I have been busy putting together a new book, like the previous one (Rizal’s True Love), it is a compilation of essays I have written for this newspaper. During a span of 13 years, from 2006 to 2019, I had researched and written about the most obscure period of our history, one that was purposefully, if not malevolently, kept from us. In school, we merely glossed over it, well, at least in the school I attended from elementary to college.
My working title was “Afraid of History?” I have observed that most Filipinos are not only disinterested in history, they are actually afraid of mining the past for fear of what they may find there. Then, I thought that title sounded more like a threat than an invitation to read the book. So, why not “Fifty Years in Hollywood”? That is a fragment of my mother’s most famous statement which is “300 hundred years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood.” That was how Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil described Philippine history in a nutshell. That is her most unforgettable quote, but lamentably, the one most plagiarized, poached, and pirated.
I dare say that no one else, neither historian nor chronicler, poet nor essayist could have devised such a condensed yet brilliant description of our history. Neither the eminent Teodoro Agoncillo, nor fearsome Renato Constantino, nor trailblazers Epifanio de los Santos and Gregorio Zaide, nor any other writer (not even Nick Joaquin), journalist, novelist, or historian, Filipino or foreigner, young or old, could have thought of such a deliciously sardonic clause that distills the essence of our ill-fated history. Let us then give credit where credit is due. Never again should that inimitable aphorism be attributed to any another person but to Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil.
Unwittingly, my mother had entwined her life with that of the country. Perhaps it was inevitable because the grandfather she adored, Dr. Leon Maria Guerrero, the botanist, was a son of the Philippine Revolution and First Philippine Republic. Her own mother, Filomena Francisco, was one of the student activists who denounced the Philippine-American War and its aftermath. After WWII when my widowed mother began to work as a proofreader of a newspaper, the first article of consequence she wrote was about Maria Rizal, the grandmother of my late father.
She cajoled my stepfather (Architect Angel Nakpil) to bring home the Blair & Roberson set gathering dust at Ariston Bautista’s lordly residence in Quiapo. She plowed through each volume and began to write essays on Philippine history. Learning the history of our country was primordial, and following the example of Jose Rizal she opened the book of the past to understand the present and catch a glimpse of the future.
In my humble opinion, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil was already a public historian way before that phrase became popular. Academic feathers were ruffled when she was appointed chairman of the National Historical Institute (now the National Historical Commission of the Filipino People) because she did not have a post-graduate diploma to show. however, she was fully supported by icons like Fr. Horacio V. de la Costa, Dr. Domingo Abella, and Dr. Serafin Quiason. As NHI chairman, she headed national commissions created by law to commemorate historical events and honor our national and local heroes. At warp speed, she reprinted their works and biographies for popular distribution.
In her later years, my mother often lamented that this is not the country Rizal, Bonifacio, and Mabini had envisioned; the mere thought that they might have sacrificed their lives in vain made her blood pressure shoot up. Why is it so difficult for Filipinos to love their country? Why is it so hard to be Filipino? – She tormented herself with those rhetorical questions.
This modest book is a collection of my columns published by the “Manila Bulletin” in its op/ed pages. The articles are not in chronological order, I think a sequential exposition of events would give the reader a better view of those “50 years in Hollywood” which began with a destructive war of conquest that crushed the First Philippine Republic, and with it our hard-won Independence. Sparkling as it may sound, “50 years in Hollywood” was Carmen Guerrero-Napkin’s indictment of American imperialism, a policy of sociopolitical and economic exploitation that reduced the once indomitable Filipinos to diffident little brown Americans.