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Looking back 1 by Ambeth Ocampo

Looking back 1 by Ambeth Ocampo

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book review
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Published by: Aurora on Jan 26, 2013
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Ever since before, history has always been a favorite subject of mine.

Stories of the past were like fairytales to me, even if it’s tragic, because I always found it fascinating and interesting. I’ve always loved hearing and reading stories concerning the past of the human race. Stories like these served as a springboard for my fantasies when I was just a child. It provided me with the ideas and images I needed every time I fantasized of myself living in the past and think that I’m a princess, not only when I was a child but also now. It was always interesting for me to know how the people of the past lived and analyze how the series of events that happened in the past influenced the present time. Once, I saw a documentary about the Romanov royal family, I was so amazed by it that I scoured the internet for articles pertaining to this subject and only when I was finally able to internalize the details that I stopped. However, the way history was written in textbooks and taught in my elementary and high school years made me lose interest in history and I wavered in my quest of knowing all there is to know of the past. That is why when I read Looking Back I found myself once again captivated by the wondrous stories of humanity that lies in history. Although I love history, I was more focused on the history of other nations. Topics pertaining to Philippine studies such as its history were always repeated in discussions during elementary and high school, just like a broken record. Looking back is the first book in the Looking Back series written by Ambeth R. Ocampo. He is a certified public historian who focused his study on the art, food, culture and the people who starred in the birth of the nation of the Philippines during the 19th century. This book series that I’m talking about is a compilation of the essays that were originally written in the Philippine Daily Globe in the late 1980’s (Ocampo, 2010)1. Actually, this is the second out of the five books from the book series written by Mr. Ocampo that I read. The second of the book series, Dirty Dancing was the first book I read but when I finally decided which book to review I chose Looking Back. Just like what the title implies, the book is all about looking back into the past to see the beauty of the Philippine history. I have never been really interested in Filipino history before I read it, but this book changed my outlook on this subject and added to my fascination of history.


Ocampo, A. R. (2010). Looking Back . Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 1

“Who was Juan Luna’s La Bulaqueña?”. “Rumors Distort History”. Ocampo made an arduous research in order to write the articles in the book. “The Sad Hidalgo-Yrritia Affair”. “A country that had many names”. Dr. It’s very obvious that Dr. personalities of our national heroes and other overlooked important facts of history. “Manuel L. “This diplomat stood up his fiancée”. It will be just like reading gossip from a magazine. there are seventeen topics contained. 2 . brimming with details and juicy information. “The Hotblooded Antonio Luna”. His keen observations. “There’s this woman named Circuncision”. the Forgotten Hero”. Ocampo did not limit his articles with historical. “Did Japan Offer to buy the Philippines?”. “Ay. “The governor and the feminist”. prepare to be shocked and astounded with the things you will learn. and some changes”. the ability to see small details of our history. It’s a handy book full of entertaining and informative facts which is definitely worth the time to read. Unlike other historical books. made his books more informative and entertaining than most of the history books that I’ve encountered in the past. Although it didn’t took much time to read the book. in this particular book series he did not only focus on a single concept or topic. “A song for Quezon’s girlfriend”. In the book Looking Back. political or social figures like national heroes. The Way He Was”. “Who did Luna pass off as his wife?”. The seventeen articles contained in the book were entitled: “Gregorio del Pilar was a Playboy”. Quezon. “A king visited RP and Fell in love”. “Andres Bonifacio’s Brave Widow”. every minute of the time I spent reading it was worth it.When I first saw the book I was perplexed by how thin it was because I was expecting a thick book just like any other history book I saw in the past. “Filipino Cuss Words”. When you get to read the book. “Namese. Ocampo’s essays in the Looking Back series contained an array of articles ranging from tragic love stories to names of Filipinos. “The “Mala Caña” in Malacañang?”. places. “MacArthur and Dimples”.“Recuerdos de Patay”. The compilation of Dr. Monai!”. “We could have been a German Colony”. Filipino cuss words. “How much for the Mamon?”. “The last word on Maynila”. things that we often overlooked. It was full of witty and humorous words that gave light to the stories written. “Lopez Jaena. I truly enjoyed reading it because it made me laugh hard and at the same time learn facts about our history that I didn’t knew beforehand. “Who is Balagtas’ Celia” and lastly. “King of Belgium failed to buy the Philippines”. Moreover.

Ocampo’s forthright manner of describing these national figures really makes one see that even heroes are capable of committing mistakes just like normal people do. Lastly. in a way. also called Heneral Goyo. Moreover. Ocampo reiterated what a playboy Gregorio del Pilar was and the said “true” story of how he died during the Battle of Tirad Pass. described as a sloppy. President Manuel L. It was said that his friends would try to accompany him from time to time to make sure that he won’t get himself into a fight. Articles divulging the personalities of well-known national figures like Pres. his dead body was left to rot in the fields by the Americans but not before they took everything Gregorio owned. Well. Graciano Lopez Jaena was. It was said that GDP had a sweetheart in every town he passed. and undisciplined writer. From what I’ve learned from the previous years. Antonio Luna and Graciano Lopez Jaena were also featured in the book. the love 3 . Antonio Luna was a hot-blooded person. the general did not die riding a horse as said in the school textbooks instead he died on the ground because he wasn ‘t listening to his mates when he was told to keep his head down to avoid being shot. more often than not. Moreover. based on the Spanish soldier who claimed he was a part of Heneral Goyo’s army. Manuel L. Tragic love stories are also featured in the book such as the love affairs of Hidalgo and Yrritia and General McArthur and Dimples. Quezon. he left a trail of broken hearts. the ending of this story really stinks and it contradicts with the facts I’ve learned before. he died a hero when he fought to keep the Americans distracted in order to protect Emilio Aguinaldo and because of his heroic actions the Americans honored him by burying him properly. evidences show that before Heneral Goyo died at a young age. He speaks cuss words such as “putangina” and “punyeta” which you don’t really expect from a dignified person like him. drunkard.The book contains shocking information that allows the readers to see the human side of the well-known national figures. In addition. One of the famous national heroes described is General Gregorio del Pilar. Dr. It was said that only when he was drunk. I felt sad when I read how. a person who is easily angered and will immediately dare a pistol fight from his enemy if angered. Dr. Ocampo shared some information about the human side and hidden/unknown personalities of these national figures. that he was able to write mind-awakening speeches and essays but when he was in a sober mood he loses his capacity as a writer to write significant essays. He had a terrible temper and it might possibly be the reason that he was killed. Quezon was very outspoken in a good way and bad way. even in death. This just shows how history can be changed in textbooks in favor of the heroes.

a picture of a dead Emilio Jacinto. wearing his best outfit while lying in a bed surrounded by his family members can be seen. However. normal Filipino words such as Monai means large breasts. Cuss words such as Punyeta and Leche means masturbate and semen in Spanish. Filipino cuisine and a little of Filipino names. I still found it fascinating and amazing to learn that stuffs like these were done. bombo for lesbians while de lata refer to condoms. Dr. I was laughing so hard from mirth. In addition. By the time I was finished reading this part of the book. One could learn from the book that normal Filipino cuss words could have a very different and perverted meaning in Spanish. Even from the old black and white picture. called the “Brains of the Katipunan”. Ironically. Ocampo also discussed the uniqueness of Filipino cuisine and the “unmentionable” food that we cook. Teta (for boobs) and Maricon (colloquial of homosexual) they must never share their names with any Spaniard or they’ll be laughed at. Although I find the practice of taking a picture with the dead creepy and morbid. “I shall return”. I’d rather not take a picture with any dead person. Moreover. one could see how painful the moment was to the family of Jacinto. Peculiar facts such as the Recuerdos de Patay which refers to the pictures taken of a dead person and the family that he/she left behind which was practiced by Filipinos in the previous centuries was also mentioned in the book. of stories like these were shared by history-book writers. Unfortunately. In the book. The fact that we were colonized by Spaniards for 333 years but never truly learned their language just shows that the colonizers didn’t want us to be 4 . It sort of creeps me out and I don’t ever want to have dreams with faces of dead people. their books will be no longer boring since any stories of torrid love affairs and scandal are always appreciated by normal people. if these facts were printed in textbooks the public image of those individuals involved would forever be tainted. These stuffs were never mentioned in my school textbooks which I think was intently done so that the children will not be tainted by stories like premarital love/sexual affairs. However.story of Felix Hidalgo and Maria Yrritia did not end well. Humorous and witty articles that contributed to the success of this book was about Filipino cuss words. In addition. How could I when I couldn’t look at the face of a dead person without flinching. respectively. His and Isabel Rosario Cooper’s affair was a sordid one and it really taints his image as the person who made the famous line. it was a revelation to me that the famous General Douglas McArthur (I’m from Leyte so I’m very aware how famous he is) had a mistress. for those who are named Pitoy (for penis).

In addition. Also. Fernandez. and Vall Seu Parigne by Chinese merchants and voyagers. Ocampo points out some “what ifs” which supports the purpose of the book that of looking back. even in words. More importantly. Inside the Catalogo is a list of fascinating. Ocampo allowed us. They don’t want to be outranked by an Indio because their pride won’t let them. In this book. Dr. One must be aware of this fact so that to prevent embarrassment in front of other people. Ocampo states that first names were patterned according to ecclesiastical celebrations or from names of saints. In relation to the previous topic. These articles convey that things could have been different for us if the things that didn’t happen happened. Instead of having a choice of having a nice surname. first names and surnames of Filipinos were also greatly influenced by the Spaniards. he changed its name into Felipinas 5 . he also discussed the labels or names of our country before it became Philippines. when Ruy Lopez de Villalobos came to the island. he named it Archipielago de San Lazaro in commemoration of the Feast of Saint Lazarus. the natives were forced to accept what is being given to them even if it will embarrass them. Dr. Natividad. meaningful and ridiculous surnames taken from Spanish words and native words such as Baboy. Bagonggahasa. Dr.knowledgeable of their language. It was once identified as the Isles Barusses. Balimbing. we would be able find vestiges of the past in every corner of what we see. Lusong. unknowing people. By putting these articles in the book. Archipel de Saint Lazare. Names such as Epifanio. Dr. Dr. In this part of the book. It emphasizes the fact that they were selfish not only with their compassion but also their knowledge. Ocampo pointed out the fact that most of our words are influenced by the Spanish colonization. that the usual words that we use can mean differently in another language. If we would just try to open our eyes and appreciate everything in our path. he shows us that history is everywhere. Later on it was called by the Spaniards Islas del Poniente while the Portuguese called it Islas de Oriente. However. When Magellan discovered the country. Maria and Asuncion are nice names compared to Circuncision which can be very embarrassing to the one bearing the name. Moreover. On the other hand. Macapagal and Perez. Liu-si. The words that we always thought our own possibly came not from us but from foreigners. surnames of the natives were taken from the Catalogo de Apellidos. The ambiguity of Filipino names reflects the way the Spaniards ruled and bullied us. Ocampo also included information about the planned colonization of the Philippines that Japan and Germany failed to do.

Ocampo rightfully ended this book by placing the article entitled. she remained strong and faithful to the memory of Andres Bonifacio up to day that she died. I also agree on his choice of articles to be compiled in the book especially the ones with the national figures. “Andres Bonifacio’s Brave Widow” at the last. Dr. The way he conveyed his purpose in each article makes the significance of the book clear to the readers. Moreover. He made me appreciate more the people who fought in the struggle for the freedom that I now exercise. terrible temper. I give Ambeth Ocampo a perfect 100. addiction or hobbies of those famous heroic figures making them seem more like real people. Philippines is just the anglicized Filipinas. Her courage and faith really makes her a good match for Andres Bonifacio. Even though she knew that the risks are high when it comes to matters of revolution. made those heroes more interesting to me. I definitely approve his writing technique which gave me a better understanding of what I was reading. the Philippines. entertain his readers. The refreshing way he pointed out the love life. The article is about Gregoria de Jesus who is not only known as the wife of the famous national hero Andres Bonifacio but also as a brave woman who fought in the struggle for the freedom of the Philippine nation just like what Gabriela Silang. He did not use flowery words to describe a subject instead he made use of wit and humorous words to convey the relevance of history and at the same time. Melchora Aquino and other women of revolution did. Furthermore. she didn’t waver in her faith that Philippines was worth dying for. There was never a mind-boggling or dull 6 . he teaches the reader the importance of learning things by heart and not by the mind. it reflects the fact that other nations see the Philippines as something to be coveted and owned. This part of the book certainly conveys the purpose of the book which is to look back into the history of the Philippines and appreciate everything related it because even minute details such as these articles written in the book give more color to our history. She took an active part of protecting Katipunan documents and other important things by keeping it on her person. Although her love story with Andres did not end well since Andres Bonifacio was killed. Aling Oriang’s story is one the reason why we should appreciate our history. Aside from his great writing technique. By naming something.in honor of the Spanish crown. It illustrates that the Philippines had different identities before it was colonized by Spain and officially became Philippines. Overall. one is claiming possession of the thing and in this case.

especially for those readers who are not much a fan of history. Before reading the book. then students would find it easy to appreciate our history and be more nationalistic. By reading this book. I learned to appreciate the present because now would after all. By looking back into the past. if the events are connected with each other so it will be easier to see a bigger visual of our nation’s history and appreciate it. tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift that is why it is called present. readers must change their attitude and perception of history or else they will really find themselves disappointed. In accepting the things that happened in the past we learn from our mistakes and we could look at the future with a strong mind and heart.article in his book because he made sure that all articles contain warmth that only an avid historian like him could give. become a part of the past. Ocampo has written about it. It would be much easier to understand. they must open their hearts and minds to the facts that they will learn and be prepared to accept the unvarnished truth. “The past is history. If only history is taught in school like how Dr. I remembered to be thankful to all those heroes who fought for our freedom and to be proud of my identity and the roots from where I came from. For those who are planning to read or complete the Looking Back book series. They must let go of any bias to understand the author’s message in every article in the book. one could see clearly how time connects everything that is happening.” 7 . I think the only recommendation that I could give to improve this book is that it would be better if the articles are correlated with each other. As the saying goes.

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