Ambeth Ocampo held a short but very informative talk about Rizal at PowerBooks Makati last Wednesday. The subject was Rizal in pictures. The most photographed Philippine hero of all time, what was on display was various stages of his life in photos, from his youthful Ateneo days to his death in the fields of Bagumbayan.
There were other interesting photos that were on display that day, but of course an Ambeth Ocampo lecture would not be complete without his mastery of telling Rizal’s story. His greatest contribution so far is humanizing this great Filipino icon, making him reachable to everyone in a way (but Rizal still remains, alien most of the time to me! His achievements are just unbelievable).
There were many viewpoints that he shared that I found to be revealing, especially the “retraction” a question I raised at the end of the lecture. Since I’ve always doubted the authenticity of the letter, he did share his thoughts on its validity (he believes that Rizal wrote it), whether it was his signature or not that appeared on it would be another subject all together.
The retraction according to his very words, “irrelevant” he did explain some Atenian Jesuit school training that I never understood (since I’m not from that school) about people writing or saying something but at the back of ones mind, not being sincere about the thought (isn’t this what we call lying?). Anyways, I happen to agree that the letter has little importance, I happen to believe that even if Rizal died without writing that disputed document, he would’ve died a Catholic, he has always been one in my view.
Of course there were plenty of his written works that manifested his negative view on the church but in my opinion he never left the faith, he had questioned some of clergical practices but that did not mean he abandoned the faith all together, he is too smart to do so. Rizal like us was not perfect and has made errors in the past; sometimes we’re over zealous on some of his missteps and thus make quick judgments. Quezon and del Pilar, now these guys did retract, why are we not talking about them? In their written will lay words of repentance! Well, this only goes to show Rizal’s weight in our historical consciousness.
The letter in Dapitan (later on becoming the ‘retraction letter’ appearing here in Manila all of a sudden, according to the author, he found in Monte de Piedad’s vault) was a proof that Rizal maintained his belief in the holy sacraments, for he was told to write it down for the church to allow his marriage with his ‘beautiful stranger’, if he was not a Catholic, why would he bother to write something down to marry a girl he was already been living with for years? As the story goes Rizal refused to signed it, according to Ambeth, he wants to be married first before signing it, he did not trust the good padres enough, the friars did not agree of course.
The rest of the lecture was fun, I’ve met up with some fellow history enthusiast and had a light merienda hosted by Ambeth’s publisher, Anvil. I did approach the author and personally expressed my appreciation of what he has done for our history, he is to date the most widely read historian in the land. He did reply with a smile, “Arnold, I hope that all people feels the same way”, known to many are the criticism thrown to him by some scholarly individuals that looks down at his work as “fiction pass on as historical facts”, I happen to disagree. I would, given a chance replace the professors I had in college who held a PhD’s from our state university with someone like Ambeth. The idea of challenging the existing belief is what made his books and lectures interesting. Our history books are swarming with lies and legends that we must verify everything. The way history has been taught in our classrooms is to blame why this generation is estranged from learning the real past.
The event ended with a meet and greet affair with everyone in the room getting their chances to do a lil’ chit chat with the author, I had my books signed (the old one & recently bought). Though I’ve been following his articles in the inquirer, I still bought his books, which is a compilation of his past columns, the last two (Bone’s of Contention & Rizal: Meaning and history) his lectures here and abroad, books that are loaded with his invaluable research and insights.
I spoke with a lady (I believe she was Ambeth’s publisher, forgot the name) and asked if the books that we no longer see available in bookstores (Mabini’s Ghost, Makamisa etc etc…) would be publish in the future and she said yes it would be but no time has been allocated yet for its completion since the author has been busy with his current post as NHI head. I hope this guy gets back to writing again!