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Filipino historian Prof. Ambeth Ocampo

In 2017, the phrase “fake news” was chosen as Collins Dictionary’s official Word of the Year. But the concept of false truths presented as the news has been around for as long as there has been news to spread.

Rizal and fake news

“Fake news is not new,” says Prof. Ambeth Ocampo, renowned Filipino historian, in an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. Known for breaking down Philippine history for modern audiences, he even breaks down the fake news of today using historical and contemporary anecdotes. “Every year, during Buwan ng Wika, generations of school children learn the most quotable quote of Jose Rizal, ‘Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika, masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda (‘He who knows not to love his own language, is worse than beasts and putrid fish’). This is all well and good except that quote is not by Rizal!”

Since its publication in 1906, the poem Sa Aking Mga Kabata has been attributed to Rizal without question. Inconsistencies and lack of evidence, however, have led prominent historians and authors, including Prof. Ambeth, to consider his authorship to be a hoax.

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One of Prof. Ambeth’s famous works, Rizal Without The Overcoat. Photo by Nana Nadal

The fake news of decades past can still exist, and damage, news and facts of today. Even our beloved national hero is not immune to the absurd and irresponsible concept of fake news. Prof. Ambeth shares urban legends around Rizal that, when considered logically and reasonably, are all too ridiculous.

“[There] is the urban legend that Rizal is the father of Adolf Hitler,” the bestselling author of Rizal Without the Overcoat continues. “All you have to do is count nine months before Hitler’s birth to ascertain where Rizal was when Hitler was conceived. Rizal was in London, not Austria, and that led to yet another urban legend that Rizal was Jack the Ripper.”

An online shift

“The Internet has made information available to us in great quantities and speed such that we cannot humanly cope with it and often we get overwhelmed,” Prof. Ambeth adds. “History teaches us to validate facts, to find truth.”

Our world has become increasingly digital and online, especially during this pandemic. Prof. Ambeth usually shares his knowledge and insights of the Philippines, past and present, through his often sold-out History Comes Alive lectures with Ayala Museum.

‘History teaches us to validate facts, to find truth.’

On Sept. 18 and Oct. 2, Ayala Museum Virtual will be hosting Prof. Ambeth’s first online lectures, tackling pandemics and fake news.

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“The pandemic merely pushed the envelope as I have been considering doing more than a Zoom lecture,” says the host and writer on the shift to digital lectures. “Going online on our 10th year is exciting not just for the production quality of the lectures, but also the ability to have a short Q&A that we never had before, so that while we are virtual we can try to recreate something of a live experience.”

As his Zoom lectures seek to add more information in the online sphere, it is important for him that viewers and Internet users understand what information is worth digesting and what is worth discarding. While some pieces of fake news can be more easily dismissed as urban legend, there is so much information online that it can be difficult to discern truths from falsehoods.

The History Comes Alive lectures could not have gone online at a better time. They add greater insight to the digital realm and shine a light on the truth amid the murky waters of the Internet. The shift online is something that Prof. Ambeth says he has been considering for some time already, even before the pandemic.

“For some years now I have been seriously thinking of copying Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist who gave up live concerts and performances, hid in a studio and recorded his iconic versions of Bach’s keyboard music,” says Prof. Ambeth. “I presently teach and lecture online, reaching a wider audience. The technology excites me.”

Access for one lecture is ₱1,000, with a discounted price of ₱700 for teachers and students. A donation of ₱2,700 to the Ayala Foundation’s Student Online Access Program will get you access to two History Comes Alive lectures and one Rush Hour Concert. Virtual passes can be availed at www.bit.ly/AMVirtualEvents2020.

www.ayalamuseum.org

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