Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rizal Without the Overcoat by Ambeth Ocampo

Title: Rizal Without the Overcoat
Author: Ambeth Ocampo
Publisher: Anvil Publishing,Inc.
Original Publication Date: 1990
Pages: 272

"Jose Rizal Mercado y Alonso (1861-96) is the Philippine national hero because an American governor gave him that recognition. President Taft did not choose Aguinaldo because he was too militaristic; Rizal fitted the ideal of national leader for the Filipinos. (Arcilla 1984:88)"<

Jose Rizal is touchy subject for most Filipino scholars. It is worth emphasizing that unlike the designation of the Narra as the National tree, or the Mango as the National fruit, ejusdem generis, there is no law designating Rizal as the Philippine national hero. So contrary to popular belief, the post of 'THE' National Hero is, in all its actuality, lodged in a genuine debate, and not merely in a verbal one.

If you are interested in reading a more academic approach of why Rizal is worthy of being labeled as the Philippine national hero, read Leon M. Guerrero's book The First Filipino.

The title is not a mere designation. Rizal Without the Overcoat endeavors to present Rizal, without the overcoat, the overcoat of the European influence embossed upon this enamored persona though his European education. In some sense, this could be certainly taken as a post-colonial approach in viewing Rizal.

The book is a compilation of articles Ambeth Ocampo wrote in a Philippine newspaper, which says a lot about his writings. Ocampo's writing has been designated as 'popular history' and it is not without any grounding at all. Popular history is history writing striving for a very wide audience of non-specialists. Reading this made me feel I was going through a Rizal trivia book, it was enjoyable (who doesn't love trivias?), and had its moments. Of course the necessary critiques of this form includes the style, analytical depth and the wealth of resources/references which in Ocampo's case has suffered from existential dearth. Be critical in reading Ocampo, you may just subliminally fall into his bandwagon.

But is there a need to remove the overcoat? Who is Rizal but the man who sought education in the foreign shores to liberate his people? Is he too not defined by the knowledge, motivations, social stimuli he encountered wearing that overcoat? Is the overcoat not a part of who Rizal truly is?

Entirely not part of this book's review!
I seem to keep reading the statement that Rizal wrote for the people, for the masses, for the 'Indios'! Rizal did not write for the masses, the two seminal novels were originally written in Spanish, a Lingua Franca known only to the Filipino landed elite, the landlords, and even to them a limited number was capable of reading. More importantly, books were a luxury then compared to today. Noli and El Fili were inaccessible when it first came out.
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