Thoughts on a Book: Rizal’s Teeth Bonifacio’s Bones


Ambeth R. Ocampo is a public historian whose research covers the late 19th century Philippines: its art, culture, and the birth of the nation. He writes a widely read editorial page column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and moderates a growing Facebook Fan Page.

Dr. Ocampo is currently: Visiting Professor in Sophia University, Tokyo; Associate Professor, Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University; Professorial Lecturer, Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, University of the Philippines (Dimilan); Regent of the Universidad de Manila.

He served as Chairman, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (2002-2011) and Chairman, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2005-2007).

  1. The most popular Filipino historian has extended his fondness for anatomical book titles with the publication of another Looking Back, the fifth in  the series. In the late 1990s, he pondered on the epic mustache of General Luna and in the start of the millennium, he discussed the contentious bones of the Supremo. It is just but appropriate the Filipino public reads on the teeth and bones of our national heroes. The appeal of Looking Back series is its length and size. I could not praise Ocampo’s decision to publish a less-than-a-hundred page book containing some of his more interesting articles. The portable historical treasure allows people to lug it around whenever and wherever possible. I remember starting and finishing Looking Back 4: Chulalongkorn’s Elephants while queuing for a cab ride – that fast. If Ocampo decides to come up with an e-book version of his works – considering the rising smartphone and tablet generation – appreciation of Philippine history will no doubt increase.
  2. Rizal’s teeth are far more interesting than Bonifacio’s bones; for the debate on the latter opens up old historical wounds that refuse to die. Bad enough he got murdered, it also placed doubts and hounded our first president to no end. (The set of bones are controversial because it does not belong to Bonifacio.) Rizal’s pearly whites are not as factious, though it offers a different light about a man, who most probably is, the first popular Filipino metrosexual. Based on his skull, experts will agree, Rizal’s teeth needed braces and his face cut a Babalu-like profile. Not the most flattering description for someone who dresses and poses fastidiously in photographs, but science tells us otherwise. This little fact sounds trivial but it raises a simple question: does the image of Jose Rizal, the entire Filipino populace so accustomed to, accurate? Trivial or not, I prefer a truthful representation of his likeness. (His photos do not reveal his chin problem but that means he tends to hide his imperfections. That he knows his good angles like the palm of his great hand just demonstrates his metrosexual tendencies.) Further, his bone structure imperfection defects do not and cannot alter his inestimable contributions to the birth of our nation.
  3. Included in the book is an article about the ridiculous speculation that Rizal fathered one of the most hated historical figures of our time, the mass murderer named Hitler. Most people make the mistake of thinking Hitler as a German, in fact he is an Austrian. One of Rizal’s friend Maximo Viol recounted he spent a night with an Austrian back in 1887. (I still do not understand Viola’s reasons for recording the dalliances of his friend. It seemed to me like that he’d ask Rizal about his nocturnal activities and rush off to his desk to jot down the details in a small notebook hidden in lock-and-key, just in case historians will require such information in the future.) Considering the not-so-towering height of Hitler, Rizal is a credible paternal suspect, if not for one small detail: Der Fuhrer was born in 1889. (One more thing: armchair theorists believe the mustache of Hitler was intended to conceal his set of crooked teeth whenever he makes those pumped-up Nazi speeches. Light-bulb moment: Rizal has crooked teeth.) If the Hitler paternal connection is not preposterous enough, then the ‘Rizal is the Real Jack the Ripper Idea’ should the trick.
  4. One of the more divisive moves of the National Historical Commission (NHC) is to paint the Rizal Shrine green. It is unusual for the NHC to hit the headlines, but this decision set off a madhouse of complaints and criticisms. Personally, I found the shade appalling. It does not look good. And for someone who has visited the shrine a number of times, I thought it was kind of a d*ck stunt. Ocampo explained his side; the color has something to do with the name ‘Rizal.’ In the essay, ‘Why Rizal’s House Turned Green,’ he admitted his mistake. “Painting the Rizal house green made people see red. My biggest mistake, forgive the pun, was not priming the public for change.” Apart from realizing even an expert makes mistakes, it also reveals a lot about the behavior of the Filipino public towards change.
  5. Much has been said about Ocampo but the common thread is he made historical stuff fun and effortless. But he has this to tell his readers in the introduction, “Those who have seen me perform on a podium or read these essays fail to realize that it took years of research and long hours of reading to make history effortless and fun in my hands.” Our gratitude to him is immeasurable for he made it, I think, a conscious effort to discuss and publish his works in an entertaining manner for the sake of our nation. It is easier to move on than look back but it is difficult to live in the future if people are uninformed of their past.


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