War & dissent

I went to the National Museum of the Filipino People (that’s the Finance Building near the giant Lapu-Lapu statue) for Ambeth Ocampo’s lecture and the exhibit of War & Dissent. It was my first time to meet Professor Ocampo. I asked him to sign two books which I think are his best works:

Rizal Without the Overcoat. This made me read more about the patriot.

Talking History- Conversations with Teodoro Andal Agoncillo. Agoncillo comes alive and fighting in this book.

Perhaps, it’s fitting to note that a part of Ocampo’s lecture can be read in his book, Talking History- Conversations with Teodoro Andal Agoncillo. Agoncillo’s take on Philippine History was that there was “no Philippine history until 1872”. This pertains to the execution of the three secular priests Gomburza (Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora) in 1872 because there was no direct interest (from the Filipinos) in the way history was written in those times.

To be more clear, here’s a quote from Ocampo’s book, Talking History- Conversations with Teodoro Andal Agoncillo, page 156:

“I mean, there is a history but the trouble is nobody wrote that history except the Spaniards and, naturally, the Spaniards would favor the Spaniards. The role of the Filipino was submerged. That is what I meant. So, only beginning with 1872 was the role of the Filipino really given importance.”

There will be some who will challenge this claim particularly Nick Joaquin who sees it differently. I think he’s the anti-thesis to Agoncillo.

Ocampo also mentioned differences in how a word can change the whole sense of an event. For example:

  1. The foreign viewpoint: In 1521, Magellan discovered the Philippines.
  2. The “nationalist” viewpoint (most notable is Zaide): In 1521, Magellan re-discovered the Philippines.

The two statements sound funny. The former means that the islands weren’t there while the latter means that the islands were submerged and were re-discovered later on.

Ocampo came up with a better statement: In 1521, Magellan arrived in the Philippines. In the first place, the Portuguese explorer didn’t even know where he was! (this drew laughter in the Tambunting Hall).

One word changes the whole sense of the event thus, the renaming by the US Library of Congress of its records from the “Philippine Insurrection” to the “Philippine-American War” goes a long way in setting our point clearly.

That change made by the US Library of Congress means that…
…it recognizes the first Philippine Republic under Aguinaldo.
…it recognizes the Philippine Wars for Independence.

It is not an “insurrection” because the word implies rebellion against a legitimate authority. Who gave the Americans the right to take possession of these islands?

I don’t know if that’s enough to convince most of our people to consider how we see America and their role in our history. They are not our saviors as some of them claim to be especially after the Second World War. What is good for the United States doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for us. Like it or not, the effects of this new colonization will remain. It still has to be transformed into something that is truly ours but only better. It will happen and I hope to see it in my lifetime.

Steps have been taken especially in 1988 (the ratification of the US bases in Clark and Subic) to make this event, a war that we fought as a national community, known to our countrymen. Ocampo mentioned that they made a documentary about the Philippine-American War. The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) censored this and for two generations, this was kept from the public. It would be interesting to show it now to help us not to forget.

* * *

Some humorous moments in the lecture:

  • The films made by Thomas Edison for propaganda. It was shot in New Jersey and the actors who were hired to play as Filipinos were African-American judging by their complexion and hair. There were some clips showing Filipino soldiers after getting shot were “rising from the dead”. And the heroic display of the stars and stripes.
  • Henry Lawton (we owe the name Plaza Lawton to him), the highest ranking casualty of the war, led the campaign to capture the Apache Geronimo. Curiously enough, he was taken down by a Filipino sniper under the leadership of Licerio Geronimo.
  • A video of mules crossing the Agno River in Cagayan. Just to show that mules weren’t abundant in Filipinas. The Americans have to bring them over because they don’t know how to deal with carabaos.
  • A painting of an American soldier attacked by a carabao. This happened in the course of the war. The reliable carabao became a weapon of Filipino forces. Ocampo gathered explanations from both sides. According to the Gringo, the animals would charge against people wearing dark colors (in this case, the American soldiers were in blue while the Filipinos in white). From the Filipino perspective, it was said that the carabaos know the scent of their masters.

    Ocampo added that the carabaos would attack those who were uncircumcised based on scent.

  • The transfer of the NHI marker commemorating the first shot of the Filipino-American War from San Juan to Sta. Mesa. For a brief time, Ocampo was declared persona-non-grata when he did this (he asked his people to move the marker on an early morning). Somehow, he was able to appease the mayor of San Juan by placing a new marker to commemorate one of over a thousand battles that took place in this war.

    The original marker is now in Corner of Sociego and Silencio Streets, Santa Mesa District, Manila.

The lecture ended with an invitation to visit the exhibit on the fifth floor and to have some refreshments.

* * *

I saw Lola Jessie of the Lichauco house chatting with an American student from the Far Eastern University. I tried to greet her but soon, she was swarmed by a group of young people. I decided to go on with my research because the display was about to close. Someday, I’ll have my chance to have a talk with her.

I also met a bibliophile who’s generous enough to share his Filipiniana collection. He asked me if I’m a student of history. I just smiled and told him that I’m working with the Department of Tourism as a tourist guide. He gave me his card. I plan to pay him a visit soon.

I also read accounts from Ninay Lopez and her family’s sad but heroic experience during the war. Tumindig ang balahibo ko nung binasa ko ang mga sulat ni Ninay at ng kapatid n’ya na ayaw sumuko sa mga Amerikano.

There’s also a voice over of Mark Twain speaking out against US imperialism. Thank you, Mr. Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League of America. You are the ones who truly adhere to the American way.

I also wrote down this quote from Major Cornelius Gardner, a US Military Governor in 1902:

“Almost without exception, soldiers, and also many officers, refer to the natives in their presence as ‘niggers’, and the natives are beginning to understand what ‘nigger’ means.”

I also picked up some words and what it truly means based on the book, The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1890 by Capt. Alfred T. Mahn:

  • outward impluses = colonize
  • liberate = occupy
  • pacify = conquer
  • civilize = subjugate

This visit made me more aware of the facts behind this little known event in our history. Do I walk on eggshells if this is discussed with guests? Hopefully not. It happened and it should be acknowledged. It happened and it’s real.

I’d like to take the example of some German students that I toured when we talked about the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. They were cool with it because they know where they stand before history. That’s a healthy and level-headed way of handling it because it happened and it should never happen again.


  1. withonespast says:

    I had Ambeth sign all of my books from him — he probably thought I was crazy when I brought all of my books to him. Anyway, about Agoncillo, he’s responsible for popularizing militant history, I call it the Agoncillo standard. For him and his disciples, history started after the three Filipino priest were executed, how could someone put a date on something that’s continually evolving and changing? but he has become so popular that no one even dare to question him, to many his books are infallible and inerrant. This same man confirms in his book that its impossible to identify the Filipino — how can he then write a history for the Filipino. I have all his books and I respect him even if I happen to disagree with what he made, may he rest in peace.

  2. thanks for the comment, nold. ambeth ocampo mentioned in his opening remarks that probably in a few years, some historian will come up with more data and say that “ambeth ocampo is wrong, agoncillo is wrong”.

    looks like it’s happening with all the new information that is coming out. ambeth ocampo also said that if we want to acquire more information the best places to go to are: the US, Spain, and Mexico.

    good observation about agoncillo’s brand of history. it has a flavor of “the masses vs. the elite” which i don’t fully agree with.

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