Ambeth Ocampo

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Ambeth Ocampo
Ambeth Ocampo portrait (2009).jpg
Chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines
In office
April 2002 – 7 April 2011
Appointed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Preceded by Pablo S. Trillana III
Succeeded by Maria Serena I. Diokno
Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts
In office
Appointed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Preceded by Evelyn B. Pantig
Succeeded by Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez
Personal details
Born (1961-08-16) 16 August 1961 (age 54)
Alma mater De La Salle University (B.A. and M.A.)
SOAS, University of London (Ph.D candidate)
Occupation Historian, Journalist, & Author
Religion Roman Catholicism

Ambeth R. Ocampo (born 13 August 1961) is a Filipino historian, academic, journalist, and author best known for his writings about Philippines' national hero José Rizal and for Looking Back, his bi-weekly editorial page column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He became the chair of the Philippines' National Historical Institute in 2002 and of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2005.[1][2]


Ocampo was educated in the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University from primary, secondary and tertiary levels but attained his BA and MA in Philippine Studies from De La Salle University, Manila. He took graduate courses in the University of the Philippines (Diliman) and later read for a DPhil in Southeast Asian History at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).[3] His postgraduate work was interrupted in 1993 when he entered the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, Manila where he was known as Dom. Ignacio Maria, OSB. He left the monastery in 1997 but still considers returning sometime in the future.




Ocampo began writing for Weekend Magazine of the Philippines Daily Express in 1985 and joined the staff soon after. His column, "Looking Back", first appeared in the Philippine Daily Globe in 1987 and he compiled the material from these columns into his two bestselling books: Looking Back and Rizal Without the Overcoat. His widely-read bi-weekly column moved to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1990. In December 1996, to commemorate the centennial of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal, Ocampo and the Inquirer published a series of front-page articles about Rizal which won the first Louie R. Prieto Award for Journalism. The series was later integrated into an expanded edition of Rizal Without the Overcoat.[4] When Ocampo was appointed chair of the National Historical Institute and later elected chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared she was an ardent reader of Ocampo's newspaper column, admiring his writings because he "makes history so approachable."[5] However, his populist approach to history, has been unfairly criticized by those who impose the standards of academic journals on his newspaper columns. These critics often demand: footnotes, bibliographic references, and a conceptual framework from his short essays; faulting him for failing to contribute to conceptual and analytic debate in Philippine historiography. Nevertheless, Ocampo has received recognition for his popularization of Philippine history most recent being the Gawad Tanglaw as Best Newspaper Columnist (2015). To the irritation of his critics, Ocampo moderates a growing Facebook fan page with, at present, over 56,000 followers. For some years now he has delivered the "History Comes Alive" lectures at the Ayala Museum to jampacked audiences of over 700 people each time.


Since 1986, Ocampo has published over twenty-eight books that included his essays and writings of Philippine arts and culture; biographies of prominent figures in history and the history of bilateral relations with France and Japan:[6]

  • The Paintings of E. Aguilar Cruz (1986)
  • Looking Back (1990)
  • Rizal Without the Overcoat (1990, revised 2008, 2011)
  • Makamisa: The Search for Rizal's Third Novel (1993, revised 2008)
  • Aguinaldo's Breakfast (1993)
  • A Calendar of Rizaliana in the Vault of the Philippine National Library (1993, revised 2011)
  • Bonifacio's Bolo (1995)
  • Teodora Alonso (1995, reprinted 2008)
  • Talking History: Conversations with Teodoro A. Agoncillo (1995, revised 2011)
  • Mabini's Ghost (1995)
  • Luna's Moustache (1997)
  • The Centennial Countdown (1998)
  • Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures (2001, revised 2011; 2013)
  • Bones of Contention: The Bonifacio Lectures (2001, revised 2014)
  • 60 Years and Bon Vivant: Philippine-French Relations (As editor, 2008)
  • 101 Stories of the Philippine Revolution (Revised edition of The Centennial Countdown, 2008)
  • Looking Back (new edition, 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)
  • 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)
  • 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 (As curator, 2015)

Government service[edit]

In 1999, Ocampo was appointed to the Board of the National Historical Institute by President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. In 2002, he was appointed NHI Chairman by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In 2005, he was elected Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippines.[7] As NCCA chairman, he oversaw funding for the arts and provided support for the cultural agencies: national Library, National Archives, National Museum, etc. He emphasized culture as a main theme in diplomacy and was granted full powers to sign, for the Republic of the Philippines, Cultural Agreements with Pakistan, Vietnam, and North Korea as well as Executive Programs on culture with France, Mexico, and the People's Republic of China. He served as Chairman of the National Historical Commission 2002–2011 and concurrently as Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts 2005 until 2007.

Prior to these national government positions, he served as Co-Chair, with Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, of the Manila Historical Commission 1996–1998.[5]

He recently weathered criticism over his attempt to enforce the existing Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines by reminding artists singing the Philippine national anthem at international boxing bouts of the proper way to sing the anthem, and his controversial decision to paint the Rizal clan house green - to teach Filipinos the origin of the word "rizal" that came from "ricial" meaning a green field ready for harvest.[8]

He successfully worked for the passage of Republic Act 10086 restoring the National Historical Institute into the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Passed in record time, less than a year, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the measure into law in May 2010. Under the new law, the former NHI is reorganized, expanded, its duties and powers clarified and strengthened.[9]

In academia[edit]

Ocampo in 2008.

Ocampo is Associate Professor and former Chairman of the Department of History, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University and Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman. He served on the Board of Regents, Universidad de Manila (formerly City College of Manila) where he served as President and Vice-President for Academic Affairs 1996–1998.

On April 23, 2008, Ocampo gave a lecture entitled "Bridging the cultural and generation gap among second generation Filipinos in Europe" at the Philippine Embassy in Vienna.[10]

He has held appointments as Visiting Research Fellow in Kyoto University and Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, and recently was Visiting Professor in Sophia University, Tokyo where he taught courses on Philppine history and culture from 2012 to 2014.

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

A collector of Filipiniana his extensive library is divided between his home in Makati City; Holy Angel University, Angeles, Pampanga;[11] and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Library in Kyoto University.[12]

Honors, awards, and decorations[edit]

Ocampo has won three National Book Awards in these categories: Essay, Literary History, and Bibliography. He also won a Premio Manuel Bernabe awarded by the then 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 was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar (2000); Research Fellow, Kyoto University Center for Southeast Asian Studies (2003); Senior Fellow, Asian Public Intellectual Program awarded by the Nippon Foundation (2010) and participated in the Asia Leadership Fellow Program of the Japan Foundation and the International House of Japan in Tokyo (2014). His other awards include: TOYM Ten Outstanding Young Men (History) in 1997, Gawad Balagtas lifetime achievement award (Essay) from the Writers Union of the Philippines, 2006 MetroBank Outstanding Teacher Award,[13] Gatpuno Villegas Award (Patnubay ng Sining), one of the highest awards given by the City of Manila for Culture (2007).[14] Holy Angel University conferred the Juan D. Nepomuceno Award for Research and Scholarship on him in recognition of his research on Pampanga.[15]

He holds the rank of Commander in the Order of the Knights of Rizal, and the Encomienda [Commander] de la Orden del Merito Civil conferred by the Kingdom of Spain for his contribution to the success of the State visit of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo 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.[16]

In recognition of his work in cultural administration and his contributions to Philippine history, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines[17] conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Public Administration, honoris causa, in December 2008.[18]

In 2010, he was conferred one of the highest civilian awards of the Philippines,[19] the Order of Lakandula, Rank of Bayani[20] for his contributions in cultural administration, the popularization of Philippine history, and for having served as Chairman of the National Historical Institute from 2002 to 2010, and concurrently Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts 2005–2007, without compensation.[21]

In December 2013, during President Benigno Aquino III visit to Tokyo, Ocampo was conferred on the Presidential Medal of Merit, the 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." [22]


Foreign honors[edit]


  • 1990: National Book Award (Essay)
  • 1992: National Book Award (Literary History)
  • 1993: National Book Award (Bibliography)
  • 1993: Premio Manuel Bernabe
  • 2007: Gatpuno Villegas Award (Patnubay ng Sining)
  • 2015: Gawad Tanglaw Award (Best Newspaper Columnist)


  1. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (November 11, 2008), "Looking Back: A personal introduction", Philippine Daily Inquirer 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Ateneo de Manila University. (2012). Ocampo, Ambeth R. Retrieved from:
  4. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (1999), Rizal Without the Overcoat (Expanded ed.), Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., ISBN 971-27-0920-5 
  5. ^ a b "Ocampo is New NCCA Chair" (Press release). National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Philippines). April 19, 2005. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  6. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (2015), Two Lunas, Two Mabinis (1st ed.), Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., ISBN 978-971-27-3212-6 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Abs-Cbn Interactive, Ambeth Ocampo lectures on history and heroes in Vienna
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth, Ambeth Ocampo (Background), retrieved 2007-09-30 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ [2]
  18. ^ [3]
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ [4]