Philippine history from primary sources | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Philippine history from primary sources

/ 05:07 AM January 30, 2019

Under the revised curriculum of the Commission on Higher Education, college-level Philippine history will be taught using primary sources. This means learning about an event in the past from the voice of a participant or eyewitness, or a contemporary source, like a newspaper or a legal document.

This is not new to me, because I have been teaching the Rizal course for many years using primary source documents rather than a textbook, because the best way to know Rizal is to read his novels together with his letters, diaries, poems and newspaper articles. And, because this generation is more inclined to images than text, one can know Rizal from his many photographs, starting from one taken around 1874 when he was a high school student in the Ateneo Municipal, all the way to Bagumbayan where he was photographed shortly before a firing squad deployed a volley that snuffed out his life on Dec. 30, 1896.

It is a pity that the Rizal course was often taught to develop rote memory: students forced by quizzes and tests to know his full name, the names of his siblings in reverse order, or even the name of his pet dog, rather than appreciating the life and work of a man rightfully considered the Father of the Filipino Nation.


Fortunately, Rizal’s work, all 25 volumes of it, have been translated from the original Spanish, German, French, etc., into English, Filipino and the major Philippine languages, making it possible to teach Rizal in Ilocano, Bisaya, Kapampangan, Cebuano, etc. All this was made possible through the 1961 Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission publications that are all in the public domain.


However, Rizal is not our only national hero, and the only way to know the rest of the gang is to read them. But today’s generation is separated from their past not because of time but more because of language. Fortunately, all the issues of the 19th-century propaganda paper La Solidaridad are available in English, in a hefty seven-volume set published by Bookmark in 1997. Much more are available from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, which has been quietly publishing and reprinting key works by Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Artemio Ricarte, Emilio Aguinaldo, Pedro Paterno, as well as 19th-century French travel accounts of the Philippines.

The most readable and visually engaging college-level references for Philippine history are unfortunately restricted to library use, and the full sets are too bulky to bring for bedside reading. The first of these is the 10-volume “Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation,” edited by Alfredo R. Roces, which is still useful even if it was first published way back in 1977 and should be updated using new research to bring the coverage from the post-World War II Philippines to the present. Second is the 10-volume “Kasaysayan: History of the Filipino People” that was published by Reader’s Digest in 1998; it has lucid text lavishly illustrated with many never-before-seen photos.

When I’m asked to recommend a one-volume readable survey of Philippine history, the first book that comes to mind is Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso’s “State and Society in the Philippines,” the second edition of which saw print in 2017.

Teaching Philippine history from primary sources is not new. The Jesuit historian Horacio de la Costa published “Readings in Philippine History” in 1965, a thoughtful and well-translated compilation of primary source materials arranged to tell the story of the Philippines. Following De la Costa’s example, fellow Jesuits John Schumacher, Miguel Bernad and Pedro Achutegu made some very good compilations that are now sadly out of print. Not to be outdone, Gregorio Zaide, the most popular textbook historian of his generation, published “Documentary Sources for Philippine History,” a 12-volume compilation of documents annotated with the assistance of his daughter Sonia Zaide, and now a standard reference.

The real challenge in teaching Philippine history using primary sources is the textbook that requires sifting through a mountain of material for documents that will engage and be relevant to a college-level student naturally averse to reading from physical books, much less textbooks.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Amberth R. Ocampo, Jose Rizal, Looking Back, Philippine history, primary sources

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