Manuel H. Bernabe (1890-1960) “King of Balagtasan” in Spanish was a poet, linguist and politician, Manuel Bernabe was born on February 17, 1890 to Timoteo Bernabe and Emilia Hernandez of Paranaque, Rizal.
At the age of 10, he already started writing verses. He studied at the Ateneo de Manila where he finished his Bachelor of Arts degree with high academic standing in 1907, and then took up law at the University of Santo Tomas, but not able to took up the bar exams. In 1910, Manuel’s first poem was published in the Renacimento Filipino. In 1912, he translated Virgil’s Aenid from Latin to Spanish. In 1913, he received an award for his poems: “Himno al Sagado Corazon de Jesus (Hymn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus), “El Zapote,” and “Espana a Filipinas”.
In 1912, he joined the staff of La Democracia and in 1918, of La Vanguardia of the Roces Publications. He was a columnist but from time to time he also published poems and short stories in the magazine Exelsior.
Manuel also excelled in the balagtasan, where his stalwart adversary was Jesus Balmori. In 1927, he published Balagtasan a compilation of his three poetic joust against Balmori; “El Recuerdo y el Olvido” (Memory and Forgetting), “El Hombre y la Mujer”(Man and Woman), and “La Ilusion y el Desengano” (Illusion and Deception). His other works were: “Cantos del Tropico” ( Songs from the tropic) in 1929, which contains poems. He translated into the Spanish the English version of Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which was praised as the best Spanish translation of that masterpiece by Blasco Ibanez, a Spanish novelist, and also Perfil de la Cresta.
In 1925, he won the Premio Zobel for his translation of Rubaiyat. In 1926, for his and Jesus Balmori’s Balagtasan, “El Hombre y La Mujer.” For high academic and excellent performance, Manuel was chosen a member of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in the Philippines in 1931 and was named poet laureate in Spanish (National Poet) on February 25, 1950. For his untiring efforts in the propagation and conservation of the Spanish language, Bernabe received two decorations from Spain - El Yugo y las Flechas in 1940 and orden de Isabela la Catolica in 1953. In 1964, he was also awarded the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinagan Award by the City Government of Manila.
He taught Spanish in different schools such as: Far Eastern University, Philippine Law School and Institute de Espanol at Colegio de San Juan de Letran. In 1951, he accompanied President Elpidio Quirino on the latter’s state visit to Spain. He joined the world of politics, as a representative to Congress of the first district of Rizal.
He retired from politics and once more joined the journalistic profession in the La Vanguardia. He was appointed professor of Spanish at the University of the Philippines and a technical assistant for Filipino-Spanish Relations at Malacañang from 1943-1947. Bernabe died of coronary thrombosis on November 29, 1960, at barrio La Huerta, Paranaque, as he was having conversation with his friends, he collapsed and never regained consciousness.
Date of Issue June 1, 1990