Ambeth Ocampo on Marcos and the writing of history

Dr. Ambeth Ocampo talks about Heneral Luna, the Marcoses, and The Three Little Pigs—and delivers a profound lesson about the subjectivity of history.

On September 26, Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, who is quite a paradox himself by being both popular and a historian, delivered a lecture to a sold-out audience at the Ayala Museum in Makati City. The topic was Ferdinand Marcos, although he could not resist starting his talk with Antonio Luna, due to the hot topic of the town at the time, the historical film Heneral Luna.

With Luna he continued from what wrote in the Inquirer (“Two Lunas, two Mabinis”), and made an important point about the subjectivity of history. All histories are written by a historian, and that historians will always have a unique point-of-view, a different angle of perception that casts varying judgments on historical subjects, depending on who is writing. It is a truism that is basic knowledge to those with the leisure for philosophical musings, but it is often a novel idea for most, especially for those who have never taken a deep interest in history outside of the classroom.

With the online discussions about Heneral Luna, we can already see this in action. Despite the filmmakers’ disclaimer at the start of the film, many of those who have seen it seem to take its narrative as historical fact—even if it is considered unfair to Aguinaldo, for instance, and despite it representing only a slice, although admittedly the most significant one, of Luna’s life.

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Old Year’s Day

Last summer, and over the months that followed as I finished a rather substantial book by Professor Randy David, I was introduced to the idea of life as a narrative. I’m pretty sure it’s an idea that would stick with me for many years to come. And it’s bound to come up especially during times like this, on the eve of the new year, when the sociable thing to do is to reminisce and tweet about one’s favorite moments from the past year. (The more contemplative ones like to blog the products of their ruminations as well.)

Here’s one way to think about everything that has happened to you in the past year: they were either things that you planned, or they were the things that you didn’t plan. Thanks to the things that you didn’t plan, you can tell a story of the past year that’s more exciting than if everything turned out well. For example, if you’re a student like me, tonight you can tell the story of how you planned to get your grades up, but then you got caught up in the activities of some charitable cause-oriented organization so much that your grades suffered, but it’s alright because you found that work fulfilling and there you learned things you will never learn inside the classroom. Compare that to if things turned out well: you planned to get your grades up, and, well, they shot up. End of story; you need not provide further details because no one will listen to such arrogance.

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