Check out our summary and review of Po-On before you hit Checkout!

Buwan ng Wika may be over, but it is never too late to pick up a good book by a local author. In a time where many of us pick our international reads from Tiktok and social media, we want to bring all of you a taste of some quality local literature to switch things up. From our list of favorite Filipino books to read, we bring you our thoughts on a local literary obra: Po-on by F Sionil Jose. If you are looking to pick up a read steeped in our national culture, history, and heritage despite being written in English, then read on and find out what we have to say about the Prologue that started the masterfully written Rosales Saga.


A Summary of Po-On by F Sionil Jose

Set in the province of Pangasinan, Po-On tells the tale of our protagonist, Eustaquio Salvador—known more fondly as ‘Istak’ by the locals. Born into a poverty-stricken family of indio farmers to parents Mayang-- a simple housewife, and father, Ba-ac—a poor farmer whose arm had been amputated due to false accusations of theft, Istak serves as a committed altar boy to Cabugaw parish, which is set in their little village of Po-On. Because of his dedication and character, Istak earns the favor and mentorship of a kind old Spanish friar by the name Padre Jose Leon. Padre Leon’s mentorship and tutelage puts Istak well on his way to possible priesthood in a reputable seminary in the much bigger, more progressive city of Vigan.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, as Padre Leon is transferred out of the parish due to his old age. The kindly elder priest is then replaced by the lazy and tyrannical Padre Zarraga—everything that a typical corrupt prayle could be. Unlike the former, PadreZarraga’s prejudiced and abusive outlook towards the indios is one that Istak must contend with. Padre Zarraga remains cold and indifferent of the smart Istak, who serves as a teacher to the two beautiful daughters of the town’s Kapitan Berong. The truth of his attitude towards Istak is as simple as it is selfish, ordering the sacristan to head home to Po-on in an effort to keep the daughters to himself.

This conflict bubbles into tension when Istak stumbles upon Padre Zarraga and the Kapitan’s eldest daughter, Carmencita, caught in the middle of a passionate secret tryst. Ultimately, Padre Zarraga ejects Istak from the parish and forces him to go back to Po-on to work as a farmer alongside his family. Unbeknownst to young Istak however, his father Ba-ac makes the long journey to the North in order to beg Padre Zarraga to take the youth back into his service. It is during this trip that Ba-ac uncovers the truth behind the crime he was framed for, and how Padre Zarraga had a direct hand in it. The journey culminates with Ba-ac Salvador’s murder of the young friar, fleeing back to Po-on to round up his family and close connections as they attempt to run the colonial authorities. With the Guardia Cibil hot on their heels, the family makes their way down South to avoid detection.

Throughout their long journey, the group is plagued with pursuit, dangerous forests, and roaring rivers in their efforts to get away. It is during this time that Istak makes the familiar suggestion of changing their last names and tearing up their cedulas—a well-known gesture of liberation from oppression and a sign of revolution. Though Istak, his eventual wife, Dalin, and his siblings survive, both of his parents fall victim to the journey’s rigors before they eventually make it to safety in the town of Rosales.

It was there where the family met the kind and generous Don Jacinto, a wealthy man loved by the locals. With the help of their newfound ally, the family started anew by sticking to their plans of changing their last names from Salvador to Samson and acquiring new land from Don Jacinto from which they can take root for new beginnings. Though not without trials such as harassment from the guardia cibil, an infection from the plague, and a change of colonizers from the Spaniards and the Americans, the Samsons do succeed in forging a new home for themselves with the help of Istak’s gift of healing, as well as his harmonious marriage to Dalin.

As the prologue to F Sionil Jose’s Rosales series, Po-on is left on a cleverly open-ended note, with the ill revolutionary war hero Apolinario Mabini seeking asylum in Don Jacinto’s home while being pursued by the Americans. With Don Jacinto offering the man refuge, he calls in Istak Samson to aid Mabini—setting the stage for the rest of the series as our hero is thrust into the national arena of revolution, freedom, and the battle for the Filipino People.


Our Analysis of Po-On by F Sionil Jose

One can’t help but consider the character of Istak in Po-On as both the antithesis as well as the predecessor of a more contemporary audience insert in the form of the ilustrado character Joven Hernando—a recurring character in Artikulo Uno’s historical fiction universe. Though both serve similar roles, I had a great appreciation for Istak’s humble beginnings as a farmer’s son, his devotion to his faith, and a predisposition for action against injustice, and preference for objectivity and astuteness.

On the other hand, Joven Hernando from Heneral Luna, and the subsequent film, Goyo, starts off as neutral ilustrado who idolizes the charismatic strongman leader in the form of Heneral Luna and serves as the story’s observer—playing the role of both chronicler and photographer as a journalist. Where Istak is a man of action, Joven is often paralyzed with inaction, despite his nationalistic beliefs.

Both characters are valid representations of today’s diverse Filipino youth. Despite their very different backgrounds, both young men are plagued with similar ills and trials—traumatizing death, a sense of dedication to their craft, a hopelessness against the unjust system fraught with colonialism and corruption, and a desire to serve their community. But here is where Po-On’s Istak shines most: his early actions to fight back against injustice is one that Joven only grows brave enough to do so in his later years.


Our Verdict?

Po-On by F Sionil Jose gets a 9/10

Rife with references to real history and national heroes, Po-on is an excellent prologue to a series that has been called a “most impressive legacy of any writer to Philippine culture” by prolific poet-critic, Ricardo Demetillo. Though Po-on is but one of the five books in this series, it is no less deserving of this accolade. F Sionil Jose paints a grand backdrop to his chronicle of the Samson clan. The references to real places and historical figures lend a pseudo-realistic touch that grants the story the ability to hit much closer to home for the average Filipino.

That being said, its historical references may not be for everyone. Fans of history or historical fiction may appreciate the detailed settings and familiar figures in our nation’s long story of patriotism, but Po-On may not be the book for Filipinos looking for a light-hearted escape or a touch of fancy to comfort them in these troubling times.

Though the trials we face as a nation today may not be exactly the same, the threat of corruption and political abuse is always a familiar fear that looms overhead for any citizen of a sovereign nation. If you are looking for a pandemic read that ignites a spark of nationalism while comforting you that all can be alright in time, then Po-On by F Sionil Jose may just be an obra you want for your bookshelf. If you are wondering where to buy books online in the Philippines, snag a copy of Po-on for your collection at!