Heneral Luna’s aftermath

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I STILL love the film Heneral Luna directed by Jerrold Tarrog and written by Henry Hunt Francia, E.A. Rocha, and Tarrog, based on the work of historian Vivencio Jose.

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But in the aftermath of the film’s success, given the noise it has generated, the issues it has brought to light, the criticism against it, the manner in which the people who created it have been silent (or silenced) by the more dominant voices that have been allowed to “claim” the film, I have rethought this love.

Because that’s what one is supposed to do when faced with a contrary opinion about anything at all. Take stock, ask questions, rethink, rethink, rethink.

But as with many things, what the Heneral Luna aftermath has revealed is how this country’s “intelligentsia” is still as messed up about nation, lost about our functions as “thinkers,” removed from the generation for whom this film will be most important.

It also sadly reveals too much ego.

Hagiography and the question of empire
The more interesting critiques against this film spoke about how in the task of making Antonio Luna more human, what the film ended up doing was hagiography, i.e., or making him over as a saint.

Many have spoken as well about how in the process of highlighting Luna’s firm stand for nation, which made enemies of Filipinos like Buencamino and Paterno who believed in forging a friendship with America – Filipinos whom Luna called traitors –what the film limned over was the role of America as colonizer, as the evil hand that continues to meddle in our affairs as nation.

And yet my reaction to the film was totally the opposite. I thought that the conversations about America, and the way the film painted America, were enough to begin a conversation about the role America continues to play in our politics and governance. I thought all the arguments between Luna and Buencamino and Paterno, resonated with the present, and were enough to begin a discussion about how and why Filipinos find it in their best interest to stay indebted to America.

But also, I thought that the portrayal of the Americans was enough to highlight how little they thought of us as a people, and how Luna was like the loose canon they did not expect of the colonized. His foolishness, his persistence, his courage, his smarts – these surprised the Americans. What did not surprise them was how disunited we were, how we could not get our act together and take a stand for the creation of nation.

And this is also what kept me from imagining that this was hagiography that Heneral Luna was creating: at no time did I think that Luna was being sold as saint. In fact one is hard put to even imagine him a good man, a compassionate man. He was a soldier, and he went above and beyond the call of duty by making the choice of nation against everything and everyone else. This was not about Luna being a righteous man. Nor simply about making him more human. This was about showing him as a man of conviction, one that was about choosing nation and independence over everything else, to the point of lunacy.

And yes that has its pitfalls, absolutely. But one would like to think that what is valuable about this film’s portrayal of Luna is how things were so clear cut for him – bayan o sarili, Pilipinas o America, kaibigan o kaaway. One would like to think that these are still important questions to ask, important choices to make, and these are valuable no matter how jaded we are, no matter how certain we are with our answers. Especially since there’s a whole new generation for whom these questions are new.

Generation gap, history in schools
Unlike Karen Davila who detailed the kind of history she learned in high school and said that she didn’t learn much, I was in a DECS homestudy program all of high school, which is to say I was taught no history subject, and in fact did a lot of my learning at home, with my parents and brother, and the endless piles of books that they provided.

Central to this renewed discussion about history classes is not Heneral Luna itself, but a moviegoer’s reaction to Epi Quizon’s character Apolinario Mabini, asking why he was seated throughout the film. Quizon had asked via Twitter: what have we been teaching in schools?

But the better question should be who’s in control of our educational system and the teaching it fosters? Because to ask what and how are we teaching our kids is to automatically point a finger at our underpaid, overworked teachers. In fact the crux of this problem is in our textbooks, and the kind of raket that it is, where the worst books are being used in our schools, and the better ones are dismissed as too difficult or just unnecessary to the curriculum already developed.

The better point to make is how this government’s K-12 will mean even less hours teaching history, and how what we’ve seen of the K-12 textbooks have yet to convince us that it will mean more intelligent discussions about history and our past as nation.

Social media aftermath
Neither should we be picking on the younger ones who dare speak out about Heneral Luna, asking questions about the parts of the film they did not understand. Engaging with them need not mean looking down on them or using a tone that makes them feel stupid for even asking questions.

It is unclear now why historian Alvin Campomanes’ voice has dominated the conversation about Heneral Luna, when he was not part of the film’s production, and seems to have only become part of it (along with historian Xiao Chua) after its creation, when they were touring it in schools, and talking about the film as finished product. It is unclear why the Heneral Luna writers have yet to speak about the film’s writing.

But Campomanes’ voice crossed the line from being critical viewer and academic who believes in this film, to being its mouthpiece and public relations officer, praising it to high heavens like it is faultless and flawless, and worse, making patol every negative review that has come its way. He invokes the fact of his being historian, pointing out in so many words the ignorance of these “critics” who just didn’t get it.

His voice has not helped in keeping our sanities intact with regards this film, and in fact it has layered the film with a yabang that it does not need – that one does not even hear from those who made the film itself.

And that assertion about piracy being a bigger enemy than America? Please. That’s just embarrassing. I mean I know it would be great if Heneral Luna stayed in theaters longer than it has, and earn more money than it has, so that more films like it may be made. But certinaly that does not mean being blind to the truth that a majority of students cannot afford the P100 bucks to watch this film. You want piracy to stop? Show the film for free.

Now that would be a service worthy of Heneral Luna, the film and the man. It’s the kind of aftermath you’d want for a film that seeks to change our view of history, by speaking of it in the present, and engaging a nation in a set of questions about it. You cannot do that in a country where a majority cannot afford to buy a movie ticket.

Bayan o sarili? This film asks. Now its makers must choose an answer. If the anti-piracy stand is any indication, well, I have a feeling Heneral Luna would not be happy with their answer.

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15 Comments

  1. The problem with out lack or twisted idea of history should not be put or be blamed on the students, but to the government (DEPED) for continuously using the same kind of his-story according to the Americans. Our history books were crafted by the american, they designated Jose Rizal as National Hero, made the Spaniards and Japanese as all but evil, while the Americans as liberating angels coming from heaven. But of course you will not read a detailed story of the Philippine-American War, few textbook prior to 2000 would speak about the several massacres perpetuated by the Americans, the Balangiga Massacre, the Massacre of the Moros, the “water treatment” torture. Gen. Luna and the rest of those who fought America barely found their names or stories in the books,. America want us to forget them and that bloody war which they called for the sake of “benevolent assimilation”. And today we still look into America as our savior and that we owe him big time…

  2. I was upset when the new generation esp who saw this film doesnt know that Apolinario Mabini is sublime paralytic. Why? nobody taught in our Philippine History that Apolinario Mabini is a paralyze person??? nakakaawa namn ang mga kabataaan na hindi nila alam ang ating Philippine history. like how many provinces in the Philippines, summer capital of Philippines, etc…??? eh di lalo na sa World History walang alam ang ating mga students… pathetic education system.. very poor…. very poor. very poor very poor. I am very sorry. this is the fact. Our education is deteriorating.. sa spelling lang mali mali.. i have seen in the TV show.. mathematics , subtraction din mali pa..

  3. Its a real pity that the fate of Revolution of 1898 was to run smack into the rising American imperialism of that era, but what if the Spaniards and the Filipinos resisted the Americans together, fighting a more ably led and better organized guerilla war all over the islands? We could have defeated the Americans and acquired independence later, perhaps while Spain herself was being consumed by her civil war. This is one “what if” of history that always intrigues me. We would have not been Americanized, which can only mean good, especially if you look at the American Indians and many other peoples who felt the receiving end of American benevolence.

    • choosing between americans and spaniards during those days, i would rather prefer the americans. while the spaniards promoted division within our ranks, the american done the otherwise. spaniards discourage filipinos to be literate and they even discourage filipinos to know the iberian language only few filipinos (at least the elites) knows to speak it, even Emilio Aguinaldo the president of the republic poorly spoke it. while the americans encourage filipinos to be educated. In fact, in their desire to educate the masses they’ve import school teachers in their homeland in 1903 and some of these american teachers were killed by the revolutionaries. if only the americans came earlier before the birth of filipino nationalism our country should not be like hell like we are now.

    • Just think about this for minute, we are the only Americanized nation in Asia, the most westernized even, and because of this we imagine ourselves to be superior and point to the use of English as the evidence of this, yet we are one of the laggards in this part of the world. Since language is the carrier of culture, English is actually the main obstacle that is stopping us from digging deep into our Asian roots to help guide us in our nation-building. I believe the American influence is the toxin responsible for our damaged culture, together with the poison forced on us by the Spaniards, namely our imitation Christianity.

  4. I have so many comments on your article which had me thinking.

    Firstly, we should revisit our history textbooks. Some months back, I asked my niece, a Grade 6 student at St. Theresa’s College QC at that time who, in her opinion, is the best president we have/had. Her answer – Marcos. I asked her why. She showed me her history book which had Marcos’ list of achievements the longest compared to other former Presidents. Example in the book was the “Green Revolution”; I told her this was a project of Marcos but NOT an accomplishment. I asked other college students in internet cafe and most of them answered Marcos. Same book maybe? Or work of the media for portraying past admins sins? The Martial Law days are missing in the history books? OMG! Its time to revisit and correct our history books being taught in schools! Paging DepEd — PLEASE!

    Secondly, Heneral Luna is a movie. It is but natural for the producers to want their investment back. Besides I understand they want to do a trilogy featuring del Pilar and Quezon. Good for us! we should help them achieve their goal and patronise these movies. Tama na and horror and romcom muna.

    Thirdly, this movie really made me realize that I dont know about our heroes very well. So I googled Antonio Luna and Mabini even Rizal and Bonifacio. In my readings, I stumbled upon their achievements, love for women, and a gold loot. They were humans as well. In the era that they were in (the Philippines steeped in 400-year Spanish colonization), I salute them for their firm stand whether for reforms or revolution. Their common stand was for the the GOOD OF THE COUNTRY and that is enough for me.

    So thanks to HENERAL LUNA, our youth are opening their eyes to see their country in a new light. Its a good start.

  5. Philippine education is in a dismal state. As a history teacher and later textbook writer, I spent my whole career trying to veer the teaching of history towards its loftier goal — that of instilling love for country in the students — by emphasizing the important lessons to be learned from our history that can help us understand why we are the people that we are now and can impact our love for our country rather than meaningless facts and figures, and by employing a strategy that made the students think deeply and arrive at logical conclusions rather than merely making them memorize. I then wrote a Philippine history book that presented history in exactly that way: emphasizing making us understand who we are right now from our past experiences as a people, and making the readers think deeply not only about our past but also and especially about our present and future. Sadly, though, history is still largely taught today with emphasis on useless facts and rote memory, even in many of the most exclusive schools in the country, and my book was turned down by the schools in the country because, according to the teachers, it’s too “unconventional,” meaning they want a history book that presents facts and nothing more (no points for reflection, etc.), just like the present textbooks. The good thing is that the book, published by Anvil and available in all the National Book Store and Powerbooks outlets in the country, is selling well among private readers and history enthusiasts, and is especially being patronized by balikbayans who want their children to know more about their country. I maintain that unless the teaching of Philippine history is improved, the Filipinos will never become the people they ought to become — people who love their country and not just themselves and their families, as Antonio Luna rightfully said — and our country will never become a great one.

  6. As a result of this film’s success, I understand that the producer will be inclined to pursue a trilogy, where after this on the Ilocano General, another on General Emilio Jacinto and Apolinario Mabini are in the drawing board.

    One interesting historical sub-story could be on the Katipuneros who chose exile in Guam rather than pledging allegiance to the USA( unlike one who dreams of the presidency).

    Also the tale of Gen. Artemio Ricarte, who by accounts aided in the retreat of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita?

  7. what’s the truth about general antonio luna ran away with the peoples wealth in gold. secondly, who are the descendants of luna and isidra cojuangco? how can he be a hero if he ran away with the the peoples wealth? his great grandchildren who they are now?

    • I read that the gold etc were “entrusted” with Ysidra Cojuangco who was supposedly his girlfriend because Luna intended to transfer their command post up north as they were being pursued by the Americans soldiers. However, he was assassinated before he could do so. I would like to think that Luna was not after the gold for himself. It simply is not consistent with his stand for love of country rather than self, his disciplinary method toward his soldiers, his disdain for the Aguinaldo cabinet officials.

    • i would love this episode in Heneral Luna II! Mr. Ricardo Manapat did a great job in his “some are smarter than others” a full chapter at least!

    • They said every General in the Phil-American Revolution carries with them some amount of Gold for them to use for passage usually to Hong Kong or Japan if the need arise.

    • the malolos gov’t and it’s officials are not corrupt as our officials today. though malolos official can easily pocket those funds in view of the situation of that period but they did not. malolos gov’t and officials take care of their money properly and have a very good acctg. in my research and reading i’ve never read any malolos officials being investigated or even rumored of stealing govt money. in fact most of malolos officials contributed money to the treasury and those generals expended their own wealth to the maintenance of the army.