There is a tried-and-tested formula for Filipino romance. Take a look at some of the most noteworthy teleseryes and movies and you’ll spot it right away: a poor, yet uncharacteristically mestiza girl finds her way into the world of affluence lived by the male protagonist.
Another characteristic to watch out for is how there is always a shift in the leading lady’s ideals. From being a timid pushover, she learns to fight for herself, fueled by love that can conquer just about anything. There’s a whole lot of permutations of this storyline, but you see this trope in the backbone of every iconic Filipino romance. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture that one might even go as far as saying that you can never be a true Pinoy if you’re not a hopeless romantic.
This is where Precious Hearts Romances comes into the picture. While their book covers of men and women in sensual poses are iconic in themselves, so are their romance storylines that have been a big part of Filipino romance culture since 1992.
As someone who has never read a PHR book in her life, seeing hordes of fans during the PHR Grand Fans’ Day was eye-opening, to say the least. The lobby was filled with readers waiting in line for their favorite authors to sign their books, with some even going on a full-on book haul.
Not just romance
Ask just about anyone and they probably have an idea of what PHR stories are about: raunchy, explicit and sensual romantic tales of men and women that depict the fantasies of the Filipino audience. PHR gained popularity by producing romantic stories that tapped into the Filipinos’ affinity for clichéd romance, and the easy vernacular language register, making their stories more accessible to readers from all walks of life.
The series started out as a publishing house that produced one romance pocket book every month. As they gained more and more readers, they began publishing more than 20 titles per month. As the years passed, Precious Hearts became a household name, and stories would later be adapted into screenplays for ABS-CBN’s teleserye ‘Precious Hearts Romance Presents’.
More than two decades later, the pocketbook series is still the icon that it was, not only because of its relentless storytelling, but also because it learned to adapt to the changing tastes that come with every new generation of readers. Gone are the overly cheesy covers of couples with uncanny resemblances to Hollywood celebs. Now, their covers are more dynamic and — dare we say — more artsy. There is still a shadow of that past aesthetic, but typography is a lot better now, and there’s a lot more creative put into designing eye-catching book covers.
As younger generations emerge as their target audience, their stories transitioned from the cliche plots of yesterday to diverse stories that tap into the audience’s psyche more deeply than they did before.
At the Fans’ Day, PHR President Segundo Matias Jr. voiced out the importance of diversifying their content. “Kung ano yung gustong isulat ng writers, hinahayaan namin sila. Kasi iba na yung audience ngayon,” he says. They don’t cage their authors in the romance genre, and help them hone their craft by letting them exercise their creative freedom.
The story of a probinsyana girl falling in love with a seemingly out-of-reach businessman from the city veers away from its superficiality, becoming a story that not only talks about romance, but also the economic disparities that hinder one’s success. Long gone are stories of shallow romance. Nowadays, we have Precious Hearts stories that make us ask questions long after we close the book.
A new generation of readers
As savage as this sounds, I have always imagined the PHR readership to be mostly single women in their late 20s, but the fans that I saw on that day were a mix of men and women, and most of them were around my age.
A big part of PHR’s continuing relevance is their new batch of authors from Wattpad. While veteran PHR authors like Rose Tan and Sofia still attract a loyal readership, it’s no secret that reaching out to a younger audience is a different story altogether. Gen Z and millennial readers are more prone to reading books that can be easily accessed online, which is why Wattpad has become the go-to website for younger readers with a taste for Filipino romance stories. Most of the writers that they tapped from Wattpad already have a solid online fanbase, and when they ventured into writing for print, their online following translated into book sales.