The young Renato Constantino learned about patriotism from his grandmother, who told him endless stories about friar abuses and her family’s sufferings under American rule, and from his lawyer-father, who was critical of leaders who did not fight for the country’s independence.
His parents demanded obedience from their children, but Renato always had a mind of his own. He was president of his third- and fourth-year high school class, a bemedaled orator and debater. In college, he became the youngest editor of the Philippine Collegian, student paper at the University of the Philippines. He once wrote a Collegian editorial criticizing then President Quezon, and Quezon himself had gone to UP to deliver a speech in reaction to the said editorial.
During the Filipino-Japanese war, Renato fought in Bataan and later was member of an intelligence team monitoring Japanese military movements. After the war, he joined the Philippine Mission to the United Nations from 1946 to 1949 and served as counselor of the Department of Foreign Aff airs from 1949 to 1951. He published a book on the United Nations in 1950.
He became a teacher, teaching in various universities for three decades. He taught at the Far Eastern University, Adamson University, Arellano University and the University of the Philippines. He was a visiting lecturer in universities in London, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Malaysia and Thailand, and visiting scholar in several other countries.
A prolific writer, in 1945 Renato, often called Ka Tato, started writing columns for newspapers and kept it up for five decades, contributing to the Evening Herald, Manila Chronicle, Malaya, Daily Globe, Manila Bulletin, and Balita and articles to the Manila Chronicle, Manila Times, and Graphic.
He also served as director of the Lopez Memorial Museum from 1960 to 1972, was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Contemporary Asia, and trustee of Focus on the Global South in Bangkok.
He wrote around 30 books and numerous pamphlets and monographs. Among his well-known books are a two-volume history of the Philippines, titled A Past Revisited and The Continuing Past, a biography of fellow nationalist Claro M. Recto titled The Making of a Filipino, Neo-Colonial Identity and Counter- Consciousness, and The Nationalist Alternative. Some of his books have been translated into Japanese and The Nationalist Alternative into Malaysian. Renato suffered often for his nationalist, democratic, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist writings. He lost important posts or job opportunities. His most widely-read essay, The Mis-education of the Filipino, had to wait five years before it saw print.
His book The Marcos Watch, released just weeks before Marcos declared martial law, was a collection of his newspaper columns that were often critical of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. After martial law was installed, Renato was arrested and placed under house arrest for several months, and banned from traveling abroad for many years.
Renato’s nationalist works have been cited and recognized by the Quezon City and Manila governments, the Civil Liberties Union, and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines. Today his writings are standard reading material on Philippine history, nationalism and democracy.