instead of concentrating on and perfecting a small short story. "By limiting ourselves to the small effort, we make ourselves less and less capable even of the small thing," he writes in Culture and History (1988; reprinted 2004). For Joaquín, the novel is the mark of ambition, the bold enterprise, the heroic effort. "Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. ... [Y]ou could stack up all the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace." Eventually though, I would like to consider translations of Philippine lit in other genres (poetry, drama, non-fiction, YA).
3. Noli and Fili probably vies with Dusk [Po-on] by F. Sionil José as the most translated Philippine novel.
4. I would have wanted to include in the list the Oleza novels by Spanish writer Gabriel Miró, Our Father San Daniel and The Leprous Bishop, mainly because the translator, Marlon James Sales, is Filipino.
5. If a novel in English is later translated into another language, say, Filipino or any other Philippine language, then the fact that it exists in two languages means that one is a translation of the other. Can we then say the reverse: that the original is a translation of its translation? Ah, not to sound Borgesian, this effect of double-sided mirrors.
I want to say, for example, that once the classic autobiographical novel America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan is finally translated by Carolina Malay and Paula Carolina S. Malay as Nasa Puso ang Amerika and when The Lady in the Market by Magdalena G. Jalandoni finally appears in Tagalog as Dalaga sa Tindahan, the original novels practically become the living translations of the English versions! I am here following (distorting) the 'precursor concept' of Borges: that every writer creates his own precursors. Hence, every translation creates its own translation (in the form of the original!).
Whatever. There are more than 60 foreign and local literary novels translated into Tagalog/Filipino. I should post something about them too.
Update (Sept. 2021): Follow up post and updated bibliography can be found at these links: