Ambeth Ocampo on online attacks after defending history 2
Public historian Ambeth Ocampo. Photo from Ocampo’s official Facebook page

Historian Ambeth Ocampo calls on fellow academics to reclaim social media as space for truth

“I never thought that I would see this day when people question things that we hold true.”
RHIA GRANA | Jul 13 2022

In his three-decade career as a public historian, Ambeth Ocampo has never had such vicious descriptives thrown at him until today. “I have never seen this kind of discourse,” he added, speaking to Christian Esguerra of the online program Facts First Monday night. 

Ocampo was of course talking about the outpouring of vileness that was the aftermath of his response to the viral statement from young starlet Ella Cruz. In an interview, Cruz, who plays Irene Marcos-Araneta in Viva Films’ much-hyped “Maid in Malacañang” said “History is like tsismis. It is filtered and dagdag na rin, so hindi natin alam what is the real history. Andoon na iyong idea, pero may mga bias talaga.” 

Hearing this, the respected history professor, Inquirer columnist, and award-winning author of books such as “Rizal Without The Overcoat,” “Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures,” and the “Looking Back” series, knew he had to say something. He countered the statement in a Facebook post: “History may have bias but it is based on fact, not opinion. Real History is about Truth, not lies, not fiction.”

In another social media post, Ocampo also said: “Respecting your opinion? Falsehood and error are never respected, much less endured, these are called out and corrected.”

Ocampo recalled to Facts First that he started to become the target of online attacks before the May 2022 presidential elections, when he urged his followers to vote for the opposition candidate Leni Robredo. “Don’t be on the wrong side of history,” he wrote online. From then on, he noticed there seemed to be dedicated trolls keeping an eye on his social media pages.

In the recent attacks directed towards him, he was called “yellow historian,” “paid historian,” “gago,” “tanga.” It’s been a week since he’s posted his response to the Cruz statement and it looks like the issue isn’t about to die just yet. “Nagulat ako na this weekend, lumabas na naman,” he said to Esguerra. So he’s happy members of the academic community issued statements in support of his pursuit, saying they are standing up for history and the truth. 

The historian said the issue here is bigger than him. “It is my profession, it is the discipline [the online attacks are destroying],” he said. “We push back not because it’s Ambeth Ocampo. We push back because they are eroding people’s trust in history, in truth, in professionalism, expertise,” he said. “Pag di tayo nag-push ngayon, pupulutin tayo sa kangkungan kung umpisa pa lang ganito na.”

He said the Filipinos’ quest for truth is in great peril. “I never thought that I would see this day when people question things that we hold true. Hindi natin alam kung talagang hindi sila naniniwala o ginugulo lang ang usapan. I think more than disinformation, it is just casting doubt. Kasi pag nag-question na ang tao, madali nang ma-manipulate [ang impormasyon].”

The strategy now of disinformation peddlers, said Ocampo, is that they are throwing out half-truths. “Pag naglabas ka ng 100 percent na kasinugalingan, ang dali i-fact check. It is harder to deal with the half-truths kasi may kaunting katotohanan. We need to untangle. Kailangang saliksikin,” he said.

If there’s anything the historian realized over the past week, it’s that he needs to be more steadfast in fighting for the truth—but he said he’s not going down to the level of online trolls. “They’re baiting me to go down to that level, which I will not do,” Ocampo said. “Sabi ko, ‘Hindi ko na kayo aawayin. I will just do what I have been doing for the past 30 years. But the difference now I will engage you in your platform. I am now basically in print and Facebook. The new battlefield is really social media.” 

The author said he’s planning to be more active on YouTube and is also considering having a presence on TikTok. Furthermore, he called on his fellow academics to make their presence felt on social media, “join in this battle, invade the platform and reclaim it for truth and our discipline.”