Tinio was born in Gagalangin, Tondo,
He first wrote poetry in English, but after his return from the United States, returned to the language of his roots, the Tagalog in which are written his three collections: Sitsit sa Kulilig (Whistling at Cicadas), 1972; Dunung-dunungan (Pedantry), 1975; Kristal na Uniberso (Crystal Universe), 1989; and Trick of Mirrors, 1993.
Tinio's achievement in drama includes masterful translations into Tagalog of major works of the Western theater, starting with Laruang Kristal (Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie) and Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente (Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman), 1966; and Paghihintay Kay Godo (Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot) and August Strindberg's Miss Julie, 1967. The first two significantly influenced the return of Philippine theater to the vernacular.
He is remembered as an innovative and imaginative director. He first attracted attention with his experimental productions, such as Oedipus Rex, 1960; the Oresteia, 1962; Macbeth, 1963. Murder in the Cathedral, 1966; and the first revival of Precioso Palma 's Sarswela, Paglipas ng Dilim (After the Darkness), 1969, all with Ateneo student actors. Tinio went on to direct traditional and modem plays and operas like: Dularawan: Salakot na Ginto (Image Play: The Golden Salakot), 1969, which inaugurated the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP); The Merry Widow, 1969; The Onyx Wolf, which inaugurated the CCP Little Theater (now Tanghalang Aurelio V. Tolentino), 1971; Prinsipe Baldovino (Prince Baldwin), 1971; Ang Kiri (The Flirt), 1974; Bayan-bayanan (Little Country), 1975 and 1976.