Teodoro A. Agoncillo
Teodoro A. Agoncillo is a National Scientist and is one of the most prominent Filipino historians of the 20th century. He, alongside his contemporary Renato Constantino, were nationalists renowned for providing new points-of-view towards Filipino history. Agoncillo was also an excellent essayist and poet.
Early Life and Education
Agoncillo was born in Lemery, Batangas on 9 November 1912 to Pedro Agoncillo of Taal, Batangas, and Feliza Andal of Batangas City. For his early schooling, he attended the Intramuros primary school and the Manila South High School. He later earned his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy in 1934 at the University of the Philippines (UP) and his master’s degree in the arts the year after.
His short stint as a campus journalist in the university's student newspaper, the Philippine Collegian, ended in controversy. His review of Ricardo Pascual’s Dr. Jose Rizal Beyond the Grave (1935), wherein he supported the Pascual's theory that Rizal’s so-called retraction document was a fake, and made disparaging remarks about the Catholic Church, resulted in the suspension of the Collegian’s editor-in-chief. This was regarded the first recorded instance of censorship in the history of the campus paper.
Agoncillo found employment as a linguistics assistant at the Institute of National Language and as an instructor at the Far Eastern University and Manuel L. Quezon University. While teaching Tagalog language and literature at these universities, he edited Tagalog literary magazines. Later, he became editor of Metropolitan, a literary magazine in English, and co-editor of The Philippines.
In 1943, he published two poems and two short stories. Two years later, he published 15 short stories and poems, including Republicang Basahan, an indictment of the Japanese regime.
After the war, he joined a government-sponsored, biography-writing contest on Andres Bonifacio and the Epoch of the revolution. Agoncillo’s entry was unanimously chosen, winning the grand prize in the Republic Contest in July 1948. But it was not until “‘Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan’,” a history of the 1896 'Katipunan' revolt led by Andres Bonifacio against the Spanish regime, was published in 1956 that he finally gained acclaim as a historian.
Agoncillo was criticized for this book because it recognized Bonifacio as the father of the 1896 revolution, and because of its nationalist, and somewhat "Marxist" bent, as some analysts cited, which stirred the feelings of conservative historians.
In 1958, he was invited to join the faculty of UP's History Department, and was made head of the department of history for six years from 1963-1969, and holder of the Rafael Palma professorial chair in Philippine history.
Juan Laya, owner of the Kayumanggi Press, convinced him to write a book, One World: Old and New, to serve as a textbook in social science for Grade Six pupils. In 1960, Agoncillo released another controversial book entitled: “'History of the Filipino People'.” His perspective and approach on the subject of Filipino politics, and revolutions reflected a more liberal feel as with his other works.
Another book, a sequel to the “Revolt of the Masses,” was “‘Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic’.” Agoncillo, who complained about the lack of resources during the making of the “Masses,” enjoyed better access to a multitude of references for his new book. And like all the other books he published, it received a lot of heat from conservative historians.
His other books, Filipino Nationalism, The Burden of Proof: The Vargas-Laurel Collaboration, Filipinas Kong Mahal, Isang Kasaysayan, The Writings and Trials of Bonifacio, and Lands of the Morning: The Philippines and Her Neighbors, have all become standard references. All in all, he wrote twenty-two books; twenty–one were published when he was alive, and one (Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic) was published twelve years after his death.
Meanwhile, the Philippine president during the time, Diosdado Macapagal, granted Agoncillo membership at the National Historical Institute in 1963 where he served his cause until his death on 14 January 1985.
By the time he retired in 1977, Agoncillo had received numerous awards, as well as an honorary doctorate, and had been promoted to University Professor, the highest academic rank at UP. A few months after his death in 1985, he was posthumously proclaimed a National Scientist. In the year 2000, he was declared one of the Philippines’ “Most Influential 20” in the twentieth century.
Agoncillo did not hesitate to reveal his opinions on how he wrote his works. He would often turn around different situations to make sure his readers would know all possible perspectives to such events, uncaring whether the subjects of his writing showed negative or positive character and motivation. This style of writing was similar to Constantino’s but considerably more liberal-minded than the works of Gregorio F. Zaide.
His new brand of historiography did away with conventional ways of writing the history of Philippines—through the eyes of foreigners—and introduced a more Filipino-centric style, seeing the events of the Philippines unfold through the eyes of Filipinos. Today, his works are considered essential to the study of Philippine history, and have also transcended to the realm of classic literature.
Agoncillo, Constantino, and Zaide have earned the reputation as “the most prominent historians of the 20th century.”
To celebrate his birth centennial, two of his essays from the book History and Culture, Language and Literature: Selected Essays of Teodoro A. Agoncillo edited by Dr. Bernardita Reyes Churchill, were published in full at the Official Gazette .
Agoncillo was hardly criticized by several conservative readers who did not approve of his writing style. According to Reynaldo C. Ileto (Historiography in the Philippines), Agoncillo’s works, particularly his “‘A Short History of the Filipino People’,” was one of two kinds of “bad” Southeast Asian histories. These are the Euro-centric (antithesis) and the Asia-centric (nationalistic). He stated that these are two views of the same events, like two sides of a coin – confusing readers on which perspective is actually correct.
- Ileto, Reynaldo C. “On the Historiography of Southeast Asia and the Philippines:The “Golden Age” of Southeast Asian Studies -Experiences and Reflections.” Historiography in the Philippines. National University of Singapore.  (Accessed on 28 July 2010).
- “Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic.” goodreads  (Accessed on 28 July 2010).
- “Teodoro A. Agoncillo.” goodreads  (Accessed on 28 July 2010).
- “Teodoro Agoncillo.” Famous Filipino.  (Accessed on 28 July 2010).
- “Teodoro Agoncillo.” Reference.com  (Accessed on 28 July 2010).
- "Teodoro A. Agoncillo, 1912-2012" 
- "Teodoro A. Agoncillo - Eminent Historian and Nationalist"