Letters to the Editor: Reporting Disasters and Creating Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century Philippines

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A revolution in how news was reported occurred in the Philippines during the late nineteenth century with the publication of daily newspapers, the establishment of a postal system, and the construction of a telegraph network that allowed correspondents in the provinces to give timely accounts of what was happening in country towns and their hinterlands. Many of these reports graphically described the typhoons, floods, fires, tremors and the like that all too frequently afflicted rural communities. These descriptions mainly took the form of letters written to the editors of Manila-based newspapers, such as El Comercio, Diario de Manila and La Oceania Española. Who were these correspondents, where were they, what were their concerns and what did they have to say? Looking in depth at the newspaper accounts of one year, 1881, a singly uneventful year in terms of ‘big news’, this article provides a snapshot into rural life and its vicissitudes towards the end of the Spanish colonial era. It also explores how reporting the news began to build a collective consciousness of the Philippines as a nation.