The US and Ambeth Ocampo: Our past and future


We shall honor Teacher’s Day by discussing something about our history education and a great teacher among us.  Teacher’s Day was last September 28 for most of East Asia, characterized by and attributing their Tiger economy status and academic attainments of their peoples to the orderly conduct and learning espoused by Confucius, an itinerant teacher some 2,500 years ago.  (Confucius of the cultural institutes whom the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Philippine Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio considered more dangerous than the fake use of Philippine hex codes and identity that was used by a US spy plane RC-135S flying near the coasts of China this week, which could have started a war for the Philippines?  Yes.)
“Many of the most venerated figures in Asian history are teachers who had no political, military or economic exploits.  They are remembered and respected on the level of importance of kings and heroes.  Few people remember the names of the emperors or the wealthiest people of the day, but people remember their great teachers.”  Worldwide, there are more statues of Confucius and Rizal than conquerors and emperors.

The teacher we refer to?  Ambeth Ocampo, the Philippines’ Don of History, who happily, for his growing number of fans, had a Zoom talk last week on fake news in Philippine history.

He started off by saying he had been researching and teaching for the past decades “so that the future won’t be like the past” and because he “believed in the future of history.”  Hopefully, a better future and not so distant one.

Niall Ferguson,  history professor at Stanford and superstar from Oxford, recounted that in the new environ in the United States, he found himself sometimes having to defend to students the importance of  history when many of the students considered that technology is the future and questioned the value of history classes.  Students in the Philippines may also imagine they are trading their future for tech.  If they do so, hopefully of the type that creates platforms for health or education or some value-creation, not the type that immerses in the gossip-and selfie-trading type of tech.

They would be enthralled if they had Ambeth as their professor.  He turned the tide of grave injustice propagated by fiction writers, correcting fake news that maligned the brains of the Philippine Revolution against both Spanish and American empires, Apolinario Mabini, as having become a paralytic because of syphilis rather than polio.  There is the comedic election battle of Philippine politics that centered on the false story about the “golden arinola” or bedpan urinal of a Philippine president.

Was Rizal the father of Hitler or was he Jack the Ripper? Related to Pacquiao? Urban legends of the White Lady of Balete, or of an eight-year-old elucidating on the merits of Greek or Latin (demonstrating feats of credulousness) — entire fake history books hacked out by some writers.  Some untrue stories are what Caroline Hao calls “necessary fictions” that a society creates to teach moral and life lessons. But some are malicious fake news that people sometimes spread as histories.  Ambeth kept the audience spellbound with his calm clarity, beautiful pictures of old Manila and videos of world events — the sweep of the history alive, despite doing this through a Zoom talk organized by the Ayala Museum.

Human stories of passions, weaknesses and great achievements that give lessons we can base our career and personal life decisions on are most interesting.  History delivered as a memorized series of facts that will never be used except in tests, is, correctly, not worth the time or money of our millions of students.  We cannot learn good decisions from fake stories, so we are asked to discern by reading a lot, validating and developing our “shit detectors” — especially in this tech-enabled age, where we are flooded with more information than we can verify.

Do governments propagate lies? It is the natural result when you combine politics and human nature.  People as a whole will create their own lies as well, when their self-worth, economic dominance and life values depend on them.  Such as to justify their racial superiority, slavery, or takeovers of entire nations. Or to excuse their weaknesses as a result of witchcraft, cheating or provocations that never happened. Results can range from small personal annoyances to disastrous wars.

Historians are even more needed when there is mass misinformation. When there are records kept though, the truth will eventually come out, and some people will learn from the past and bring society forward.  Even if entire nations  are destroyed, such that they never rise again as political entities, if the kernel of truth is protected even by a small band or even just by the surviving records of any form, even when all survivors have died, this truth can grow again and benefit the future.

Thus, the secrets of some oppressive governments of Rome or China or the US can be hidden for a period; but the truth comes out.  These same rulers can be demonized, but their achievements and contributions to the people amid their tyrannies can also be recognized and weighed on the balance at a future time.  Christianity was hunted down, its leader humiliated and crucified, but it has become a world power. The Jews were persecuted, but their deep study for knowledge bears fruit in science, business and arts.

The Chinese were conquered by the Mongols, Xiongnu and Manchus for centuries at a time, but they expect themselves and all powers to periodically rise and decline. Greece is no longer a world power, but its archetypes, arts, philosophies are eternal.

There are some so dispossessed and crushed that they have disappeared as a nation and can never rise again, such as some of the cultures of North and South America.  Some entire civilizations have disappeared but, with records, their past magnificence and some of their knowledge and arts are passed on, as with the Minoans and others.  Some adapt to an evolved form with new combinations, like the European Union.

A surviving history or even an aspirational one, if based on sufficient reality,  in paper, stone or even oral history, like the Iliad and Odyssey, if combined with people of great heart and ability to work, can be the seed of a great flowering of the nation rising from near irrelevance.

The Philippines has not had a record of collecting, sifting through, distilling the wisdoms of history.  There are not many records that survive of the time before the Spaniards came, or of Magellan’s arrival, or of the islands’ lives and kingdoms during the early Spanish periods.  The records are from Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, German, Spanish, US sources.  Where are our own? The few we had were carted off.

Ambeth comes from a chain of historians; he quotes wisdoms from Teodoro Agoncillo and foreign friends. Striving for world class excellence, he can read Spanish, German and Italian, and advises aspirants today to learn different languages, including Chinese and Japanese, to be able to go directly to records sources, many of which have yet to be studied.  We have a world class historian with us who also understands and can deliver with entertainment.

Do we have SUCCESSION?  Will we create one?  No one can be alone in this responsibility if we are to be a nation.

Inspiring Prayer for all Teachers, Share with Your Teachers, Past & Present!

Video of the Prayer Honoring all Teachers

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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