Manuel E. Arguilla
(1911-1944?) is an acclaimed Filipino short story writer as
well as a patriot and a guerrilla hero.
He was born in
Barrio Naguilian in Bauang, La Union on June 17, 1911. He
was the fourth child of Crisanto Arguilla and Margarita
Estabillo, hard-working farmer folk who owned a small piece
of land. Aside from being a farmer, his father was also a
carpenter; his mother, on the other hand, was an occasional
When he was seven years old, he enrolled in a school in the
neighboring Barrio Calumbaya, where he was taught the cartilla
by Alfredo Abuan. Later, he transferred to the public
elementary school in Bauang, La Union and graduated in 1926.
Arguilla was a brilliant and active student. Aside from
excelling in academics at the provincial high school in San
Fernando, he edited as well the school’s official organ,
the La Union Tab. A wide reader, he won in a
vocabulary contest held in the school. He was a champion
swimmer and an expert tango dancer, constantly winning in
dance contests. He was known to have a “therapeutic”
personality and was well-loved by everyone he knew, for he
liked to listen to people tell him their stories. Anything
that interested him became an almost intrinsic part of him.
It took him only three years to complete his seconday
education, graduating as class salutatorian in high school.
In 1926, he entered the University of the Philippines. While
studying, he worked as a writer and printing assistant at
the Carmelo and Bauermann office. He became a member of the
UP Writers Club, and eventually led it in the school year
1932-1933. He also came to edit the Literary Apprentice.
In 1933, he obtained the degree of bachelor of science in
education. During the same period, he married Lydia
Villanueva, another aspiring writer.
After graduating, he taught at the University of Manila
while working at the Bureau of Public Welfare. The
Arguillas’ home along M.H. del Pilar in Manila became a
sanctuary for friends and fellow writers, such as Estrella
Alfon, Jose Garcia Villa, N.V.M. Gonzales and A.V.H.
Arguilla did not remain a teacher for long for he believed
that writers were born, not made, and that a talent for
writing was an innate attribute that could never be taught
or acquired. Before leaving his students, he counselled them
to just read volumes of stories.
In 1940, he became the managing editor of the Bureau of
Welfare newsletter, the Welfare Advocate. He worked
at the Bureau for three years until the latter half of 1943.
By then, the country had been under Japanese occupation for
two years. He was appointed to the Board of Censors and was
asked to serve in the Japanese propaganda agency. But
Arguilla had also just become an agent of the Markings
Guerillas. Thus, while apparently working for the Japanese,
he was actually heading the “Porch,” the Markings’
counter-intelligence and propaganda unit operating in
It was not long before the enemy discovered his guerilla
activities, and subsequently, had him arrested in February
1944. Along with his mother and a few relatives, he was
incarcerated to Fort Santiago. His wife was initially
unaware of his arrest but later, was able to evade the
dragnet. After two months, Arguilla’s mother and relatives
were released, while he was transferred to the Old Bilibid
Prisons. Later, after being tortured and subjected to a sham
trial, he was brought back to Fort Santiago for execution.
Arguilla the writer often portrayed the life of the ordinary
Filipino, usually the rural Ilocano, in his more than 50
short stories that have permanently enriched Philippine
Literature. The critic Leopoldo Y. Yabes cited him as “the
best craftsman among Filipino fictionists in English, (whose
voice) is the only really authentic voice. He is shamelessly
Filipino.” His stories are still considered unrivalled in
his depiction of the life of the Ilocano farmer.
In the prime of his life, Arguilla died a hero’s death.
Yet he would not be forgotten. On June 12, 1972, Arguilla
was honored with a posthumous award, the republic Cultural
Heritage Award. He was cited for producing literary works
that have “continued to influence Filipio fiction
writing… and literary scholarship.” In his honor, a
marker was installed in his hometown on August 25, 1983.
Filipinos in History, N.H.I publication., 1992)
My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife