Ambeth Ocampo

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Ambeth R. Ocampo
121213 RL2 (cropped).jpg
Ocampo on December 2013
Chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines
In office
April 2002 – 7 April 2011
Appointed byGloria Macapagal Arroyo
Benigno Aquino III
Succeeded byMaria Serena I. Diokno
Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts
In office
Personal details
BornManila, Philippines
EducationAteneo de Manila University
Alma materAteneo de Manila University
De La Salle University
OccupationPublic Historian
Cultural administrator

Ambeth R. Ocampo (born 1961) is a Filipino public historian, academic, cultural administrator, journalist, author and curator. He is best known for his definitive writings about Philippines' national hero José Rizal and on topics on Philippine history and Philippine art through Looking Back, his bi-weekly editorial page column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

He served as the Chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines from 2002 until 2011 and concurrently chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts from 2005 to 2007.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

He received his primary and secondary education at the Ateneo de Manila University. He subsequently obtained his undergraduate and masteral degrees in Philippine Studies from the De La Salle University in 1989 and 1991.[3] His undergraduate thesis titled Food in Pampango Culture centered on Kapampangan cuisine, while his master thesis centered on his rediscovery of the unfinished novel of José Rizal, Makamisa during his term as a consultant to the National Library of the Philippines that was subsequently published as Makamisa: The Search for Rizal's Third Novel in 1992.

He took graduate courses in the University of the Philippines Diliman and later read for a doctorate in Southeast Asian History at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).[4]

He abandoned his London postgraduate studies in 1993, when he entered the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, Manila taking the monastic name Dom. Ignacio Maria, OSB. He subsequently left the monastery in 1997.[5]


Ocampo signing copies of his books after giving a lecture at the Ayala Museum in 2016.


Looking Back column[edit]

Ocampo began writing for Weekend Magazine, the Sunday supplement of the Philippine Daily Express in 1985 and subsequently joined its editorial staff as associate editor. His column Looking Back first appeared in the Philippine Daily Globe from 1987 to 1990, and compilations of these columns saw new life as his two bestselling books; namely, the Looking Back series and Rizal Without the Overcoat that was awarded the National Book Award for essay in 1990. At the invitation of Letty Jimenez Magsanoc and Eugenia D. Apostol, Ocampo's Daily Globe column moved to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1990, where it appears twice weekly in the Opinion-Editorial page.[6]

Since 1986, Ocampo has published over 44 books and other publications, compilations of his essays, and writings on Philippine history, arts, and culture. Most of his published works have focused on the life and works of the Philippine nationalist and martyr, Jose Rizal with Rizal Without the Overcoat going into six editions since its first publication in 1990. In addition, he has published monographs on other historical and cultural figures in Philippine history, including musical composer Nicanor Abelardo, historian Teodoro Agoncillo and Teodora Alonso, the mother of Rizal, amongst others.

Ocampo also writes on the foreign relations of the Philippines with France and Japan.[7] He has written numerous articles on the diaries of former Philippine President and dictator Ferdinand Marcos and was at work on a biography of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos.[8] In 2021, his fifteenth compilation of his columns of his Looking Back series written based on the diaries of Marcos and the legacies of the martial law regime titled Martial Law was published becoming his first publication on Philippine contemporary history.[9]

When Ocampo was appointed chairman of the National Historical Institute (present-day National Historical Commission of the Philippines) in 2002 and later elected chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 2005, then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared that she was an ardent reader of his newspaper column, commending his writings because he "makes history so approachable." Some academics have critiqued Ocampo for his populist approach towards historiography. In response, Ocampo has since released two compilations of his public lectures, Meaning and History focused on Jose Rizal and Bones of Contention on Andres Bonifacio both published in 2001, complete with citations and footnotes. Nevertheless, Ocampo is considered as one of the most prominent Philippine historians.[8]

Art historian and curator[edit]

Ocampo giving a lecture on Philippine collectors and stewardship at the Art Fair Philippines in 2018.

Ocampo has also written several essays and monographs on Philippine art, beginning with his first book on Philippine modern impressionist painter Emilio Aguilar Cruz titled The Paintings of E. Aguilar Cruz published in 1986. In 2019, a new version of the said book was revised and expanded and published as E. Aguilar Cruz: The Writer as Painter. Since then, Ocampo has worked as an independent art curator and has curated several landmark artist retrospectives and exhibitions on Philippine visual artists including: Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, Guillermo Tolentino, Romulo Galicano, Arturo Luz, Benedicto Cabrera and Elmer Borlongan. He has also co-written two publications on the biography and art of several contemporary artists, including the art of Spanish-Philippine artist Fernando Zóbel and visual artist and fashion designer Mark Lewis Lim Higgins.

Ocampo presently sits on the advisory boards of the Ateneo Art Gallery, the Ayala Museum, the BenCab Museum, the Lopez Museum, the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation, and the Japan Foundation Asia Center.[8][10]

Since 2011, Ocampo has delivered public lectures on Philippine history primarily at the Ayala Museum known as the History Comes Alive series to sold-out crowds.[10]

Government service[edit]

Cultural administrator[edit]

From 1987 until 1992, Ocampo served as a consultant to the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) with a concurrent capacity as member of the National Committee on Libraries and Information Services (NCLIS) and the National Committee on Monuments and Sites (NCMS) under the Presidential Commission on Culture and the Arts (the present-day National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)). During his term at the National Library, he recovered the unpublished manuscripts of Rizal's unfinished novel Makamisa in 1987 and later worked on the bibliographic catalog of papers, writings and documents related to Rizal held in the vault of the National Library.[11][12]

In 1999, Ocampo was appointed board member of the National Historical Institute by then-President Joseph Estrada, and in 2002, he was appointed chairman by then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. As NHI Chair, Ocampo served as a board member in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and was elected as its chairman serving from 2005 to 2007. During that time, he signed, for the Republic of the Philippines, Cultural Agreements and Executive Programs on Culture and Heritage with France, Mexico, Pakistan, the People's Republic of China, and North Korea.

During his term as chairman of the National Historical Institute, Ocampo weathered criticism over attempts to enforce provisions of the existing Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines by reminding artists singing the Philippine national anthem during international boxing matches of the proper way to sing the anthem, and his controversial decision to paint the Rizal clan house green – to remind Filipinos that the word "Rizal" came from "ricial" meaning a green field ready for harvest.[13]

Member of the Numismatic Committee[edit]

From 2002 to 2011, Ocampo was on the Numismatic Committee of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas that deliberated on the redesign of banknotes, known as the New Generation Currency. Included was the redesign of the five hundred-peso banknotes which featured the portraits of Philippine opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. and his wife, the late President Corazon Aquino following national clamor after the death and funeral of the late President in 2009.[14]

Ocampo has written extensively on the history of the Philippine peso in a series of articles, particularly on the controversies surrounding currency design and its political context.[15] In 2020, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas published Ocampo's Yaman - The History and Heritage in Philippine Money: The Numismatic Collection of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas , a coffee table book on the numismatic collection of the Philippine central bank.[16]

In academia[edit]

Layout of the Bequest of Ambeth R. Ocampo in the Ateneo Art Gallery.

Ocampo is a professor and former chairman of the Department of History, School of Social Sciences in the Ateneo de Manila University. He previously served as a professorial lecturer in the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature of the College of Arts and Letters in the University of the Philippines Diliman from 1989 until 2010 and served on the Board of Regents of the Universidad de Manila (formerly City College of Manila), where he served as its president and vice president for academic affairs from 1996 to 1998. He has also held previous appointments at the De La Salle University, Far Eastern University and San Beda College.[17] He is currently holder of professorial chairs at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University.

He has held appointments as visiting research fellow in Kyoto University, and Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. He was Visiting Professor in Sophia University, Tokyo, where he taught courses on Philippine history and culture from 2012 to 2014 he remains a Visiting Research Fellow at the Sophia University Institute of Asian Studies.

His personal and official papers, notes and correspondence are deposited in the University of the Philippines Archives in Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.

A collector of Filipiniana including books, art, numismatics and other paper ephemera, his extensive library and collection is divided between his home in Makati; Holy Angel University, Angeles, Pampanga;[18] and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Library in Kyoto University.[19]

Part of his collection of Philippine Art was bequeathed to the Ateneo de Manila University. The Ambeth R. Ocampo Gallery is on the third floor of the Ateneo Art Gallery in its arts and innovation wing, the Areté.

Honors, awards, and decorations[edit]

As an outstanding historian and intellectual, Dr. Ambeth R. Ocampo has made a great contribution to academic, cultural and social progress in the Philippines, through his university teaching, his writing for newspapers and magazines, and his service in historic and cultural administration. His clear and accessible explanations of the wider global context in which the country developed during the period of the Spanish and American colonial regimes have helped promote a more open sense of nationalism, and facilitated the advancement of international exchanges both with Asia and with the West.

 — Citation for the 2016 Fukuoka Prize.[20]

Ocampo has won three National Book Awards in these categories: Essay, Literary History, and Bibliography. He was awarded the Premio Manuel Bernabe from the Centro Cultural de la Embajada de Espana en Filipinas and a Premio Quijano de Manila from the Instituto Cervantes Manila. He was elected National Fellow for Essay by the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center (1995–1996).

He has been conferred the rank of Knight Grand Officier (K.G.O.R.) of the Order of the Knights of Rizal in December 2018, and Order of Civil Merit with the rank of Encomienda (Commander) conferred by the Kingdom of Spain in December 2007.

In June 2008, he was conferred the rank of Officier in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the Republic of France for his contributions to the arts and letters as: writer, academic, cultural administrator, and for his support of cultural exchanges between the Philippines and France.[21]

In recognition of his work in cultural administration and his contributions to Philippine history, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines[22] conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Public Administration, honoris causa, in December 2008.[23]

In 2010, he was conferred one of the highest civilian awards of the Philippines,[24] the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Bayani[25] for his contributions in cultural administration, the popularization of Philippine history, and for having served as chairman of the National Historical Institute (present-day, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines) from 2002 to 2010, and concurrently chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) from 2005 until 2007 without compensation.[26]

In December 2013, during the state visit of President Benigno Aquino III to Tokyo, Ocampo received the Presidential Medal of Merit whose citation reads, "for his achievements as scholar, teacher, and in recognition of his writings through which he polarized Philippine history, art and culture thus bringing these aspects of our national identity closer to the people."[27]

In September 2016, Ocampo was awarded the prestigious Fukuoka Prize (Academic) for his contributions to Philippine history and culture being the fifth Filipino to be so honored with the recognition.[8]


National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]


Honorary degrees[edit]


Books and Publications
  • The Paintings of E. Aguilar Cruz (1986)
  • Ang Buhay at Musika ni Maestro Nicanor Abelardo (The Life and Music of Maestro Nicanor Abelardo) (1987)
  • Lupang Hinirang: Alay ni Amorsolo (1989) (co-authored with Carmen Aquino-Sarmiento)
  • The Juan Luna Collection: A Bequest to the Filipino People (1990)
  • Looking Back (1990)
  • Rizal Without the Overcoat (1990)
  • Makamisa: The Search for Rizal's Third Novel (1992)
  • Aguinaldo's Breakfast (1993)
  • A Calendar of Rizaliana in the Vault of the Philippine National Library (1993)[a]
  • Bonifacio's Bolo (1995)
  • Teodora Alonso (1995)
  • Talking History: Conversations with Teodoro A. Agoncillo (1995)
  • Mabini's Ghost (1995)
  • Luna's Moustache (1997)
  • The Centennial Countdown (1998)
  • R. Galicano (2000) (co-authored with Rod. Paras-Perez)
  • Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures (2001)
  • Bones of Contention: The Bonifacio Lectures (2001)
  • Zero-In: Private Art, Public Lives (2002) (co-authored with Marian Pastor Roces and Leovino Ma. Garcia)
  • Rizal the Scientist: Proceedings of a Seminar in the Commemoration of the Rizal Centennial (1896) June 20, 1997 (2002) (co-editor with Andrew Gonzalez)
  • Arturo Luz: Sculptures (2004)
  • 60 Years and Bon Vivant: Philippine-French Relations (2008) (as editor)
  • 101 Stories of the Philippine Revolution (2008)
  • Looking Back: Looking Back 1 (2010)
  • Dirty Dancing: Looking Back 2 (2010)
  • Death by Garrote: Looking Back 3 (2010)
  • Chulalongkorn's Elephants: The Philippines in Asian History: Looking Back 4 (2011)
  • The Diorama Experience of Philippine History (2012) (co-authored with Jesus T. Peralta and Felice Noelle Rodriguez)
  • Rizal's Teeth, Bonifacio's Bones: Looking Back 5 (2012)
  • Prehistoric Philippines: Looking Back 6 (2012)
  • Storm Chasers: Looking Back 7 (2014)
  • Virgin of Balintawak: Looking Back 8 (2014)
  • The Jim and Reed Pfeufer Collection: A Four-Decade Friendship with Fernando Zóbel (2015) (co-authored with John Seed)
  • Demonyo Tables: History in Artifacts: Looking Back 9 (2015)
  • Two Lunas, Two Mabinis: Looking Back 10 (2015)
  • History and Heritage of the Kudan: The Official Residence of the Philippine Ambassador of Japan (2015)
  • BenCab Portraits (2015)
  • Independence X6: Looking Back 11 (2016)
  • Quezon's Sukiyaki: Looking Back 12 (2016)
  • Guns of the Katipunan: Looking Back 13 (2017)
  • Images of Nation: Arturo Luz – First Light (2018)
  • Gold in Our Veins: Mark Lewis Lim Higgins (2019) (co-authored with Ditas R. Samson and David A. Henkel)
  • E. Aguilar Cruz: The Writer as Painter (2019)
  • Dirty Ice Cream: Looking Back 14 (2020)
  • Yaman: The History and Heritage in Philippine Money - The Numismatic Collection of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (2020)
  • Martial Law: Looking Back 15 (2021)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ The book was republished as A Calendar of Rizaliana in 2011.
  1. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (11 November 2008). "Looking Back: A personal introduction". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-07-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ CV for Ambeth Ocampo (PDF), Fukuoka Prize, 2016
  4. ^ "Ocampo, Ambeth R. | Ateneo de Manila University". March 15, 2013.
  5. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. (1995) [1995], Mabini's Ghost (1st ed.), Anvil Publishing, Inc., p. 227, ISBN 971-27-0450-5
  6. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (1999), Rizal Without the Overcoat (Expanded ed.), Pasig: Anvil Publishing, Inc., ISBN 971-27-0920-5
  7. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (2016). Quezon's Sukiyaki: Looking Back 12 (First ed.). Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-621-420-072-6.
  8. ^ a b c d Caruncho, Eric S. (11 September 2016). "Ambeth Ocampo without the Overcoat". Philippine Daily Inquirer.
  9. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (2021), Martial Law: Looking Back 15, Pasig: Anvil Publishing, Inc., ISBN 978-971-27-3637-7
  10. ^ a b Ocampo, Ambeth R. (2017). Guns of the Katipunan: Looking Back 13 (First ed.). Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9786214202140.
  11. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. (1992). Makamisa: The Search for Rizal's Third Novel (First ed.). Pasig: Anvil Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9712702766.
  12. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. (1993). A Calendar of Rizaliana in the Vault of the Philippine National Library (First ed.). Pasig: Anvil Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9712702944.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2009-07-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Cory, Ninoy together again on the new 500-peso bill, Jam Sisante, GMANews.TV, December 16, 2010
  15. ^ Culture, Power and Practices: The Globalization of Culture and its implications for Asian regional transformations: the work of the 2010/2011 API Fellows. Bangkok: The Nippon Foundation. 2013. ISBN 9786214202140.
  16. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. (2020). Yaman: The History and Heritage in Philippine Money - The Numismatic Collection of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Manila: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. ISBN 978-621-8173-04-0.
  17. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. "'Over-exposed'".
  18. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2008-12-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "Ambeth R. OCAMPO (Academic Prize 2016)". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 11 September 2016.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-28. Retrieved 2008-12-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-28. Retrieved 2008-12-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-28. Retrieved 2008-12-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-01. Retrieved 2010-12-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ [2][permanent dead link]
  26. ^ Valmero, Yannie (2010-08-06). "Go beyond books to learn Filipino history, says noted historian". Yahoo! Philippines News. Quezon City, Philippines: Retrieved 2010-08-06.
  27. ^ Ubac, Michael Lim. "Palace honors Ambeth Ocampo for work on PH history". Philippine Daily Inquirer.