Luis G. Dato

1906 –

Poet, educator, journalist, and politician Luis G. Dato, one of the first Filipino authors to write and publish in English, was born in Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines, on July 4, 1906. He was the third of five children born to Eugenio Dato y Espalana and Barbara Guevara y Imperial. His brother, Rodolfo, was also an academic, having served as dean of the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga City, Bicol Region, Philippines, in addition to editing the anthology Filipino Poetry, initially published in 1924.

Dato studied for his undergraduate degree in the liberal arts at the University of the Philippines in Manila from 1924–28, less than two decades after the opening of the university’s campus. He then studied law there until 1933. While attending the University of the Philippines, Dato published some of his first poems in the university magazine, The Philippine Collegian, in which his brother, Rodolfo, also published poetry. Dato completed his law degree at the University of Nueva Caceres in 1951, then studied for a master’s degree in education at the University of Saint Anthony between 1971 and 1972. 

When Dato was twenty, he published Manila: A Collection of Verse (Imp. Paredes, Inc., 1926). His second poetry collection, My Book of Verses, was edited and published by Rodolfo in 1936. In 2019, The Instant Lyre, an unpublished manuscript comprising more than two hundred poems written between the 1920s and the 1970s, was digitally published. Dato has been regarded as an authority on the language and culture of the Bicol Region, which comprises six provinces in the Luzon Islands. He wrote numerous books in his native Bicol language, while also publishing works in English. Dato provided the first quality English translation of José Rizal’s poem “Mi Último Adiós,” which Dato titled “Mi Último Pensamiento.” Dato published the translation in The Philippine Magazine, a publication to which he regularly contributed poetry, in January 1934. He also contributed work to numerous anthologies in addition to Filipino Poetry, both during his lifetime and posthumously, including Readings in Philippine Literature (Rex Book Store, 1994), edited by Dr. Celedonio G. Aguilar, and Brown River, White Ocean: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Philippine Literature in English (Rutgers University Press, 1993), edited by Luis H. Francia. In 1965, Dato was named Outstanding Catholic Poet by United Poets Laureate International. 

During an interview with Bienvenido N. Santos for Writers and Their Milieu: An Oral History of First Generation Writers in English, Part 1 (Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2017), edited by Edilberto Alegre and Doreen Fernandez, Dato claimed that he had written more than five hundred poems during his career, approximately two hundred of which were sonnets. During that interview, he also expressed his preference for rhyme and meter in poetry, citing Lord Byron among his favorite poets; though Dato had also written some poems in free verse.  

In addition to publishing poetry, Dato contributed numerous articles to newspapers and magazines during his career. He served as the first editor of the Bicol Star from 1933 to 1934, though he also served as an editor at other newspapers over the decades. Dato was also a professor of English. He taught at St. Anthony College (1967–78; 1947–51), the University of Nueva Caceres (1955–67), and Naga College (1953–54). From 1941 to 1947, Dato served as the mayor of his hometown of Baao from 1941–47. Additionally, he was an archivist who coauthored accounts of the history of Baao, as well as tracing the genealogies of preeminent families from the municipality. 

Luis G. Dato died in his hometown of Baao on January 29, 1985.