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Looking Back
Ghost writer

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:01:00 08/21/2009

Filed Under: Cory Aquino, history, Heroism, Books

Today, Aug. 21, a nationwide non-working holiday, will provide Filipinos time to remember Ninoy Aquino and how this man?s life and death set off a chain of events that made history. We will also remember Ninoy today in the context of the life and death of his widow Cory Aquino who also began another chain of events that made history. Now that there are many moves to proclaim Cory a national hero, to begin the process of canonization, to at least have her face adorn the P500 bill alongside Ninoy, I wonder what the late historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo would say about all this. When asked to comment on the present, I often hide behind the cliché ?Let history be the judge.?

Agoncillo always advised that we must gain some perspective before we can write history. To gain that perspective one has to let time pass so that the passions and fashions of the present will recede and we will be able to see things more clearly.

Currently used in colleges and universities around the country is the 8th edition of Teodoro Agoncillo?s landmark, bestselling work ?History of the Filipino People? which has been around for close to half a century. In its first incarnation, Agoncillo chose a junior academic, Oscar Alfonso, as his co-author, hence that edition is better known in history and bibliographical circles as ?Agoncillo and Alfonso.? Then after a few printings, Agoncillo replaced Alfonso as co-author, and invited his student Milagros C. Guerrero to write a third of the book. Thus ?History of the Filipino People,? despite the changes in cover design and the addition or deletion of readings, became better known as ?Agoncillo and Guerrero.? Now, in its latest incarnation, the junior author has been dropped and Agoncillo finally comes into his own as the sole author of the book as suggested by the cover.

The question that has bothered me about this arrangement is that Guerrero?s chapters were deleted and replaced by an unseen hand or hands. Can Agoncillo take responsibility for data and opinions written by someone else? Should he be liable? How could Agoncillo approve or disapprove the 8th edition of ?his? book that saw print after his death? Isn?t it odd that Agoncillo, who passed away in January 1985, was able to write a book that brought history up to date to August 1987? Now that gives us a new meaning to the term ?ghost writer.?

Agoncillo?s fame and influence extended beyond his classroom and the reach of his sharp tongue. He wrote over 20 books, the more notable ones being ?Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan? (1956), ?Malolos: Crisis of the Republic? (1960), ?The Fateful Years: Japan?s Misadventures in the Philippines 1941-1945? (2 vols, 1965), ?Filipino Nationalism? (1974), and ?The Burden of Proof: The Vargas-Laurel Collaboration Case? (1984).

Before his death he was senior member of the board of the National Historical Institute and it was to him and to the late E. Aguilar Cruz that I ran to for reference when required. Though they have passed away, their counsel remains through the minutes of the NHI board meetings that often provide illumination when issues are murky.

I remember Agoncillo today because we need perspective to understand the present and our recent history. In a conversation I had with him in October 1984, he talked about passion and fashion and said:

?Ako hindi nadadala ng fashion and passion. Pinasusulat ako ni Betty Go-Belmonte about [Ninoy] Aquino para sa 1985 Fookien Times Yearbook. Sabi ko, I cannot write on Aquino because there is no perspective. At one time last year, last December [1983]. Cardinal [Jaime] Sin asked me, ?How long will it take a historian to judge [Ferdinand] Marcos?? I said 10 to 20 years, because there must be perspective. And even that, sabi ko, we cannot be sure, because not all documents are in. That is why historical conclusions are not final. They are all tentative. Because no historian can say that I have exhausted all the documents.?

This may explain why so many historians are averse to publishing their work. Some spend a lifetime continuously in search of documents they will never find. Perhaps it is best to know when to stop, to throw your hands in the air and say that you have exhausted all the research possible and that you publish what you know, based on what you have at hand. This is what makes history a humbling discipline.

These days, most people think I have come up with the last word on Rizal or the Philippine Revolution, but I know that 50 years from now there will be another young historian who will declare that Ambeth Ocampo was an idiot?he did not see this or that document, he did not consider this or that perspective.

All historians try to provide a picture of the past to the best of their knowledge and within the limits of their research. It is not their fault if they did not see or know something that came to light after they had published their work, or after they had passed away. I have seen and heard a lot of Agoncillo bashing over the years and I smile with the knowledge that the critics will suffer the same fate decades later.

How are we to deal with knee-jerk reactions for the canonization of Cory Aquino? We must honor her in many ways, but leave canonization to the Church and the declaration of her as national hero to the future.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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