Looking Back

A first step in writing history


Writing A new history of the Philippines is a daunting task for any historian because of the mountains of information readily available with a click on a keyboard. Aside from primary sources or materials written by participants in the turning points in our history, many of which are now available online from the United States or Spain, there are so many specialized articles in academic journals that cover almost everything from a history of boxing to venereal disease in the early 20th century. Just recently I read engaging essays online by expatriate Filipino scholars: one on rats by Patricio Abinales (University of Hawaii), another on feces and politics by Vicente Rafael (University of Washington), and yet another on the concept of the ilustrado by Caroline Hau (Kyoto University). With so many hours clocked in surfing for Filipiniana, my students find it odd that I find historical sources more addictive than porn or Facebook. Most historians complain about the lack of sources, a missing page in a manuscript, or an untraceable citation. I disagree because having to select from too many sources is a more difficult challenge.

Many years ago when the late Raul Roco was education secretary, he called me to his office and asked how much I earned from Ateneo. After I gave him a round figure he looked me in the eye and asked, “I will pay your Ateneo salary for a full year to free you from teaching. Can you write a new Philippine history for use in our schools?” Unfortunately, he did not stay in the Department of Education long enough for me to get back with my affirmative answer. Roco has since passed on but that question, the challenge he posed, has haunted me ever since.

While deleting obsolete files from my computer, I came across Jose Rizal’s own outline for a study of the Philippines. He wrote to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt in January 1889 with the idea of an “Association Internationale des Philippinistes” that would hold a conference during the Paris Exposition of 1889 (the same Expo that left us with the Eiffel Tower) to discuss Philippine topics. While this congress did not materialize, at least one aim of the association—to work for the establishment of a library and museum of Philippine objects—is now a reality because we now have a National Museum, a National Library, a National Archives, and a National Historical Commission that house artifacts, documents and books. These institutions hold contests and fund research studies, one of the aims of the Association Internationale des Philippinistes that Rizal dreamed of.

Obsessive compulsive as he was, Rizal thought of everything: goals, by-laws, and even a board of directors composed of: Prof. F. Blumentritt (Austrian) as president; Edmond Plauchut (French journalist who had been to the Philippines) as vice president; Dr. Antonio Ma. Regidor (Spanish lawyer who lived and practiced in London) and Dr. Reinhold Rost (German who was a director of the India Office Library in London) as counselors; and Dr. J. Rizal (Filipino) as secretary.

What is of interest to me—and to people who will be writing the new K to 12 history textbooks—is how do our present materials fare when placed in the context of Rizal’s tentative program of topics that were to be discussed in Paris in August 1889.

I. The Philippines before the arrival of the Spaniards. (1521) Geography, Geology, Hydrography, Thalassography, Climatology, Flora, Fauna, Inhabitants—Classification, Their Origins, Paleography, Foreign Relations, Government, Civilization, Religion, Literature, Industry, Agriculture and Commerce, Earliest information about the Philippines in Europe, Bibliography.

II. From the arrival of the Spaniards to the loss of Philippine autonomy and her incorporation in the Spanish nation (1521-1808). Influence of Spanish civilization on the social life of the Philippines, Her conversion into Catholicism, The Encomenderos, Wars and Invasions, Immigration, Government, Commerce, Agriculture, Industry, Education, Armies, Religious troubles, Foreign Relations, Bibliography.

III. From the incorporation of the Philippines into the Spanish nation to the Cavite Mutiny (1808-1872). Government, Representatives in the Cortes, Loss of her character as a Spanish province and the declaration of her status as a colony, Reforms: Criticism, Education, Population, Foreign Relations, Immigration, Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, Influence of the monastic orders on the material progress of the islands, the Philippines compared with other colonies, Bibliography.

IV. Linguistic. Classification of languages spoken in the Philippines: Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilocano, Bicolano, Pampango, Pangasinense, etc., “Kitchen Spanish” (Cavite jargon), studies on the modern literature of the Tagalogs, studies on the modern literature of the Philippines, studies on religious books, Bibliography.

From the above, one can see that Philippine history for Rizal does not begin with the “discovery” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. He goes beyond the written word. He starts with prehistory. He emphasizes the loss of our autonomy with the Spanish conquest of the “Philippine islands.” Reflecting on Rizal’s outline shows us what is lacking in our history from which, once updated, we may be able to come up with new history textbooks for a new generation of Filipinos.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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Tags: Ambeth R. Ocampo , writing Philippine history

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