Academics defend historian Ambeth Ocampo vs ‘smear campaign’

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 11 2022 03:16 PM | Updated as of Jul 11 2022 06:15 PM

Public historian Ambeth Ocampo. Photo from Ocampo’s official Facebook page
Public historian Ambeth Ocampo. Photo from Ocampo’s official Facebook page

MANILA (UPDATE) — Groups of educators and scholars have defended public historian Ambeth Ocampo after he became the target of online attacks following his response to an actress’ statement that likened history to “tsismis” (gossip).

In separate statements issued over the weekend, the Network in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom and Tanggol Kasaysayan said they stood with Ocampo, who reacted to actress Ella Cruz’s recent claim that “history is like tsismis.”

Cruz plays Irene Marcos in the upcoming film “‎Maid in Malacañang,” a retelling of the Marcos family’s last 72 hours in the titular presidential palace before they fled for Hawaii during the 1986 People Power Revolution.

In a Facebook post, Ocampo said, “Don’t confuse history and chismis. History may have bias but it is based on fact, not opinion. Real history is about truth, not lies, not fiction.”

Following his reaction, online personalities who supposedly support the Marcoses attacked Ocampo, calling him “yellow historian,” “paid historian,” and “stupid,” said Tanggol Kasaysayan.

“These online commentators and trolls obviously sought to redirect a beginning debate about historical truths and the nature of historical knowledge provoked by Professor Ocampo’s critical comments,” the group said.

Tanggol Kasaysayan said the social media debate “would have been a much-welcomed occasion” for historians and the public to reflect on the processes of history writing “had it not quickly degenerated into a smear campaign” against Ocampo.

“[We] stand by his critique of recent efforts to trivialize and discredit History as a discipline, and to disauthorize professional historians in their socially important work of producing veridical knowledges about our past,” Tanggol Kasaysayan added.

Meanwhile, the Network in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom questioned: “Is this how we treat and repay our teachers? Our historians? Subject them to vile and discriminatory, unprincipled and unjust attacks?”

“Historians like Ambeth Ocampo deserve this respect, and if a writer and scholar of Ocampo's stature is vilified like this, then what can others expect, when they stand up for truth and history?” it said.

“We condemn these ad hominem attacks on the character of a well-regarded and highly professional historian of the Philippines,” the group said, adding that they would remain “vigilant in the defense for historical truth and integrity.”

The Ateneo de Manila University also condemned attacks against Ocampo, who is one of its faculty members.

“We condemn these attacks, not just because it maligns Dr. Ocampo, but because it severely undermines our battle against historical distortion and disinformation,” said Ateneo President Roberto Yap in a memorandum on Monday.

On Sunday, Vincentiments, which is run by “‎Maid in Malacañang” director Darryl Yap, posted a video on its Facebook page showing Cruz and Sen. Imee Marcos discussing the reactions to the actress’ remark.

“Mali ba ‘yong sinabi ko na history is like tsismis? ‘Di ko naman sinabi na history is tsismis. Tapos diyan na lang sila nag-focus, hindi na sa paliwanag,” Cruz told Marcos of her detractors. 

(Is what I said wrong, that history is like gossip? I did not say it is gossip. They only focused on that, not the explanation.) 

Marcos, sister of new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., replied: “Tinanong ka bilang estudyante tapos tinanong ka bilang artista, ‘di ka naman sumagot bilang historian.” 

(You were asked as a student, as a celebrity, you didn't answer as a historian.) 

“Hindi ko naman sinabi na matalino ako, hindi rin naman ako nagmamagaling. Pero Sen. (Marcos), nagbabasa naman ako ‘no. Nag-aaral naman ako at totoo naman na ang kasaysayan ay tsismis na napatunayan dahil sa ebidensiya at sa research,” the actress responded, to which the senator agreed.

(I am not saying I am intelligent, I'm not bragging. But Sen, I also read. I study, and it is true that history is gossip that was proven through evidence and research.) 

This came weeks after Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. won the presidency following a campaign driven by a massive misinformation aimed at revamping the family brand.

False and misleading claims have flooded Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter in the lead-up to the May 9 polls, pounding Filipinos with a relentless barrage of propaganda on platforms where they rank among the heaviest users in the world.

Critics and opponents have accused Marcos Jr. and his supporters of trying to portray his father's 2-decade rule as a golden age of peace and prosperity while whitewashing human rights abuses and the plundering of state coffers. 

But then candidate Marcos Jr denied using trolls and accused fact-checkers of sometimes having "their own agenda."

The Marcoses have previously denied local media reports that they asked the now-defunct British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica -- at the center of a Facebook data scandal in the past decade -- to "rebrand" the family.

- With reports from Agence France-Presse