Every so often I like to try and break the glass ceiling that is procrastination and write an entry in this blog. Maybe I’ll hit it big and become internet famous (the only kind of fame that matters). Most likely not. But I like to write.
Three years ago, give or take a few days, I watched Heneral Luna and liked it enough to write about it. That was the last entry to this blog for a long time, before I managed to pump out two more. 2018 is a banner year for content in this page. Today, we’re going to talk about its sequel, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral. (Spoilers, obviously)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the protagonist dies in Goyo, unless you’re not Filipino, or you’re a Filipino who really doesn’t know their history (in that case: shame). It becomes funny though if you’ve read Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes, because you end up spoiling yourself for the film. Watching Goyo feels like reading Joaquin’s essay on Del Pilar all over again, but without the barbs. Director Jerrold Tarog doesn’t seem to mind; it’s not like he hides his sources. The film begins with two quotes: one from Joaquin and one from T.M. Kalaw’s biography (which Joaquin quotes in his essay).
And fun-fact! The opening title was wrong. It said Del Pilar stayed in Bulacan from June to November when it should’ve said Dagupan.
The film itself follows this tone. It focuses on Del Pilar’s time during these critical months in Dagupan, and you get the feeling that you’re watching a man bungle an entire war on fiestas and tail-chasing. Joven, the audience’s avatar in the last film, becomes his own character while retaining his role as the audience. Unlike the clueless “blank slate” that he was in Heneral Luna, this Joven now has a formed opinion. He’s seen Luna. He was with Manuel Bernal. He has this idea germinating in his mind of what a hero should be, and now he questions Del Pilar. If Goyo is Nick Joaquin’s essay, Joven is Joaquin’s barbs and criticisms.
The parallels don’t end in tone. Scenes are so clearly lifted from Joaquin’s essay. Anecdotes about Del Pilar dismissing his lieutenant’s fears about the war are lifted almost verbatim from Joaquin. Of course, this isn’t a slight on Tarrog. History is history and what happened will always be what happened. Some creative license is taken, of course: Some people became Vicente Enriquez. It’s a film, and cinema sometimes trumps historical accuracy. If you want an entirely faithful account you read Joaquin and Kalaw, not the film based on Joaquin and Kalaw.
That said, there is not much to be said about this film that Joaquin and Kalaw did not already say. This does not invalidate Goyo as a work at all; if anything, we need more works of this nature. The Filipino is notoriously blind to his own past and this is why he is always doomed to repeat it. But it also speaks volumes about the way history is presented to us.
The past is made known to us by the way it exists in the present. We learn about our history through texts, lectures, and media, and through that we get a sense of what we were and where we are today. The reason strongmen exist in our respective provinces is because the concept of a landed elite taking charge of their towns and provinces was a reality decades and centuries before. The very first election in Tejeros was mired in electoral fraud, by Bonifacio and his faction no less. Philippine history is cyclical, unless we choose to break it.
The challenge becomes how we choose to look at our history. An objective look at the past becomes harder and easier the further removed we are. Context becomes clearer, but if we make mistakes, which we often do, bias becomes fact. Heneral Luna isn’t safe from this skewing of history. Its source was Vivencio Jose who loved Luna for all his faults. Conversely, Goyo’s source was Joaquin, who was venomous against Del Pilar. They’re both cinematic, and they’re certainly based on history, but they’re not objective treatments. But this is the history that is popular, and it’s the one that reaches the masses. It’s the one that gets heard.
This could be forgiven if this ends in the realm of cinema. The sad truth of the matter, however, is that this mix of us being blind to our history and biased actors being loud with their versions of history creates a maliciousness that clouds our view of the past, and with it, our interpretation of the present. While no means invalid, the fact that these skewed versions of the past are so loud that they end up drowning other, nuanced views, preventing us from having 20/20 hindsight.
Take Martial Law, for example (of course). For a period so ingrained in our history, and so relatively recent, we know so little about it. It seems that the further we go from the days of 1972, we more ignorant people become. People hear the noise about how it was a Golden Era, about how culture flourished and how prices were low (which were true, sure), but it drowns out the reality that thousands of lives were lost, freedoms were curtailed, and while some certainly benefited from Martial Law, most did not. When Lea Salonga says she owed her career start from Imelda supporting culture, it’s not wrong. But that doesn’t mean Archimedes Trajano wasn’t abducted and murdered for asking Imee a question at an open forum. Ilocos Norte thrived and still thrives because of the Marcoses, but that doesn’t mean the Escalante massacre didn’t happen.
Let’s not forget about that for even just a moment. A lot of people take away from Goyo the idea of idolizing demagogues instead of idolizing principles (which a. is harsh to Aguinaldo, who is much more than just “the guy who killed Bonifacio and Luna”, b. is just one scene from a two hour film, and c. proves that you didn’t watch the parts where Goyo clearly showed that his belief was in nation, channeled through the President), and that’s good, that’s great. Blindly following people is horrible. But beyond that, let’s think about how we view these things. How we view our past. Historical films let us look at our past in a way that’s much more engaging that your normal lecture, but history is more than just a film. It’s the endless search for truth, sifting through the sands of anecdotes and stories to ensure that we learn the lessons that we do need to learn.