Re-teaching and relearning our history

"Unfortunately, Filipinos are left to their own devices when they want to study our story as a nation."


While the interest has always been there, dabbling in Philippine history was really just a hobby. Never did I imagine that my fascination, particularly with the Philippine revolution, would become a passion that I would seriously pursue.

In school, history was just a boring subject to me. I did not like how my former teachers tackled what otherwise are very interesting events in our collective past. The students of my time were subjected to the “banking education” type in which we were told what to learn. We were taught to memorize the what, who, and where of things, rather than challenging us to think, analyze, and discuss the how and the why of historical events. For instance, in college, we needed to go through the subject P. I. 100 or the Rizal course. Many of us then considered this as a most boring subject that it was given the moniker P***ang I*a 100.

My own interest in the country’s history was awakened in the 80s when I was already involved in the women’s movement. We were discussing women’s participation in society and someone remarked that history is really “his story,” written, told, and taught by mostly men using men’s point of view. It is a fact that history books are full of stories of men giving the impression that women did not exist in the past, or if they did, they were not part of important events that happened and are worth remembering.

This made me look into women’s participation in Philippine history and discovered a good number of them who did important work but were barely recognized for their own brand of heroism. Since then, I have written pieces about great Filipino women.

My generation, especially those who studied in the University of the Philippines and those imbued with activism in the ’70s, were “indoctrinated” into the “cult” that worshipped Andres Bonifacio. After all, the Supremo was the radical and militant revolutionary who fathered the Katipunan and led the revolution to oust the evil Spanish colonizers. He was the epitome of the masses’ hero. He was of the masses with his red pants, camisa, neckerchief, and bolo.

Dr. Jose Rizal was a moderate reformist and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was a traitor who had the Supremo killed. Bonifacio possessed the much-needed attributes of the hero we wanted to have in the activist movements (plural because there were a few contending ideologies then). Activists then were out to oust a dictator as Bonifacio wanted to defeat our colonizers. No questions asked, I fell for this line. Bonifacio was my hero, Rizal was good but not enough, and Aguinaldo killed my hero.

This line of thinking remains very much alive now especially with the release of films like General Luna and Goyo that abused “artistic license” and misrepresented historical events. People’s dislike of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was rekindled because of the films’ misleading portrayal of his character. Many engage in heated debates on history on social media based solely on what the twisted history learned from these films. After all, these movies were made primarily for profit.

By the way, members of both the Aguinaldo and Del Pilar clans repeatedly called out the director of these films for the way they abused their “artistic license.”

It is worth noting that when news came out that a film on General Miguel Malvar was being made with boxer and Senator Manny Pacquiao as lead character, some members of the Malvar clan expressed concern about how the General would be portrayed outside of the fact that they were not consulted about this project.

While I am not for censorship, our film industry can better serve the people if it were more responsible in using its craft to really educate our people especially since film is a most effective way of sending messages to the public.

It is unfortunate that our people have very few opportunities to seriously learn and relearn our valiant past. People are left to their own devices when they want to study our story as a nation. Even our formal educational system teaches very little Philippine history. If the way history was taught during my student days was bad, now it is worse.

Our young people have very minimal knowledge of our roots as a people which makes them vulnerable to misleading or outright fake news or information. The virtual absence of rootedness divides us as a people. It makes it easy for our people to be critical of each other and our country, to be apathetic to the problems we face, and even to turn their backs on their citizenship and leave the country at the first sign of an opportunity.

Rootedness in our national identity comes with a good understanding of what we went through as a nation—of how tens of thousands sacrificed their lives so we can claim this country as ours. We will have more productive, responsible, and patriotic citizens by developing in them a better appreciation of our country’s story.

We need to re-teach and relearn Philippine history in a way that is more analytical and relevant to the present generation of Filipinos.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Philippine History , Miguel Malvar , University of the Philippines , Emilio Aguinaldo
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