The Original Senator Vicente Sotto Was a Fighter for Press Freedom
It is ironic—and perhaps unthinkable— that Vicente Yap Sotto, the grandfather of the present-day Sen. Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, is the author of the Press Freedom Law and a rebel senator who fought against America using his pen. Yet, he is. Sotto the original is also considered as the Father of Cebuano journalism and he is a known patriot, lawyer, publisher, and writer.
Sotto was born on April 17, 1877 (though some sources state 1882) in Cebu City to Marcelino Sotto, a cargador, and Pascuala Yap, a vendor. Through diligence and hard work, the couple was able to raise children who eventually became journalists, lawyers, and politicians. The family worked hard as merchants who lived in Cebu's parian, a ghetto for Chinese immigrants that had become an address for .
At the tender age of 10, Sotto was placed under the tutorship of Don Miguel Logarta, and by the time he was 13, he was enrolled at Colegio de San San Carlos of Cebu. Later, at the age of 16, he was sent to Manila where he studied at the San Juan de Letran College to earn a bachelorate of the arts, and at the University of Santo Tomas to learn commerce. Eventually, he took up law at Manila Law College, formerly known as Escuela de Derecho, and was admitted to the bar in March 1907.
Most historians mark the publishing of Sotto’s La Justicia as the start of his journalistic career, but one could say it also began when he was a schoolboy in Cebu giving away copies of "El Incognito," a handwritten paper, to his friends. But his professional career as a journalist officially began on March 31, 1899 when he published La Justicia, the very first Filipino newspaper in Cebu.
Unfortunately, it was the same year that Cebu surrendered to the Americans, so the paper was immediately suspended by the US military authorities for its subversive content and its advocacy for real Philippine independence.
His professional career as a journalist officially began on March 31, 1899 when he published La Justicia, the very first Filipino newspaper in Cebu.
Just a week aftter La Justicia was shuttered, the relentless Sotto produced another paper called El Nacional, which published the same sentiments. This time, the Americans did not go easy on the young writer. They saw this as an opportunity to charge him as an agent of the Revolutionary Committees of Manila and Hongkong, and he was imprisoned at Fort San Pedro in Cebu on September 16, 1899. He stayed in Cell No. 6 for two months and six days. Afterwards, he would sometimes use the pseudonym "Taga-Kotta", alluding to his short-lived imprisonment.
Being incarcerated did not stop the man to continue doing what he loved most—writing. In 1900, he founded El Pueblo, for which he was prosecuted for libel several times. In one case, he was sentenced to banishment for four years and four months, but the sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court. He was also prosecuted twice on charges of sedition, and was required to pay a fine of two hundred pesos.
It was around this time that he also produced and directed the story Gugma sa Yutang Natawhan / Ang Paghigugma sa Yutang Natawha (which can be translated to mean Love of Native Land) for the theater, officially opening on January 1, 1902 as the first Cebuano stage play. The strong revolutionary theme caught the attention of the American authorities once again, and Sotto was accused of inciting the kidnapping of American government collaborators.
Some have tallied his cases during his journalistic career; some sources say that he had a total of 54 cases of libel and sedition under his belt. Despite his legal woes, Sotto persisted. He staged other dramas such as Ang Dila sa Babaye (The Woman's Tongue), a lyric drama; Maputi ug Maitum (Black and White) and other dramatic works.
In the middle of 1901, Sotto founded Ang Suga (The Light), the first newspaper in Visayas to publish in the vernacular. This was where Sotto wrote and published the short story “Maming," credited by some as the first short story written in Cebuano.
Ang Suga, which ran from 1901 to 1912, eventually became Sotto’s longest-running publication, launching the career of other Cebuano writers and journalists.
Sotto found public service to be his calling; he ran for public office once again in 1907—but not without scandal.
VICENTE SOTTO ENTERS POLITICS AND GETS EMBROILED IN SCANDAL
Somehow, in the middle of all this, he found time to run for office. He was only 25 when he was elected Councilor of the City of Cebu in 1902, despite being underage for the position. His opponents protested his election, unsuccessfully.
It seems that Sotto found public service to be his calling, too, because he ran for public office once again in 1907—but not without scandal. The year before, he had been accused of being involved in the abduction of a minor. a young girl named Aquilina Vasquez. In Sotto’s view, however, he had done nothing wrong, as he was barely out of his teens himself, and was in love with Vasquez. He wrote her letters, urging her to run away from home and be with him. And one day, she took him up on his offer: Sotto waited in a calesa in front of the girl’s house, and took her to a rented house in the city where they stayed for several days. The girl’s mother filed a complaint, and Vasquez went back home while Sotto tried to explain things to her mother.
This is where the story gets complicated. A young woman shacking up with a man was, in those days, an unforgivable scandal—not to mention a crime, since she was a minor. At one point, Sotto came up with the story that it was the servant who was with them in the house who got married to Aquilina, but the girl denied this. It was also never really clear if Aquilina reciprocated his feelings. And so her mother then pursued a case against Sotto.
What did Sotto think of women? "His negative views about women—their so-called deceitfulness and shallow promises—were clearly presented in most of his stories about romantic love," writes Miriam Burlaos in "Vicente Sotto: The Rise and Fall of Cebuano Literature". "It should be noted that during the Spanish and American rule, the patriarchal ideology, perpetuation of male dominance and subordination of women were strongly embedded in the Philippine society and are therefore manifested in Sotto’s writings such as Don Benigno and Ang Pasaylo ni Barbara (The Forgiveness of Barbara)."
In any case, his opponents saw this as an opportunity to do away with Sotto once and for all. This pressure, coupled with the knowledge that the Llorentes, Sotto's main political opponents, were said to be favored by the Americans, Vicente felt that he was not going to get proper justice, and escaped to Hong Kong. True enough, on November 23, 1907, Sotto was found guilty of falsifying a marriage and the crime of rapto—kidnapping a woman to force her into marriage or sex. He was sentenced to suffer imprisonment for four years, to pay as dowry to Aquilina Vasquez P500, and to “the offspring of his relations with her if there be any.”
Before this decision was reached, however, the elections took place. And despite his exile, Sotto was elected President of the Municipality of Cebu with 650 votes, a landslide against his opponents, who shared 498 total votes. The Llorentes tried to disqualify him by appealing to the Court of First Instance again, and for some time, they declared Martin Llorente as the rightful winner. The Supreme Court didn’t side with them this time, declaring in an en banc decision that it was out of their jurisdiction.
This victory was short lived, however, since the winning Vice President assumed Sotto’s role in his absence just a year later. Since this entire affair was a mess from the beginning, the Governor of Cebu decided to step in and suspend Sotto’s replacement and his councilors. They were replaced by people appointed by the governor, much to the dismay of the Cebuanos.
Sotto stayed in Hong Kong until 1914. There, he continued to write and publish. It was in Hong Kong where he founded The Philippine Republic.
SOTTO IN EXILE
Sotto stayed in Hong Kong until 1914. There, he continued to write and publish. It was in Hong Kong where he founded The Philippine Republic, a bilingual fortnightly that advocated the restoration of the republic.
The Americans continued to seek him out and applied for his extradition three times. It was denied by the British government, which ruled Hong Kong that time, on grounds that Sotto was seeking political asylum.
By 1914, then Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison came to an agreement with Sotto, permitting his return to the country. The politician and journalist was imprisoned and soon pardoned. Yet Sotto couldn’t seem to stop. Back in Manila, he published The Independent, which still advocated Philippine independence from the Americans.
That same year, he was selected first President of the Philippine Labor Assembly. He authored the resolution of an eight-hour work day, the first time this was brought forth in Philippine legislature. The Democrata Party saw potential in Sotto, and nominated him for the general elections of 1922. True enough, he was elected Representative for the second District of Cebu.
Seven years later, Sotto decided to take a trip around the world. During his stop in Paris, he published a special edition of The Independent in English, French, and Spanish using his personal funds. This edition reached the US Senate, where parts of it were read out during a session on September 30, 1929.
Upon his return to Manila, he founded the Philippine Independence League, which again sought for the restoration of the republic.
His most prominent accomplishment was the authoring of the Press Freedom Law, nicknamed "the Sotto Law"
THE SENATOR AND SOTTO LAW
Not much was written about Sotto during the war, but on November 1946, Sotto was elected Senator of the very new Philippine Republic. He also served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance until his death in 1950.
His most prominent accomplishment was the authoring of the Press Freedom Law, nicknamed "the Sotto Law"—Republic Act No. 53, enacted in 1946. This law protects journalists from being forced to name their news sources.
In the Senate, Sotto became known for his tough words and for speaking his mind out. Fellow journalist Arsenio H. Lacson described Sotto as “the tall, dark and gruesome Senator from Cebu,” “Sotto The Rebel,” “the gaunt and magnificently vindictive senator from Cebu.” He also earned the nickname “The Great Dissenter” owing to an incident that happened shortly before his death.
In September, 1948, the press reported on an alleged leakage during the bar exams. The reporter for this story was Angel Parazo, who refused to disclose the source of his story. The Supreme Court imprisoned the reporter for contempt. Naturally, it was Sotto who came to the journalist’s aid and assailed the judges for their incompetence. He wrote a statement published in newspapers that called for the removal and replacement of the justices on the Supreme Court: “In the wake of so many mindedness of the majority deliberately committed during these last years, I believe that the only remedy to put an end to so much evil, is to change the members of the Supreme Court. To his effect, I announce that one of the first measures, which as its objects the complete reorganization of the Supreme Court. As it is now constituted, a constant peril to liberty and democracy,” he wrote.
The Supreme Court retaliated by ordering Sotto, to explain why he should not be cited in contempt of court. The relentless Sotto stood his ground. “The Supreme Court can send me to jail, but it cannot close my mouth… There was more freedom of speech when American Justices sat in the Tribunal than now when it is composed of our countrymen,” he replied.
“His knees no bending, his pen signed no retraction, his march saw no retreat, and his soul of steel knows no surrender."
After this tirade, the Supreme Court declared Vicente Sotto guilty of contempt of court and ordered him to pay a P1,000 fine. One of the magistrates in question, Justice Gregorio Perfecto, even said called Sotto an “unprincipled politician” who belonged “to the class of individuals who have no compunction to resort to falsehood of falsehoods.”
By this time, Sotto had grown old and sickly. He died on March 28, 1950 at the age of 73.
Over his lifetime, he had produced a voluminous body of literature, including Filipino Stories; Mga Handumanan sa Sugbu; Mga Sugilanong Pilipinhon; Spanish-Visayan Dictionary; Abakadhan; Municipal Code and Amendments; Remembrances of Cebu: Our Dialect; Far From My Country, a collection of writings published in different papers during his period of exile; Maktang, the first Visayan operetta; and A Flying Trip Around the World, with introduction by Rafael Palma.
No less than Carlos P. Garcia, 8th President of the Philippines, a fellow Visayan, paid tribute to Sotto after his death. He said that Sotto had conviction, courage, and an unwavering faith in the ultimate triumph of justice. “His knees no bending, his pen signed no retraction, his march saw no retreat, and his soul of steel knows no surrender. He marshaled his efforts and used his influence to secure and safeguard for the press the fullest measure of freedom,” Garcia wrote.
Men of the Philippines: a biographical record of men of substantial achievement in the Philippine islands by George Nellist: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philamer/abh5507.0001.001?view=toc;q1=Philippines+--+Biography
Today in Philippine History, April 18, 1877 Vicente Yap Sotto was born in Cebu City: https://kahimyang.com/kauswagan/articles/1077/today-in-philippine-history-april-18-1877-vicente-yap-sotto-was-born-in-cebu-city
Vicente Sotto: The Rise and Fall of Cebuano Literature: https://todayscarolinian.net/vicente-sotto-the-rise-and-fall-of-cebuano-literature/
Remember Sotto’s Legacy, Youth Told: https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-freeman/20170419/281651074981349
Don Vicente Yap Sotto, father of Cebuano journalism, language and literature: https://www.philstar.com/the-freeman/opinion/2017/04/17/1686574/don-vicente-yap-sotto-father-cebuano-journalism-language-and-literature#50GjTVqmYJoci9yD.99
Vicente Y. Sotto Profile: http://junbriosolawandbehold.blogspot.com/2012/09/vicente-y-sotto-profile.html
Vicente Sotto and The Rise of Realism in Cebuano Literature: https://www.jstor.org/stable/29791259?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
How Don Vicente Sotto Was Robbed of the Mayorship of Cebu: https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-freeman/20160201/282449938052559