On the Spot: Ambeth Ocampo

The Rizal scholar talks about Marcos, Martial Law, and says YOLO.


(SPOT.ph) You might know him as a Rizal advocate, or for his widely read biweekly column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Looking Back"—which, by the way, is brilliant. Even former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stated that he “makes history so approachable.” For three decades, Ambeth Ocampo has been studying and writing about our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. The ninth book of his "Looking Back" series, Demonyo Tables, was published this year. His accessible approach to history through writing has earned him a lot of recognition, the most recent being the Gawad Tanglaw for Best Newspaper Columnist (2015). He currently has a growing Facebook fan base of 50,900 followers for his unorthodox way of presenting Philippine history.


Ocampo has been regularly holding full-house lectures called History Comes Alive at the Ayala Museum for years, but now he'll be exploring a subject other than Jose Rizal. On September 26, the spotlight will be on a 20th Century and Ferdinand Marcos.


In an email interview with SPOT.ph, Ocampo dropped a few hints on what he thinks about Martial Law...and surprised us by saying YOLO to Baliwag chicharon. 




Out of all the public figures in Philippine history, what is it about Marcos that made you move out of your comfort zone?

I have spent over three decades researching and writing on Rizal, its time I move into contemporary times. Being part of a generation called “Martial Law Babies,” I grew up thinking Ferdinand Marcos came with Malacañang’s furniture. A few years ago, I was given a copy of the Marcos diaries and reading this self-serving document made me see Marcos in a different light and moved me to get as close to the truth as possible. The diaries tell us what he ate, what his ailments were, it gives us his version of events. It is a challenge for the historian to tease the truth from a tainted source.

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What can people expect from this lecture, especially those who may have conflicting perceptions about Marcos?

The lecture is basically historiographical, it is not so much about history but rather how history is constructed.  There are many aspects to Marcos and the Marcos period. How should we remember it? What should we remember? And most importantly, why we should remember.



What do you think of The Great LEAN Run that happened in UP Diliman? This run featured obstacles reminiscent of Martial Law.

This is a way of remembering, and helping those who have forgotten or don't know that we should never return to those dark days.



What do you think of the younger generation having prejudiced perceptions of Marcos and Martial Law?


It worries me that there are some misguided people who have a perverted nostalgia for Marcos and Martial Law. They look back with rose-colored glasses on a period with no traffic, lower peso-dollar exchange rate, peace and order. That may be true in part but we should never forget the underside to all this. We should not forget freedoms lost or hostaged in those days. We should not forget the people who fought for the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted today.



Do you have plans to continue your focus on Marcos?

I am just starting my research on Marcos and it will be the proverbial first step in a journey of a thousand miles.



On a different note, what did you find out about Baliwag chicharon when you were working on Demonyo Tables?

Baliwag chicharon may be bad for my cholesterol and blood pressure but hey! You only live once so better indulge.



History Comes Alive: Ferdinand Marcos is happening on September 26, 3 p.m. at the Ayala Museum. Ticket prices are as follows: P375 (regular); P275 (students, senior citizens, and Ayala Museum members). Ayala Museum is at Makati Avenue corner Dela Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati City (hello@ayalamuseum.org or 759-8288).



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