I, too, am a rebel. And this provides the second rationale for my evaluation of “Heneral Luna.”
I cannot view the film detached from my concrete experience in the revolutionary struggle of the working class beginning in the 70s. Though already part of the Management Committee of the Makabayan Publishing Corporation, I found myself agreeing to the rank-and-file employees when they asked me to head the Katipunan ng mga Makabayang Obrero (KAMAO), the first-ever labor union to be established in the Araneta Empire, owned by Don Amado Araneta, grandfather of now presidential aspirant Manuel Roxas 2nd.
It is indeed a social reality that at one point in time or another, one has to make a choice between serving the working class and serving the class that oppresses it, the capitalist. The workers elected me president of the union, I presented the union demand letter to my colleagues in the management committee, for which I was instantly given my walking papers. The workers instantly called a strike vote, which was overwhelmingly approved, and the KAMAO strike broke out April 1971 – the first-ever strike successfully launched against an Araneta enterprise.
(Incidentally, KAMAO’s counsel was a young lawyer assigned to us by then Philippine College of Commerce President Nemesio Prudente from the nationalist group of lawyers called Lupon ng mga Manananggol ng Bayan or LUMABAN. He was a short, dark fellow who did not content himself just representing us in court but actually fighting with us at the picket lines, and who would eventually become Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines – Jejomar C. Binay.)
The strike sucked me deep into the mainstream of the so-called National Democratic Revolution, that Ninoy Aquino-Jose Maria Sison-Tandem-led rebel movement aimed at the overthrow of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. And the rest, onward to 1991 when Sison splintered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), would be my own private history.
The point is I know how it is to be a rebel.
And as a rebel I have gained insights into the stark realities of revolutions both from studies of experiences elsewhere and from the one I belonged in. One hard fact is that all revolutions are pursuits of one individual’s vision alone. All it behooves a revolutionary is to seize the psyche of the populace with his ostensibly noble call and he gets the entire society toeing his line. Stalin put it this way: “Idea itself becomes matter once it is absorbed by the masses.”
So all it took Ninoy Aquino to rally the whole nation to his personal ambition of gaining the Philippine presidency was to keep drumming up into people’s minds the singular shout: “Marcos! Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!” It is a peculiar genius of revolutionary leaders to get mobs do their bidding with neither doubt nor caution. It has been said that in the 70s, if Ninoy called for people to jump from a building, the only question they would ask would not be why but from which floor.
Now, with the capture of both Sison and Bernabe Buscayno in 1977, the rebel movement fell into the leadership of Rodolfo Salas, aka Kumander Bilog, as Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) together with Rolando Kintanar as Chief of Staff of the New People’s Army (NPA). By 1985, the CPP had reached full-grown level, with commissions established for each of the five main regions of the archipelago (Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, National Capital Region, Bicol-Southern Tagalog, Visayas-Mindanao), while the NPA had grown to 25,000 regulars, all in company formations, backed up by half-million-strong armed people’s militia and an unspecified number of armed propaganda units.
By standard reckoning in guerilla warfare, that balance of forces had already tilted much in favor of the revolution, the conventional reckoning being 10-1 viz the enemy; the Armed Forces of the Philippine number being at 150,000 regulars. In other words, the revolution could now aim for victory. In fact, the NPA had already issued the call for advancing to the so-called Strategic Counter-Offensive (SCO) substage, from which the revolution could spring to the strategic offensive.
But then came the revolution’s boycott error in the snap elections of 1985. That error completely isolated the revolutionary forces from the ensuing takeover by Cory and the yellow forces of the government with the US kidnapping of Marcos in February 1986 and the so-called EDSA People Power Revolt. Even so, the revolutionary forces remained intact and poised to push on. And Kintanar had made a drastic deviation from the Sisonite protracted people’s war, putting in place instead a plan – sanctioned anyway by a CPP plenum – for a successfully-proven Nicaragua-type of insurrectionary power grab. All arrangements for the plan were already in place, including representations for support, financial, logistical and otherwise, from fraternal parties in the Middle East and in Asia.
But then as soon as Cory came to power, she ordered the release of both Sison and Buscayno, who immediately asserted resumption of leadership in the revolutionary armed struggle. The boycott error, ascribed mainly to Kumander Bilog, resulted in his replacement as CPP Chairman by Benito Tiamzon, a known Sison stooge; Bilog was captured by the government eventually. At the same time, the SCO was subjected to severe criticism and Kintanar’s plan of insurrectionary method in seizing power was condemned as military adventurism, a serious violation of the Sison-sponsored revolutionary guiding ideology, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought (MLMTT).
And come 1991, Sison executed the grand coup d’etat. He issued the infamous Reaffirm, a document which, among other things, called for a sweeping party-wide re-education of party and army membership, at best a polite term for ouster from responsible positions of those already opposing Sison’s unending, non-ending protracted struggle.
The Sison document splintered the CPP and the NPA into the RA (Reaffirmists) and the RJ (Rejectionists). The party commissions crashed, in some instances, degenerating into factions engaging each other in shooting wars, as in Central Luzon where the split took its most bloody toll.
At one instance, I had a candid talk with RK (how Kintanar was fondly called by comrades). I said, “You are in control of arms. Why not force the issue with Sison.” A very circumspcct, soft-spoken fellow (who, by the way, could enthrall you with piano rendition of such classics as La Vie En Rose), RK replied, “It will be very bloody, I tell you.” He said he could just talk things over with Sison. To RK’s misfortune, he failed to realize that talking things over with a revolutionary leader feeling threatened to be overthrown by his army chief cannot but be through, as Mao Tse Tung would put it, the barrel of a gun. On January 23, 2013, RK was gunned down by assassins while dining in a Japanese eatery in Quezon City Circle. Through his lieutenant in Southern Luzon, Sison owned up to the murder.
Given this background, I must know whereof I speak. Being, to a considerable extent, privy to this Kintanar episode with Sison, I should be familiar with the dynamics of the Luna-Aguinaldo conflict which that episode parallels. Like phenomena, like laws of development.
Feeling threatened by Kintanar, Sison had him assassinated. In analogy, who else could have masterminded the slaughter of Luna but the Sison-look-alikes in the Filipino war against America? Ferdinand E. Marcos had a term for this: party-in-interest. Who was the party-in-interest in the Luna assassination? In criminology parlance, who had the motive to kill?
At least, the “Heneral Luna” filmmakers were clear on the fact that the Filipino camp was divided between, on the one hand, the Annexists, led by Felipe Buencamino and Pedro Paterno with whom Aguinaldo was aligned, advocating assimilation into the American colonization process, and, on the other hand, the Independenceists, advancing continued armed struggle for the attainment of Philippine independence. At the head of this faction was Luna, representing a wide array of similarly-inclined insurgent generals, for instance General Miguel Malvar.
Now, as Sison unequivocally owned up to the crime of killing Kintanar who was opposed to his strategy of non-ending people’s war, so must Aguinaldo and his ilk be made to answer for the crime of murdering Luna.
But no, after a much too prolonged scene of Luna’s butchery bordering on mutilation, the film proceeds to a Pontius Pilate-like hand washing for top suspects Aguinaldo and Buencamino, who are made to state their side in the controversy, each professing innocence.
At best, this is the film’s attempt to approximate what in textbook-guided journalism is called objectivity or no side-taking in an issue. But then, also part of journalism is commentary where the author stakes on one side of a controversy and musters the guts to declare that his stake is the truth.
In the case of this reviewer, I’d stick to my conviction that Jose Maria Sison ordered the killing of my Luna, Rolly Kintanar.
In any case, in not taking sides is where “Heneral Luna” really executes its most grandiose act. After regaling the audience with scenes of bravado in battle interspersed with modern-day-style wit and comic relief, it ends up achieving another great NOTHING on the question of who and why Luna was killed. What’s the grandiose act here?
Imagine nothing attaining a programmed objective of grossing P200 million at the tills!. Aint that great, man?
That is, if that’s not part, too, of the media hype.
(To be concluded tomorrow Monday October 12. Part 1 appeared on Saturday Oct. 10.)
The author, Mauro Gia Samonte, is an accomplished movie journalist who for a time ran a column in the Lifestyle-Entertainment section of The Manila Times. A known filmmaker, he has more than 50 movie titles to his credit. He has won two best screenplay awards, one from the Metro Manila Film Festival and another from the Film Academy of the Philippines. He runs three blogsites, The TRAVELER at maoblooms.blogspot.com for his literary works, KAMAO at kamaopunch.blogspot.com for his political views, and BRASO at bigwasbalikwas.blogspot.com for his historical insights.