A review of reviews

‘Heneral Luna:’ What is nationalism?

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The movie “Heneral Luna” is a remarkable film that should fuel the embers of nationalism in this country. It should be viewed by every single Filipino, especially the youth, whether here or abroad.

This is especially so because nationalism is at its lowest point in our history, or even, I’m afraid, on the verge of extinction.

 John Arcilla in the role of the revolutionary general in the movie Heneral Luna.

John Arcilla in the role of the revolutionary general in the movie Heneral Luna.

Just look at the highest official of the land, President Aquino, who has never ever pinned the insignia of the Republic on his chest, and instead prefers the yellow ribbon that was the gimmickry of American PR firms advising his mother for the February 7 election campaign in 1986. The yellow ribbon now dominates the logo of the Liberal Party, with the Philippine flag that had represented the party’s rousing call for nationalism for 60 years all but obliterated. If he had his way, Aquino would have even replaced the sun in our flag with his yellow ribbon.

Just read the sophomoric articles in an online news site written by naïve young people bragging that they are “citizens of the world,” oblivious that there is no “world” state that would give them the protection afforded by a state. The only citizens of the world are those listed in “Forbes’ Billionaires:” they don’t need nations. For them nations are just markets or places for their factories.


Not a single one of the presidential and vice presidential candidates has made nationalism an issue, even as foreigners now control our telecom and power sectors, and so many Filipinos think of abandoning the nation. What political leader now talks about the nation the same way Ferdinand Marcos in the 1960s promised he would “make the nation great again,” with one state firm’s slogan being “we’re building a nation?”

There’s an economic basis for the decline of nationalism: 5 million Filipinos have left the country for good while another 5 million have been spending most of their working lives as OFWs. If your fraternity had so many members leaving, could you pretend it’s morale has not plunged? EDSA I was transformed not into a celebration of a strengthened nation but a quasi-religious event of Mama Mary and her messiah Cory saving her faithful.

What we called a brain drain in the 1970s has become a massive leak, with the best and the brightest, from engineers to bankers to academics, yes, even top journalists, leaving the country.

Two reviews of “Luna” reveal how nationalism is so misunderstood that it stands for practically nothing.

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito reduces nationalism to an emotion, a feeling of ‘oneness’ with our countrymen. That he doesn’t understand what nationalism is becomes evident when he claims that there is a lack of such “oneness” among those who oppose the BBL, those who lambast government for its inefficiency, or those who violate traffic laws. The latter two examples show he confuses civic duty for nationalism. His condemnation of those who are against the BBL (which he supports) on the ground it would dismember our nation shows he doesn’t really understand what a nation-state is – that two of its essential elements are: a clearly defined territory (from which a Bangsamoro would cut away) and a unified armed force serving one nation (which could be undermined by an armed force disguised as the “ Bangsamoro police”)

Xenophobia, Habito thinks

Like most of our Filipino “citizens of the world” who have long jettisoned nationalism in their world-views, Habito dismisses Philippine nationalism as a “xenophobic kind that seems to disdain anything, or anyone, foreign.” He caricatures critics against foreign monopolists as those who don’t care about “the jobs they (foreign firms) could provide for Filipinos.” That echoes the argument of the movie’s traitor Felipe Buencamino, who believed Philippine annexation into the US would bring about prosperity for this Asian nation.

It’s eerie, though, how Habito’s main reaction to the movie, which is to condemn what he claims as “xenophobia,” is similar in tone to that of my colleague, Nicole Cuunjieng. “Luna” makes Habito worried about and warns against “xenophobia” and “crab mentality.” Ms. Cuunjieng raises an alarm over the “Dangers of Heneral Luna.” I suspect she means the “dangers of nationalism.”

She depicted Luna and the insurrectionists’ thinking as: “Oppose America at all costs – forget that people were dying, that the cost of such persistence was Americans burning villages wholesale, loss of livelihood.”

But more than a century before the Americans’ adventure on to these Islas de las Filipinas, the US cavalry had become experts in “burning (Native Indian) villages wholesale,” for basically the same reason: to pacify them, so their stupid notions of earth as owned by no one would give way to privately owned plantations and cattle ranches.

Cuunjieng suspects that “a poor Visayan farmer most likely didn’t trust the Tagalog revolutionaries in the North,” and therefore, would have hesitated to join the Revolution.

However, there were, in fact, as many revolutionary movements against the Spanish and the Americans in the Visayas, and I haven’t read anything that has even hinted that Visayan revolutionaries worried about their comrades in the North.

In fact, one of the most tragic and bloody episodes of the war against the US occurred in Balangiga, Samar. It was there that the infamous Gen. Jacob Smith, after he was ordered to hunt down the heroic revolutionaries in Samar in 1903, gave his troops the orders: “I want no prisoners. I wish for you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me . . . The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness. . . . ”

image005His troops did just that. Thousands of flammable nipa huts were quickly burned and at least 2,000 Warays were killed, including women. Smith even specifically ordered all boys above 10 years of age shot. That news reached and shocked America. The New York Journal on May 5, 1902 showed a firing squad of US troops aiming at Filipino boys, with the caption: “Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines.”

New York magazine cartoon shocked the nation with an American general’s orders to massacre Filipinos above 10 years old.

Blame the resistance

Are we to blame the Philippine resistance to US imperialism for that? That’s just like saying that the 1987 Mendiola Massacre or the Hacienda Luisita killings would not have happened if people just stayed at home and watched telenovelas.

C’mon, the Americans were the new colonialists at the turn of that century, scouring the Philippines for gold, cheap sugar and coconut oil that was the raw material for their margarine and soap industries. They were also rushing to compete with European powers to pillage China, and planned to use the Philippines as – using the modern term – forward deployment sites to that country. The Americans killed an estimated 100,000 Filipino revolutionaries and civilians, including those who died of starvation as a result of the US Army’s favorite technique of embargoing rice supplies to suspected rebel areas.

 Where Guantanamo may have started.  US troops using “the watercure” torture against a Filipino revolutionary.

Where Guantanamo may have started.  US troops using “the watercure” torture against a Filipino revolutionary.

Cuunjieng raised the question that the revolutionaries may have just wanted “to be masters of the land . . . who nobody trusted would be anything but the new conquerors filling the shoes of the West.”

That kind of view would make us think that Mahatma Gandhi just wanted to be a new master replacing Lord Mountbatten, Mandela replacing F.W. de Klerk in South Africa, or Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam replacing some French general.

In contrast, academic Richard Javad Heydarian in his review of “Luna” in Huffington Post correctly appreciated the heroism of the Revolution: “‘Heneral Luna’ captures the zeitgeist of this noble period in Philippine history, when Western-educated Filipinos confidently demanded equality with the Western civilization and valiantly risked their lives to build an independent nation.”

Heydarian also noted in his review: “(The Philippine revolution was when) Filipinos stood as a beacon of inspiration for nationalists across the world. In From the Ruins of Empire (2012), Pankaj Mishra shows how the Philippines’ struggle for independence, first against Spain and later against the Americans, inspired nationalists across Asia. For scholars such as Benedict Anderson, the Philippines’ nationalist movement, inspired by the works of Rizal, was a trailblazer in Asia, representing the first post-colonial struggle in the continent.” (Emphasis mine)

I wonder how Asia and the world would look now if the Katipunan warriors allowed themselves to be overcome by fear that if they revolted, the Spanish or the Americans would burn their villages wholesale and their countrymen would lose their livelihoods.
To admire “Luna” more, and to understand nationalism, one would have to study again what a nation-state really is.

Most important organization on earth

First, whether you like it or not, the nation-state in the modern era is the most important organization to which a human being belongs.

It is a progression from our identification with, membership in, and loyalty to the family, then a clan, a tribe, then a region. In this country, the most important organization many Filipinos primarily identify with is the “Kingdom of God,” the Church, whether it’s Catholic, born-again whatever, or INC.

That is the result of more than three centuries of Spanish brainwashing – their main method of subjugation, because few Spanish soldiers wanted to be stationed in this goddamn typhoon country. The myth the Spanish imposed on us: We aren’t a subjugated people but are children of God under the care of the friars.

However, it is not the Church but the nation-state that makes the laws you have to obey, the kind of society you will live in, your level of prosperity, even your lifespan. It is what the nation-state does that will determine whether millions live in prosperity or in misery.

No nation on this planet was created without violence: The earliest nation states were kingdoms warring other kingdoms to delineate their territories, or as in the case of China, the victory of the state of Qin over five kingdoms. The modern state’s bureaucracy, in fact, grew out of the logistical system for efficiently getting taxes from its subjects and feeding its army.

Nation-states were also monarchies where a new middle class, which emerged because of capitalism, revolted, and beheaded most of the nobility. The only nations created not through violence are those tiny ones one like Liechtenstein tucked away in the Alps or miniscule island nations like the Maldives and Nauru.

Heydarian also correctly explains: “(reading history closely), one is confronted with the uncomfortable truth that nation-building was an intrinsically violent process that sought to shift individuals’ loyalty from their families and tribes to, in the words of Benedict Anderson, an ‘imagined community’ called nation.”

The reality is, however you define them: strata of people (the ilustrados in our case, the landowners in colonial America, the revolutionary intelligentsia) create the nation. If polls as Cuunjieng’s academic friend, Leloy Claudio, preposterously suggested determined what nations should exist, there would be no nations on earth.

Capitalism’s requirements pushed these early kingdoms-that-became-nations to subjugate less-developed communities, those backwater areas we now call the developing countries.
Guess what happened? The well-to-do youth of those colonized areas – educated in those modern nations or in their schools like Rizal, Luna, Sun Yat Sen, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong, discovered something very important.

They realized that the wealth and power of these conquering Caucasians were due, not to their physical attributes nor to some superior mental faculties, but to the fact that they had a superior form of social organization – the nation-state, which had emerged as the most efficient organization to harness the energies and talent of a group of people they call their citizens. “Kami rin!” they must have thought.

If the Spanish or the French or the Dutch or the Americans did not have a nation-state, they couldn’t have accumulated the wealth – through taxes and monopoly grants – to construct war ships, galleons and armies with the most technologically advanced weapons.

Nationalism is “merely” the realization and appreciation that the nation-state is the organization, a fraternity if you will, which is in this era of humanity is the most important organization that will determine not only your fate as a human being but also all the millions of future members of that organization. Of course, it’s not just a mental event, but actions to put that knowledge into practice.

It is also the realization that nation-states are essentially selfish, and whatever they do is for their self-interest. The Philippine tragedy has been that while most of us are selfish – with little concern for the nation – we don’t believe that nation-states like the US, more than a hundred years ago and today, are motivated purely by self-interest. That is one of the many lessons of “Luna.”

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16 Comments

  1. Celly carbonell on

    Mr. R.TIGLAO… KUDOS TO YOU FOR YOUR ARTICLE AND ANALYSIS ON THE REAL SENSE OF PHILIPPINE NATIONALISM. I HOPE AND PRAY THERE WILL BE MORE WRITERS WHO WOULD DWELL MORE ON THE CORRECT EVENTS AND THE HEROISM OF THE TRUE HEROES WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES FOR THE GOOD SAKE OF FREEDOM OF THE PHILIPPINES… THE TRUE EVENTS AND LEADERS, NOT THE FAKE ONES AS ENDORSED BY FOREIGN IMPERIALISTS.

    When i was a young student, Aguinaldo was never hailed a hero, but a shrewd TREACHEROUS EGOMANIAC who’d liquidate anyone against his way, thus the horrendous killings of Ge. Antonio Luna and the Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio. It was likewise his selfish ambition which caused the loss of thousand lives of the Filipinos during the Filipino American War which should not have happened had He been honest to the Filipino compatriots and the American leaders he cheated. Declaration of Philippine independence was part of his lies and malicious ambition to claim himself as president when the PHILPPINES was already lost and relinquished by Spain to USA before June 12, 1898. For the Philippine leaders to swing along with his wishes to change the correct date of Philippine Independence to 1898 is a great blunder. For a young Pilipinos to ask why Apolinario Mabini was always sitting, would just prove the poor education taught in the school. This is a good sample oh how leaders could distort facts in the Philippines to satisfy their whims. I pray that there will be more like you to write and educate the Filipinos to know and learn the true meaning of Nationalism with the True leaders who fought hard to achieve it, devoid of malice and hypocrisy. Thank you!

  2. Very nice article. I subscribe to your opinion. While watching “Heneral Luna”, I realized that we lack unity and loyalty even during those times. “Divide and conquer” seems a very effective strategy our enemies use against us. This explains why probably until today, we do not truly understand what nationalism is–no leader is after every Filipino’s self-interest, only his own.

  3. I like this article of Roberto Tiglao about “Nationalism”. He clearly and perfectly define the word which to my simple understanding it means love of country. But Mr. Tiglao expanded and deeply excavated what this holy word means. And by this, I now fully understand what this mysterious word, truly a holy word indeed. Thumbs up for this article, congratulations Mr. R Tiglao for hitting the nail right on the head.

  4. We see in Sen. Bongbong Marcos’ great patriotism when he opposed the original BBL. We need Filipinos like him to run this desperate country.

  5. Cuunjieng and Habito might as well called themselves Buencamino and Paterno. They might as well lick the boot or the “hind sides” of Uncle Sam.

  6. kingsley(vasily)smith on

    Agree 100%! Don’t let pernicious western(US) pop culture overwhelm our youth and dilute their love of nation. The culture of “consumerism” is a dead end.

  7. Alfred S Tingabngab on

    Wow. Sir Rigoberto Tiglao hit the realities about being a Nation, Nationhood and Nationalism, with reference to Heneral Luna’s significance to the Filipinos, dead-center and squarely on target. I wish people can clear their minds for a moment and read the article objectively. I hope people can for once be mature, objective and be citizen mature to grasp the importance of the lesson in this article, this includes those who think they belong as “Children of God”, specifically the INC… when truth be told, while physically living on earth, you are Children of the Philippines. Therefore, it is important for us to remember that we hold the fate of our country, our nation and the future generations of Filipinos in our hands. We must responsibly and patriotically act as citizens and as children of our forefathers in this beautiful and limited country the Philippines.

  8. People must read books about the Philippine-American War and about other chapters in our history in order to develop nationalism, which, contrary to the Buencaminos of today’s assertion, is NOT bad at all. For it is nationalism that drove the peoples of America, China, Japan, Germany, Britain, Koreas, etc. to become industrialized countries – exporting finished products rather than human beings and raw materials only. Among the books that will help Filipinos to develop nationalism are: “American Occupation of the Philippines” by Judge James H. Blount; “The Philippines: A Past Revisited” and “The Philippines: The Continuing Past” by Renato Constantino; “Philippine Revolution” by Zaide (one of the very first books which included a detailed discussion on the Philippine-American War); “La Senda del Sacrificio” or “The Price of Freedom” by Rizal’s friend and Antonio Luna’s trusted general, Jose Alejandrino; “The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna” by Vivencio Jose; “Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic” by Teodoro Agoncillo; “La Revolucion Filipina” or “The Philippine Revolution” by Mabini; the autobiography of General “Apoy” Alvarez, son of Gen. Mariano Alvarez; “The Filipino Ideology” by Elpidio Quirino; and other books about the Philippine revolution and the Philippine-American War otherwise known as the War of Philippine Independence, which many writers aver as “America’s First Vietnam”.

  9. Gloria B. Wilhelm on

    On September 29th, I made history for myself and I was mighty pleased and proud. For the first time ever in the last 50 plus years of my life, I went by myself to see a Pilipino movie. When I was a young adult, I just could not afford money and time to watch a Pilipino movie, as I was always studying and working on weekends to save for my college. And then I was away for decades. This movie stirred the patriotism in me and the desire to know more about our history. I read with interest the ensuing articles in the dailies. “Heneral Luna” … yes, it was a good movie and John Arcilla, usually a character actor, I surmise having not seen any of his pictures before and because he has the face for it, was perfectly cast as General Antonio Luna who had a beastly temper, but an excellent general and strategist.
    After watching this movie, I question now whether Emilio Aguinaldo should be considered one of our heroes. May I add further that Andres Bonifacio should be recognized at the level that Jose Rizal is recognized as a hero! He was a true hero. And I like to be bold and go further: Let the Philippine history be rewritten and recognize Bonifacio as our first president. Erase the name of Emilio Aguinaldo as a hero and first president of the Philippines. He sold the Philippines to both Spain and United States and eliminated two of our best soldiers and patriots, namely Supremo Andres Bonifacio and Heneral Antonio Luna, sacrificing patriotism for greed and power.

    Mr. Tiglao, you write interesting articles. Cheers.

    • I concur.

      Erase Emilio Aguinaldo. Bonifacio ought to be our national hero and not Rizal.

      That is why this nation is going to the pigs and crocodiles. Our history itself is filled with LIES and more LIES.

  10. Oldandcurious on

    Sense of nationhood and collective nationalist identity for most of the people are simply, “duh?”

    Look around. Without any direct subjugation, a majority of Filipinas voluntarily spend thousands of their [or parent’s] hard-earned money to Caucasianize themselves. Brown hair, fair skin and nose implants.

    This is strong evidence that the Puppet Masters have successfully uprooted any budding nationalism there is. They need not spend to conquer us because we ourselves are just too happy to be like them.

    Paradoxically, the absence of nationhood from the majority’s psyche is superimposed on our very regionalist bigotry. We make fun of Visayan accent, yet we find it cute when a caucasian mangles our Pilipino [Tagalog].

    LIC or whatever you call it now is still very much in high gear. Our OFWs are the manifestation of this. When a 15-year old kid here receives a pair of Nike from any corner of this globe, he and his parents cannot be faulted for not wanting to build this nation that actively, even aggressively refuse to be built. Their leaders have no inclination to provide them with gainful employment here. Why? Because the King Makers find it highly profitable to just rake in the OFW money – mega malls, housing projects, condos – without pulling the money for these from their own pocket in the form of decent wage and salary. It is indeed a win-win scenario for “them.”

    “They” were right. Heneral Luna was spot on too. Having an aborted revolution, nationhood was never given a chance to even be a toddler. Before it can even walk, it was “genetically altered” to be an entertained and subjugated “mob.”

  11. Melchor G. Raymundo on

    Very well said. Hope this can be translated and published in Pilipino .

    Hindi po ako sanay magbasa ng mahahabang artikulo tulad nito.

    Your column, I was able to read because of the fb post of my friend,
    who is one of the critics of this administration.

    Thank you very much

  12. No wonder, the Filipino ‘nation’ is divided! No symbol of oneness, but a family symbol and of ‘oligarchy’!

  13. Habito and CuUnjieng are just two of many “Filipinos” educated in the West who, because they carry the imprimatur of a Yale and a Harvard, pretend to be intellectuals while writing for the interest of foreigners. Nationalism, more than just a feeling, is the practice of advocating what is in the best interest of the nation, that will uphold its sovereignty and create a sense of nationhood among the citizens. As you pointed out correctly, they neither understand nor possess nationalism or adulation for one’s country. This is very typical of those educated (or better, brainwashed) in the West. And by the way, Mr. Tiglao, I wouldn’t call Luna and his soldiers “insurrectionists.” That would imply that they were fighting a duly constituted American authority or government, which is what an insurrection is. They were, in fact, defending the Filipino nation from the same marauding Caucasian barbarians who exterminated the native American Indians in the latter’s own land. I’d call them freedom fighters, rebels, revolutionaries (take your pick) but not insurrectionists.

  14. Nationalism, as defined by a nationalistic American, simply means “My country, right or wrong !” To those schizophrenic, socially engineered Filipinos who have been brainwashed to think they are Americans, nationalism is a threat to America, except American nationalism of course, which they have raised to a level they call American exceptionalism. Habito and Nicole are victims who cannot help the way they think, like drug addicts who refuse to accept that they have a problem. One can only sympathize as any hope of a constructive engagement would be futile.