The hype is real. After the critically acclaimed movie Heneral Luna in 2015, another biopic is underway. This time, it is about Gregorio del Pilar, one of the known boy generals in the Philippine Revolutionary Army. The movie Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is the second of the movie trilogy written and directed by Jerrold Tarog.
I admit that I was tad bit cynical about del Pilar in my previous writing piece back in 2015 [See: Was Gregorio Del Pilar a hero after all?]. It was a sentiment that I got from Nick Joaquin’s Question of Heroes. Admittedly, just like T.M.Kalaw’s biography of Goyo, the resources that would give a picture inside Goyo’s mind were few. His personal diary (and letters) was a bit ambiguous. But yet, his last entries provided a clear glimpse in Goyo’s growing patriotism.
There was light and there was darkness in the life of Gregorio del Pilar as judged by our historiographers and historians. Basking in the light was del Pilar’s glorious epitaph as the Hero of the Tirad Pass, while creeping in the dark was del Pilar’s hideous side of being the hatchet for Aguinaldo and the 1st Philippine Republic, having led the execution of the liquidation of Luna’s officers, notably Luna aides-de-camp Manuel Bernal and Jose Bernal, along with Generals Jose Alejandrino, who had received del Pilar and his arresting men in a sarcastic mood while lying in bed, and Venancio Concepcion who was Goyo’s greatest critic and whom we will probably never see in the movie.
It is refreshing to see Jerrold Tarog paint more humanity in the titular character in this biopic than its predecessor, Heneral Luna. Of course, after that spat with Leloy Claudio who pointed out that Heneral Luna inadvertently painted good light to authoritarian tendencies, which eventually led to the elevation of Rodrigo Duterte to presidency, he had to be careful in writing this biopic. I agree with Prof. Claudio about that, but the blame should not pinned on Director Tarog or to the movie, but rather to the Filipino movie culture.
Most of the Filipinos, some in their limited political and moral sense, are only used to stories with only two sides in it: the heroes assuming the roles of the protagonists, and the villains assuming the roles of the antagonists. They were not used into seeing anti-heroes like Luna assuming the role of the protagonist, neither they were not used to tragedies. And because of that, they would understandably fail to see that Luna’s downfall was not entirely alone because of the conspiracy that brewed within the army and the cabinet, but it was also because of Luna himself, of his behavior, and abusive, destructive and tempestuous tendencies. The ends can never justify the means. Luna led himself to his own downfall.
The short film Angelito, which depicted the events that took place after Heneral Luna, has tied those loose ends and balanced out the misconceptions about its predecessor. It followed the Bernal brothers, along with Joven Hernando, as they escaped from their arresting officers. They were joined by the youngest of the Bernal brothers, Angel, whom his elder brothers were affectionately calling him Angelito. During their hiding, they lament on how loyalty was often directed to a certain idol/personality rather than to the country. The conversation was an allusion to the fanaticism that led to the disregard to the miseries that the current administration has caused, and the disregard to reason.
Of course, not all kinds of loyalty are destructive, as countered by Joven. Aguinaldo has all legitimate reasons for the loyalty of the whole army. He had led the cause for independence. However, reflecting the lamentation by Nick Joaquin in Question of Heroes, there was a time when Aguinaldo should have been cunning and decisive, only that he didn’t. What was being referred to was time during August 1898, when Aguinaldo’s forces had surrounded Intramuros, one step shy of overall victory. It was one of the two biggest what-ifs during the Philippine independence movement, the other being the Filipino counter-offensive during the third week of February 1899.
I was sure that Aguinaldo was more than aware of what Manuel Bernal was saying. Aguinaldo knew how fickle the Filipino loyalty is. It was that kind of loyalty that was conditional. That loyalty was just a liability as much as being an asset for Aguinaldo. And that bogged down to his decisiveness, which led to the death of Antonio Luna and the subsequent blunders.
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral takes off where Angelito had left, with the same thesis regarding loyalty that Angelito had tackled. It is with that thesis that humanity was being painted upon Gregorio del Pilar as he journeyed into finding the meaning behind being a hero.
The capture of the Bernal brothers was one of the scenes in the opening sequence, along with the liquidation of the Luna’s staff. During the torture scene, Manuel Bernal compares Goyo to a dog who will follow anything that is being told to do. It is a fitting metaphor to the initial state of character of Goyo at the start of the movie.
Gregorio del Pilar was just like that at first. He would do anything just to curry favor, to earn praise, and to be commended at first, with his stints at Biak-na-bato and Nueva Ecija, and eventually with leading the liquidation of Luna’s officers. Those praises, which he garnered from Aguinaldo, from his officers, from the townsfolk, fed his vanity (which I elaborated in great detail in my previous piece). Just like on how he was appeased with those praises, insinuations can also cause great disturbance in him.
Tandaan mo kung sino ka. [Remember who you are]
It was a reverberating reminder that served as a catalyst in Goyo in finding his place, apart from being Aguinaldo’s closest general, apart from being the hatchet of the republic. As he fought retreating battles, and suffered defeats in Pangasinan and La Union, his definition of loyalty developed. Along the way, he found out that leaders like Aguinaldo can be replaced, but his patria is something that his irreplaceable. His loyalty developed from being a mere allegiance to Aguinaldo into a indomitable love for the Philippines, which culminated into his sacrifice on Tirad Pass.
Walang mga bayani sa bundok na ito. Tayo’y mga sundalong puno ng pag-ibig, hindi ng galit. [There are no heroes in this mountain. We are soldiers filled with love, not hate.]
It was a character development that blew me away. I retract some of my harsh remarks on Goyo in my previous piece. I recommend everybody to watch this movie.
BONUS BIT – EXPLAINING THE FRAMES
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral
September 5, 2018