Dominador Awiten .
FROM Ambeth Ocampo’s insightful accounts, we learn much about our history. He gives us evocative portraits and attention-grabbing stories that only a thorough historian can do.
Recently, his article “Birds of Prey” (Inquirer, August 2, 2019) is an ugly reminder of what an onion-skinned public officer can inflict upon the writer of what the officer considers as offensive for damaging their public reputation.
There was an editorial carried in the bilingual Spanish-Tagalog newspaper El Renacimiento/Muling Pagsilang on Oct. 30, 1908 entitled “Aves de Rapiña”. It was about a “rapacious eagle” that was on a rampage of plunder of natural resources.
Dean C. Worcester, reputed for his field research on Philippine birds for which he got appointed to the Philippine Commission and, later as Secretary of the Interior, felt alluded to by the editorial. He sued the persons responsible for defaming his name and honor – the supposed writer, and the publisher and editors of the newspaper.
In Ocampo’s recollection, Worcester was particularly offended with the line that said: (He had) “the characteristics of the vulture, the owl and the vampire.”
The insinuation was that he mis-used his scholarly research work to gain access to such natural resources as gold or overpriced land, or from the illegal sale of diseased cattle meat.
The defendants appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court (United States versus Martin Ocampo, Teodoro Kalaw, Lope K. Santos and Fidel Reyes and Faustino Aguilar, G.R. No. L-5527, December 22, 1910).
The high court affirmed the conviction of the defendants, approvingly quoting the holding of the Court of First Instance that said:
“There was an attempt to justify the article (the editorial) on the ground that wrongs had been committed by some one (sic) in authority which should be righted and that the article was intended to call attention to the wrongs to have them righted, but the attempt failed utterly. No wrong or evil, as stated in the article, was found to exist.”
In conclusion, Ocampo said that Worcester retired from government with a tainted reputation. Even then, when he went to business, he continued to do damage to Philippine cultural wealth when, with his knowledge of burial sites, he facilitated in the archaeological excavations that brought much art and cultural objects, especially Oriental ceramics, to an American university.
What Samuel Johnson, the English writer, said is apropos: “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”
On the other hand, the defendants were renowned nationalists who fought against, but later accepted and were coopted to support, American colonialism.