For whom is ‘Heneral Luna’?


First of three parts

IF only because Vice President Jejomar C. Binay spoke nicely of the film “Heneral Luna,” I had good reason to believe it was worthwhile seeing.

I had not gone to the movies from way back since Henry Sy, after gaining a monopoly of movie exhibition all over the country, terribly slaughtered the Philippine movie industry and the semblance of that industry that remained was movies produced by the two leading television networks, ABS-CBN and GMA 7, which painfully stressed even more the fact that movie production and exhibition in the Philippines are a monopoly, rendering inutile the Anti-Trust Law. Production of serious, socially-relevant films would find attention mainly during the Metro Manila Film Festival held annually in December, otherwise during most of the year, movie theaters are virtually a private domain of Hollywood products and other foreign films.

I had grown a distaste for the networks’ trite telenovelas and if movies were but a replication of the same on the big screen, then viewing a movie in the big-screen theaters offered to me nothing different from the commonplace fare one got from idiot box melodramas.

Then came that recent afternoon when in a gathering of his supporters at the Century Park Hotel,Vice President Binay, speaking about the need to heal wounds from animosities of the past in order for the country to move on toward its long-cherished dream of prosperity, said, “Alam ninyo, napanood ko ang Heneral Luna…” He cut his words short as the audience burst into a mild applause, then continued, “Napakagandang pelikula. Dapat itong ipinopromote sa buong bansa. At ganun din sa abroad…”

The rest of VP Binay’s words got drowned in my consciousness by a sudden stream of reminiscences.

One recollection, the trip to Dapitan by Pio Valenzuela, sent by Bonifacio to get Rizal’s go signal for the imminent Katipunan revolt. Upon returning from Dapitan, Valenzuela informed Bonifacio of Rizal’s condition for agreeing to the revolution: Antonio Luna must lead.

I seemed to be hearing Bonifacio erupting: “Antonio Luna! Who he?”

A scrutiny of the minutes of the trial of captives arrested by the Spanish authorities after the outbreak of the the Katipunan Revolt on August 22, 1896 provides the answer. Illustrados rushed into the walled city of Intramuros, all professing loyalty to Spain. One such illustrado, according to the minutes, an officer of the Spanish Army was named Antonio Luna.

I wonder if VP Binay had this in mind when he spoke well of the film ‘Heneral Luna.’ Or was he simply making an aside to remind the audience of somebody aspiring to be commander in chief of the Philippine Armed Forces after having renounced loyalty to the Philippine flag?

Certainly, at the outbreak of Filipino-American hostilities, Luna was able to resurrect himself from that ignominy of temporarily accommodating himself to the Spanish colonialists, and rose to generalship in the Philippine Army as Director of War of the 1898 Republic, albeit under Emilio Aguinaldo. It was as such that Antonio Luna fell into a trap where he was ganged up on by Cavite rebel soldiers who hacked him to death.

Of that event, Nick Joaquin had this brilliant opening of a 1960’s article in the Philippine Free Press: “If character is man plus his circumstances, then Antonio Luna is the product of his own tragic chemistry.”

My understanding of history necessarily becomes a primary premise for understanding “Heneral Luna,” the film. This is the rationale for the first part of this review.

But as I always maintain, the reading of history is a class endeavor. Historical events take shape in our consciousness depending on where we stand in the ongoing concrete class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. My evaluation of “Heneral Luna” must adhere to this criterion. Thus I pose the question: “Where does Heneral Luna stand, on the side of the working class or on the side of the bourgeoisie?”

Somewhere in the middle of the photoplay, vignettes of Luna’s youth are presented, showing him to be hailing from a well-to-do family, one who had had a good education, including studies in Europe together with his brother Juan, the renowned painter of the classic masterpiece “Spolarium.” But as to his military studies, nothing is shown detailing his background but for a friendly fencing exercise, stressing his being an expert the swordsman.

In any case, the intention in this flashback is to depict Luna as having a choice between pursuing a self-enriching professional career and the noble course of fighting for the freedom of the Filipinos from Spain, and he chose the course of a revolutionary.

That having been said, the screenplay then proceeds to lead him to that barbarous hacking he suffers in the hands of his Caviteño subordinates, for which he is to be raised to the pedestal of heroes.

So we take it up from that proposition: Luna died fighting, therefore he is a hero.

What the film completely fails to touch upon in this regard is the fact that up until the advent of the succeeding American aggression in the country, the term “Filipino” referred not to the inhabitants of the Philippines but to Spaniards born in the Philippines, called “insulares” as distinguished from Spaniards born in Spain called “peninsulares.” Beginning in the 1800s when the growth of capitalism in Europe necessitated the evolution of the hacienda system in colonial Philippines in order to feed raw materials like sugar, copra and hemp to capitalist manufacturers, there evolved, too, from the Philippine natives a distinct few, rich and educated class called illustrados, actually the seeds of the nascent Philippine bourgeoisie. These were, indeed, the Lunas, lumped with the Rizals, the Lopez Jaenas, the Del Pilars, the Paternos, the Buencaminos, the Quezons, the Osmeñas, the Roxases, et al.

As for the bulk of Philippine inhabitants, the working classes, they were derisively called indios.

For whom did Antonio Luna die, then? For the illustrados or for the indios?

The film is zero on this question. And it is in this regard that Heneral Luna commits a lamentable failure. While it cites Rizal and other figures in the Propaganda Movement, and makes a minor reference to Andres Bonifacio in snatches of a similar hacking by which he and brother Procopio are executed, it does not mention anything about Macario Sacay, who had been among the most trusted lieutenants of Andres Bonifacio in the Katipunan and who, in the same period that Luna was fighting US troops, was persevering to boost the socialist aspirations of Bonifacio in doing his own battle with the American aggressors. Ultimately, Sacay and his followers were either annihilated in battle or, once captured, hanged to death.

There, then, is this one single distinction between the Luna and the Sacay deaths: Luna died in an infighting among the nascent Philippine bourgeoisie led by Aguinaldo, Sacay died the glorious death of being hanged by the new Philippine colonizer, America. Between the two, who is the hero?

So we’re back to our original proposition: the reading of history is a class endeavor. For the Philippine working classes, just too bad that “Heneral Luna” reads history for the capitalist class.

(Part two will be published on Sunday October 11)

About the author: Mauro Gia Samonte is an accomplished movie journalist who for a time ran a column in the entertainment section of the Manila Times. A known filmmaker, he has more than fifty movie titles to his credit. He has won two best screenplay awards, one from the Metro Manila Film Festival and one from the Film Academy of the Philippines. He runs three blogsites, The TRAVELER at for his literary works, KAMAO at for his political views, and BRASO at for his historical insights.


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