Ambeth Ocampo: A Ghost Writer for Teodoro A. Agoncillo

Historians in the News

Today, Aug. 21, a nationwide non-working holiday, will provide Filipinos time to remember Ninoy Aquino and how this man’s life and death set off a chain of events that made history
. We will also remember Ninoy today in the context of the life and death of his widow Cory Aquino who also began another chain of events that made history. Now that there are many moves to proclaim Cory a national hero, to begin the process of canonization, to at least have her face adorn the P500 bill alongside Ninoy, I wonder what the late historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo would say about all this. When asked to comment on the present, I often hide behind the cliché “Let history be the judge.”

Agoncillo always advised that we must gain some perspective before we can write history. To gain that perspective one has to let time pass so that the passions and fashions of the present will recede and we will be able to see things more clearly.

Currently used in colleges and universities around the country is the 8th edition of Teodoro Agoncillo’s landmark, bestselling work “History of the Filipino People” which has been around for close to half a century. In its first incarnation, Agoncillo chose a junior academic, Oscar Alfonso, as his co-author, hence that edition is better known in history and bibliographical circles as “Agoncillo and Alfonso.” Then after a few printings, Agoncillo replaced Alfonso as co-author, and invited his student Milagros C. Guerrero to write a third of the book. Thus “History of the Filipino People,” despite the changes in cover design and the addition or deletion of readings, became better known as “Agoncillo and Guerrero.” Now, in its latest incarnation, the junior author has been dropped and Agoncillo finally comes into his own as the sole author of the book as suggested by the cover.

The question that has bothered me about this arrangement is that Guerrero’s chapters were deleted and replaced by an unseen hand or hands. Can Agoncillo take responsibility for data and opinions written by someone else? Should he be liable? How could Agoncillo approve or disapprove the 8th edition of “his” book that saw print after his death? Isn’t it odd that Agoncillo, who passed away in January 1985, was able to write a book that brought history up to date to August 1987? Now that gives us a new meaning to the term “ghost writer.”

Agoncillo’s fame and influence extended beyond his classroom and the reach of his sharp tongue. He wrote over 20 books, the more notable ones being “Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan” (1956), “Malolos: Crisis of the Republic” (1960), “The Fateful Years: Japan’s Misadventures in the Philippines 1941-1945” (2 vols, 1965), “Filipino Nationalism” (1974), and “The Burden of Proof: The Vargas-Laurel Collaboration Case” (1984).

Before his death he was senior member of the board of the National Historical Institute and it was to him and to the late E. Aguilar Cruz that I ran to for reference when required. Though they have passed away, their counsel remains through the minutes of the NHI board meetings that often provide illumination when issues are murky.

I remember Agoncillo today because we need perspective to understand the present and our recent history...
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