OPINION: Hooked on history....and loving it

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Mar 17 2019 12:12 PM | Updated as of Mar 17 2019 12:16 PM

As schoolchildren, we are introduced to the history of the Philippines by way of our  first contact and familiarity with the names of national heroes.  Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Gomburza, etc. I suppose that the degree of impression inculcated upon the young minds, about such heroic models  and the anecdotes relevant to such lives, determines a forthcoming passion  or a lack of it, for  the study of history, thereafter. 

At the onset of my teens, having been a mere one among many thousands of pupils of this particular teacher, over the decades of his teaching career, I certainly would not have been expected to, nor be capable of, attaching any significance to my formal introduction to
the study of Philippine history. Such significance  ought to have been due to the fact that the very author of the textbook we read, was also our very classroom teacher, himself! This was in San Beda College, late 1940s. How fortunate I was, except that  then I never thought it to be so.

In retrospect, I consider it now a treasured memory to have sat in the presence of Dr. Gregorio F. Zaide,  the Philippines’ most prominent historiographer and most prolific author of Philippine history textbooks. His first book, “Philippine History and Government”  was our classroom text. And about this textbook, I remember rather vividly one evening after dinner when my father asked what my favorite subject was. Upon saying history, my Papa asked for my schoolbook and proceeded to turn to the index section. He wanted to test how much I was learning by reading off the index, randomly top to bottom, page after page and asking me what each entry meant. I answered all the questions, or said something relevant, swimmingly, without realizing I may have been establishing my youthful mastery of elementary school level of Philippine History. Might a passion have been lit, then?

How can I forget Dr. Zaide!  He with the generously proportioned ears, happy harbingers of longevity, as old wives were prone to prophesy. Always garbed in a business suit, (Filipinos referred to it as “Americana”),  while the rest of the teachers wore only dress shirts with ties. Besides, his son, Bobby, was a classmate through grade and high school. Roberto “Bobby” Zaide  became a practicing physician but was also a habitue of the old Manila Overseas Press Club along Roxas Boulevard. That’s where we last sat together. Pre-martial law years!

I am reminiscing  because after a lapse of seventy years, I am about to sit down again before another Filipino historian. An eminent academic, a highly regarded and admired Filipino expatriate university professor, thinker and author. 

I just sought a future appointment, perhaps for late spring, to visit with Dr. Vicente Rafael who is a professor of History and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. “Vince” Rafael is from the Ateneo  (BA in history and philosophy) and  earned his MA and PhD in History at Cornell University in New York. He has taught at the University of California  in San Diego and at the University of Hawai’i (UH) in Manoa before joining UW in 2003.

Over the years, I have become an avid book collector with a modest assembly of historical Filipiniana, many very rare ones, too and mostly of American colonial times. My introduction to this young historian came when I acquired a copy of his first book, “Contracting Colonialism. ” This was about our Christian conversion and colonization via the use of vernacular translations of catechetical/novena materials, more or less, if memory serves me right. Since then, Professor Rafael has edited and authored more books. I have acquired  all of them, too. There is “Discrepant Histories,” a compilation of essays by other thinkers, (including one of his own)  which he edited into a volume.  “White Love and other events in Filipino History,”  “The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines,” and “Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation.”

On a personal note as  my layman’s impression,  Professor Rafael’s intellectual output is a welcome departure from our bygone depression-era history writers’ sanctimonious espousal of nativist nationalism, dominant in their  interpretation of Philippine history. Happily,   Prof. Rafael and just about a handful of other pre-Generation X academicians, have risen to provide us with balanced perspectives steeped more in  academic objectivity than parochial bias.

And so, how did it come about that I sought an appointment with the professor and expressed a wish to sit “at your feet,” in search of counsel and additional edification?

Well, there is this thing called Internet, you know, and the community lure of Facebook that got me going. 

The other day, Vicente Rafael posted:  “Random speculation on the history of authoritarianism in the Philippines:  …,”  followed by a thumbnail dissertation, ending it  teasingly, “That’s as far as I’ll go for now.”  Immediately, I thought that the professor might be priming up for his next book or in the least, another monograph. Apropos and timely, indeed, on Philippine authoritarianism, after all dictatorial ‘Dutertismo’ is stalking the land!

This Facebook community’s online conversation produced a thread of at least fifty commentaries, back and forth, mine included. In one in particular comment, addressing me, he said: “At some point you should write about your years being consul in Honolulu while the Marcoses were there. Would make for very interesting reading.”

What an inspiring  encouragement! I remembered that Vince was also in Honolulu at that time, then an assistant professor at UH. It occurred  to me that, perhaps, writing about those memories and experiences could provide an added counterpoint to the remnants  of Marcos’ ongoing molestation of Philippine history. We all know that the Marcos heirs, felonious legatees to purloined fortune, are financing a stupidly vain attempt to alter history, hallucinating  a path of return to political power.

Thirty years earlier, President Cory Aquino had tasked me with a delicate, once-in-a-lifetime assignment in Hawai’i. From April of 1986 up to the end of 1989, as Consul General, I was to surveil the nefarious activities of the exiled “conjugal dictatorship” of Ferdinand and Imelda, who in their obstinacy, continued to plot destabilization against the newly installed People Power government in the Philippines.   

Of course, I do have stories, vignettes, anecdotes and all that sort, to share about the Marcoses during their Hawai’ian exile  up to the dictator’s demise. Truthfully, the thought of committing these into writing a book, the notion of contributing entertaining trivia to history has crossed my mind. Unfortunately for me, slothful episodes and bouts with doubt have chipped away at my self-confidence to be an author. The idea merely suffered a recurring return to the ‘backburner.’

A suggestion that all these “would make for interesting reading,” coming as it did from an established historian and a credentialed academic, hit me as an inspiring inducement to dust off and revive a project lying in fallow all these years. 
Well, for the next several weeks, under the auspices of this Opinion section of news.abs-cbn.com, I will sample how it is to be a history story-teller.


Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

His e-mail is: [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.