If the film Heneral Luna opened our eyes to the ills that addled our nation’s history. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, the second installment in Director Jerrold Tarog’s historical trilogy, takes a stab at our bloated ideas of ourselves and our sense of pride. Here’s where he succeeds in not just showing us the troubles of our past, but at showing us how history repeats itself.
What Makes a Leader?
The film opens a day after the gruesome demise of General Antonio Luna and documents the last five months of General Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar’s life up to his death at the Battle of Tirad Pass. As was with Heneral Luna, Tarog did not hold anything back when it came to showing the faults that haunted Aguinaldo’s regime—starting with Goyo’s promotion to a general through luck, youthful brashness, and unquestioned loyalty to the president. Del Pilar was Aguinaldo’s favorite. And that was more important than anything else.
As the film progresses, it challenges the notion of martyrdom and how it does not necessarily equate to heroism. Instead, it is a redeeming arc for those who are trying to save face. The film also bursts the bubble of those who put these national heroes on a pedestal—especially when it showed Filipino soldiers fleeing the battle field when confronted by the more superior American forces. Again, similar to Heneral Luna, the film was able to stir the consciousness of viewers as they were able to see another view of history based on accounts and the significant details meticulously placed throughout the film. Tarog used the journals that writers Nick Joaquin and Ambeth Ocampo gathered through their research.
Through these sources, Tarog humanizes Goyo and paints him not as the idol deserving of the reverence we were all led to believe he was, but as a privileged and entitled youth who, after reveling in the fame, fortune, and women that his position brought him, later struggles with the psychological tolls of war, his guilt for blindly following orders, and the weight of a responsibility he was too young to carry. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral strips del Pilar of the flattery and myths that surrounded him.
Even the depiction of his death (in the film, Goyo does not die while riding a white horse to battle) came as a shock to those who grew up with the lionized image of the boy general. By the end of the film, Goyo was able to redeem himself as the leader he was supposed to be when he led his men to battle at the Tirad Pass. A battle where he met his death.
You Be the Judge
All in all, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral was a risky film, even more so than Heneral Luna (a film made famous for its violence and use of profanity, so to speak). If the former showed that unity during the Philippine revolution was a farce, and that one does not need to be distinguished and refined to be a hero, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral calls out the glorification of a self-serving leader. It rebukes Aguinaldo for shamelessly ordering the assassination of the subversive Luna, who was the greatest general the Philippines ever had, according to the Americans.
The film argues that perhaps it was indeed the selfishness of the men who governed that shaped this nation. It reminds the viewers to learn from history and challenges us to evaluate our heroes: are we, as a nation, going to fall for the myths, flowery words and dashing looks of men whose own interests are above those of their country? We hope that the last film in the trilogy will answer this. But for now, Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral invite us to think again.
The post-credit scene of Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral shows in part the rivalry between Emilio Aguinaldo and Manuel L. Quezon, one of the most competitive rivalries for the Philippine presidency in history. In light of the upcoming election, films such as Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral and Heneral Luna serve as eye-openers to how we, as voters, should choose our leaders. It is our right and duty to vote, and as we do, let us remember the words of our dear Pope Francis, “I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing and deepest roots—and not simply the appearances—of the evils in our world!”