Demistifying, Humanizing Rizal

With Prof. Ambeth S. Ocampo

LAST CALL

Saturnino P. Javier, MD. FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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I had the great pleasure and privilege of being the Chair of an important session of the 49th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) held at the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel this May 2018.

To honor the life and legacy of Dr. Ramon F. Abarquez, a pillar and stalwart of the Association who passed away earlier this year, the PHA tapped a non-medical personality to tackle the task. One would immediately think that it would be an injustice (or even a travesty) to let a non-physician pay homage to a revered Filipino physician. Yet, in the end, after the Abarquez tribute via the hour-long talk was rendered, it was certain there was no injustice – at all. In fact, in the colloquial lingo, the move to let a non-physician do the honors was a “level-up”.

Prof. Ambeth S. Ocampo is a multi-awarded historian, book author, columnist, journalist, curator, among other things. Best known for his bi-weekly column “Looking Back” published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Prof. Ocampo may seem like a very unwise choice. But such is the brilliance of the speaker that he was able to successfully and wittingly connect his most popular and most researched subject matter to the annual scientific assembly of Filipino cardiologists.

Previously chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and Arts, Ocampo knows exactly and clearly where from he speaks. This product of Ateneo, La Salle and University of the Philippines successfully achieves what textbooks may have failed to do – to ensure a greater appreciation and a more pragmatic understanding of what made Dr. Jose P. Rizal the greatest Filipino hero and the national pride that he is.

Ocampo gave the packed ballroom snippets of the hero and his life– not as the iconic, tragic, idealistic and pedestal-sitting figure of the long historical narratives of the Philippine’s quest for independence. He talked about how his first patient (his sister) died of childbirth, how he pursued Medicine motivated by the need to operate on his mother’s eyes, how he tried to make the most of his life in Dapitan where he was exiled in 1896—by empowering the community and its people – trying to improve the lives of the folks through education, work and productivity (inevitably leading to local adulation and worship in the town as a demigod).

Ocampo showed the audience the lighter, the funnier and the unguarded moments of our national pride. He presented the lesser known aspects of the hero’s seemingly impenetrable façade – dwelling on the unpublished, the unspoken and the unknown. In Ocampo’s dexterous capabilities as speaker, he depicted Rizal as a resourceful and focused community servant, a seemingly flawed physician, a multidimensional and artistically inclined person, an ordinary human being capable of having fun, committing blunders, confronting failures – yet emerging triumphant through it all.

The Abarquez lecturer presented Rizal in various perspectives – sometimes mischievously hinting at his sexual orientation, sometimes painting him as a helpless medical professional, sometimes casting him in a less-than-dignified situation – but through it all maintaining the reverence and awe that befits Rizal’s stature.

In someone’s less adroit hands, such presentation would seem irreverent and irresponsible – or worse, unpatriotic. But in Ocampo’s, he made Rizal bigger, greater, more reachable, more awe-inspiring. In exposing Rizal’s weaknesses, he made the hero larger than what he already is. Through a lighthearted but respectful take of serious accomplishments, Ocampo gave Rizal’s life a more realistic dimension, a deeper appreciation and a more uplifting impact.

The Abarquez tribute was a fitting recollection of one’s greatness to honor another man’s legacy. One’s greatness honoring another one’s greatness was a task that could have taken its toll on other unaccomplished, undeserving speakers . Fortunately, PHA and its organizers knew exactly how things ought to be done.

I can only marvel at my greatest fortune – Jose Rizal, Ramon Abarquez and Ambeth Ocampo in an hour. I quipped before I ended the session that in an hour, I have learned and appreciated what I have failed to embrace from all my elementary textbooks and History classes.

July 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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