Getting to Know Jose Rizal through Ambeth Ocampo

Can you imagine private stuff you’ve written being discussed in public? OMG! Hahaha!

The thought crossed my mind as I listened to renowned historian Dr. Ambeth Ocampo talk about The Lopez collection of Rizaliana.

Through the memorabilia at the Lopez Museum and Library, Dr. Ocampo helped us paint a picture of our national hero, Jose Rizal.

“I want to give you a sense of how I look at things,” Dr. Ocampo explained as he showed us how he does his work of putting together pieces of history. He flashed photos of yellowed pages on the wall, pointed out critical details and led us in drawing conclusions. It was an enjoyable exercise, far from what many experienced in high school/college History classes.

It was amusing to flip through the leaves of Rizal’s Japanese notebook containing brush sketches of women, children, and mountains lumped together with scribblings of train schedule and word translations with visuals. So cute how he’d have a word written down in Spanish with its Japanese translation jotted across it and a drawing of the object on the side. Pretty much how you and I would do it.

There was a roar of laughter from the crowd when Dr. Ocampo shared Rizal’s thoughts on his destination after Japan. “I do not advise anyone to make a trip to America,” he had written. Apparently, he had an unpleasant experience with the US customs and immigration which made him so upset.

Those who wish to take a peek into Rizal’s love life will find several interesting things in the Lopez Museum. Some notes to a Japanese lady love, letters from London about his landlord’s daughter, and materials on Josephine Bracken.

A letter from Marcelo Del Pilar inquired, “anong sunog na naman ang tinatakbuhan mo diyan?,” when Rizal announced that he was leaving London. Dr. Ocampo suspects that the sunog is the landlord’s daughter. Haha!

Materials in the Lopez Museum show the strong relationship between Juan Luna and Rizal. There were tales about a Christmas celebrated together. He even had a hand in naming one of Luna’s children (Maria De La Paz Blanca Laureana Herminigilda Juana Luna de Pardo de Tavera, whew!). In many of Rizal’s letters, he would instruct his family to gather all the Luna paintings and not sell any. He would say it again and again. Obviously, even early on, he knew the value of his pal’s creations.

His ties to his siblings shone in how he told his sisters Trinidad and Josefa in Hong Kong to not leave until they learned English. In one of his travels, he even detailed to his sisters how homes are decorated and taught them how to do it by means of drawings. He would also remind them to be kind to their mother. A letter to his mother mentioned how he has dreamt of her three nights in a row. “My mind is part of yours, it reproduces what you’re thinking,” he said something to that effect.

Dr. Ocampo pointed out the homesickness in Rizal’s writings — a feeling all too familiar to our present day OFWs. “The secret is finding things about him that resonate in our times. Many things are old but some things still resonate and that’s what keeps Rizal interesting and relevant to us,” he continued. “When we look at the letters, we have to remind ourselves constantly that our heroes were human too. They were great, they were bright but they were human and it is only when they are human that they become relevant to us,” Dr. Ocampo reiterated before closing his lecture.

A copy (not original) of Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere at the Lopez Museum and Library.

A copy (not original) of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere at the Lopez Museum and Library.

Dr. Ocampo accommodated a few questions from the audience and someone brought up the Torre de Manila issue.

“My position on the Torre de Manila is that yes, it’s bad for the sightline but it did not break any laws. As a matter of fact, my successor (at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines), Dr. Diokno approved its building because it is outside the declared area which is Rizal Park. To tell you how frustrated I am, the real violation was when Richard Gordon built the Lapu Lapu monument within Rizal Park. I fought him. I lost. Every year he would wait for me in Congress and threaten to give me P1.00 budget. That was the real unlawful act done by a lawmaker. But nobody said anything,” Dr. Ocampo revealed.

When I heard he was going to sign books, I purchased a copy of his best selling “Rizal Without the Overcoat”. None other than Anvil Publishing’s Gwenn Galvez faciliated my transaction. We have been introduced maybe five (or ten?) times within the last couple of years but she never seems to remember me. I can’t blame her, she must meet a gazillion people daily.

“What brings you here? Are you a teacher?,” Dr. Ocampo asked as I handed him my book. “What I do is not related in any way to what you do, I’m just interested,” I chirped. It was supposed to be a compliment. It was too late when I realized it came off more curt than flattering.

Dr. Ambeth Ocampo is a public historian with a research interest in the late 19th century Philippines.  He is Associate Professor and former Chairman of the Department of History of the Ateneo de Manila University and Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, UP Diliman.  He served as President, Philippine Historical Association and Chairman, National Historical Commission of the Philippines.  He is a columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Dr. Ambeth Ocampo is a public historian with a research interest in the late 19th century Philippines.
He is Associate Professor and former Chairman of the Department of History of the Ateneo de Manila University and Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, UP Diliman.
He served as President, Philippine Historical Association and Chairman, National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
He is a columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

If only I were not conscious of the long line of autograph seekers and the number of guests he needed to engage in small talk, I would have told him that I’ve been wanting to attend his events, that I’ve heard how his lectures are very entertaining, that I’ve been told that he makes history fun, that I’ve always found Rizal interesting, that in high school I read all the versions of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo that I could get my hands on pati comics (when I found out that my cousin, Lianne who was studying at St. Scholastica was assigned to read a different version, I got a copy of that too), that I entered UP Diliman as a History major (pre-law, supposedly) and overdosed on Rizal’s biography (oo, iba’t ibang versions na naman) before transferring to a course that required more time with people than with books.

I believe he will be at the Ayala Museum on August 29. Maybe I can tell him all these things then.

Dr. Ambeth Ocampo's bestselling work, "Rizal Without The Overcoat" is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Dr. Ambeth Ocampo’s bestselling work, “Rizal Without The Overcoat” is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

P.S. The Noli and Fili we’ve read is only 70% of what Rizal actually wrote. He had to remove a big chunk for lack of printing funds. Dr. Ocampo said he is working on putting back the 30% so the next generation will be reading a longer Noli and Fili. Enjoy, kids!

I attempted to brush up on my Rizal before going to the event. I dug up one of my books and found a note from one of my best friends in high school. Written in 1991! Pang-museum na din. Haha! I just want to clarify, Jude is short for Judith. Girl 'yan!

I attempted to brush up on my Rizal before going to the event. I dug up one of my books and found a note from one of my best friends in high school. Written in 1991! Pang-museum na din. Haha! I just want to clarify, Jude is short for Judith. Girl ‘yan!

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