This October, we are celebrating National Museum and Galleries Month and National Indigenous Peoples’ Month. Once again, we are reminded of our roots and identities. At the same time, we are approaching the centennial of Philippine cinema and there’s no better way to express our enthusiasm than to watch high quality Filipino films. With this, I want to highlight the recent phenomenon of Jerrold Tarog’s historical biopics Heneral Luna (2015) and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018), which have awaken our slumbering interest in history. And as an avid follower of kasaysayan, I am thrilled to see that Filipino historical films are cool again!
If you haven’t seen Heneral Luna and Goyo yet, I highly recommend that you do (original DVDs, please). I also suggest for you to grab copies of the tie-in books Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral The History Behind the Movie released by Anvil Publishing. (If you’ve gone to the cinemas, no problem—you can still complement your awesome cinematic experience through reading.)
The books reveal the creative and logistical processes the makers undertook to produce the films. They also share more details about our heroes through interviews with scholars who studied their lives. Don’t worry, they contain no spoilers. *wink* We all know (or should know) that Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar both died in the end of their respective films, and that Apolinario Mabini will just be sitting the whole time. *wink wink*
Not convinced enough? Read on!
1. These books will help increase appreciation for art, culture and history
With all the ills of our society, I know that appreciating art, culture and history are not among the top priorities among many Filipinos. Not saying we are not capable to appreciate such—it’s just that these things seem to commonly only fill the background of our lives.
For example, we frequent the shopping malls, but do you remember the last time you visited a museum? Do you still pay respects to the flag when you hear the national anthem in public? Have you visited monuments of historical figures other than the famous one in Luneta? Or do you even know where these monuments are?
One may ask: why is it so important? Why do we have to know and cherish such seemingly intangible and trivial things? Eh, hindi naman tayo mapapakain n’yan. Sadly, this mentality exists among some of us and it reflects in our everyday landscapes: the abandonment and disregard of monuments or of places with historical and cultural significance. We vandalize them, we desecrate them, or we simply don’t care. But why do we put less importance to these things? Are they really not that important? (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: The ‘Looking Back’ Series by Ambeth Ocampo”)
2. These books will help address the miseducation of the Filipino
Borrowing and re-appropriating Renato Constantino’s words, I think one of the reasons for such disregard lies in our education system. Hence, the miseducation of the Filipino. We just don’t give ample attention to history and social studies. We put more value on the sciences, the engineering, the maths and the business but we seldom take pride in the arts, humanities and social sciences. (However, I should make it clear that I am not trying to put one on the pedestal at the expense of the others. I am for the equality of all the disciplines.)
I acknowledge that it also depends on each one’s inclination. If you like science and math over art and history, so be it! But I also think, and likely that we all know, that the way history is being taught in our schools is a bit discouraging, which contributes to the notion that studying history is boring. We just memorize. Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, national hero. Antonio Luna, greatest general of the Philippine Revolution. Gregorio del Pilar, youngest general (not even). Born on, died on, etc. I can’t really blame people if they say: who cares?
Another pressing issue is that some history textbooks highlight certain perspectives at the expense of the themes that should really matter. Or worse, even some of the reading materials contain erroneous information! It is also saddening that we don’t really read much about our heroes and history outside school. How many of us have really read Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in their entirety and not only some abridged or comics versions?
As what Ambeth Ocampo says: our heroes are everywhere but nowhere. We see them on our money but we don’t really know them. Hence, the real challenge is not the memorization part but how to make history fun, relatable and constantly relevant.
3. These books will help reinforce film as an art
Film is a promising medium that can be used to fill the gaps in our historical and cultural consciousness. It can definitely rekindle our interests in history if used properly and effectively. And yes, this is where Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral come in.
As we approach the 100th year of Philippine cinema, Jerrold Tarog’s masterpieces are another confirmation that local filmmakers can make quality films that discuss things that truly matter. Unfortunately, some of these quality “indie” films do not usually enjoy the limelight with the commercial, money-first films, and they are only being watched by a few movie scavengers who are hungry for movie as an art form. However, it is fortunate that Heneral Luna and Goyo managed to break into pop culture and consciousness of the general public.
These kinds of films remind us that movies should not only be boxed as pampatawa or pampasaya. Films should squeeze every ounce of emotion of your humanity. Films should offend, if necessary. Films should not only make you laugh over sarcastic jokes or jokes that make fun of other people. Films should make us think, and take note, think critically.
4. These books will help humanize our national heroes
One of the most essential lessons of Heneral Luna and Goyo is that our heroes were not infallible beings. They were humans too. They committed mistakes and made bad decisions. They also did some “normal” and mundane things just like us. That’s why we should make them go down the pedestal and view them as someone like us—human beings. We should not blindly worship them because if we do, it would blur our judgment of their weaknesses and flaws as well as the dire consequences of their mistakes.
It may sound blasphemous. Yes, we build monuments to commemorate their lives and contributions to the birth of our nation, but that does not mean that we forget about their humanity. Give credit where the credit is due but remain critical of their faults. It is imperative for us to continue interrogating our past to learn from it and never repeat it. We often say, “History repeats itself.” No. As historians say, we, the people, repeat history. Hence, the burden lies with us to understand and, if necessary, correct our past.
5. These books will help realize our capacity for greatness
Another important realization from the lives of Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar is our own capacity for greatness. We should draw inspiration from the great things they did for our country and, more importantly, also learn from the mistakes they committed.
Recognizing their shortcomings will help make us realize that we are not that different from them. Knowing them as human beings and not as deified gods, embodied by monuments and museum exhibits, makes them more relatable and relevant in our lives. They fought for their principles. They voiced out against injustice. They defended and fought for the liberty that we are enjoying today. They inspired many people in their time. If they were able to do it, why can’t we? If they were able to fight for what is right, why can’t we?
So it is our mission to realize through constant introspection and interrogation what role should we really take as members of our society. Do we let our values and principles as a people be degraded? Do we want to keep propagating fear and hate? Do we keep on watching and letting our fellowmen die? How about corruption and incompetence in public service—what do we do about those? Do we just let the ideals of Heneral Luna and Heneral Goyo go down the drain? Bayan o sarili, mamili ka! ☁️