The local film industry is lately abuzz with historical movies about the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the United States.
The latest of these movies, Heneral Luna, directed by award-winning, multi-talented film personality Jerrold Tarog, transcended the stereotype films of this genre by going beyond plain historical narrative into the realm of historicity. Instead of merely re-telling a chapter of that epoch, it delved deep into a philosophical introspection of the persona of one of its greatest military leaders, whose death at the hands of his own countrymen mirrored the causes that made it difficult, and up to now still makes it difficult, to forge a strong nation.
General Antonio Luna, the youngest of the Luna siblings that included the famous artist Juan, was part of the so-called Propaganda Movement led by Filipino intellectuals who based themselves and their writing activities in Barcelona and in Madrid, Spain.
Upon the treble death in 1896 of its leaders Graciano Lopez Jaena, Marcelo del Pilar and Jose Rizal, the movement lost steam. Antonio decided to return to the Philippines with his brother Juan, whereupon they were incarcerated on suspicion of association with the Katipunan. While Juan was released, Antonio was sent back to Madrid where he continued to stay in prison, only to be released afterward by order of Spain’s Queen Regent per intercession of Juan.
Once back in the country in July 1898, Antonio abandoned his pacifist stance and joined the second phase of the Philippine Revolution, this time against the United States. With rekindled nationalistic fervor, impassioned by his painful experiences and realization of the futility of a reformist agenda, he led a ragtag Philippine Army against the better-equipped and more disciplined military forces of a nascent imperialist country from the opposite side of the Pacific.
Unfortunately for Antonio, not everyone shared his vision and conviction for an independent republic. Also, the hard method by which he tried to instill discipline and unity amongst the soldiers and officers he led, made harsher by his legendary volatile temper, only garnered him frightened, disloyal and worried enemies within the army and the government of the still-born republic he tried to serve. By June 1899, or less than a year after his return to the Philippines from his incarceration in Spain, he was murdered by his own paisanos at the age of 32.
The thesis of the movie is best encapsulated in the tragic general’s line, “May mas malakas tayong kalaban (kaysa sa mga Amerikano); ang ating mga sarili.” (We have an even greater enemy [than the Americans]; ourselves.) Nowhere is this fact proven more clearly than in Gen. Tomas Mascardo’s reasoning in refusing to comply with his commanding general’s order: “Susunod lang ako sa utos ng kapwa ko Caviteňo.” (I will only follow the orders of my fellow Caviteňo—referring to Emilio Aguinaldo. Note: Luna was Manileňo, of Ilocano stock), thus prompting Luna to remark, “Bakit, ano ang tingin niya sa Cavite, ibang bansa?” (Why, what does he think of Cavite, a different country?) Mascardo, blinded by his petty loyalties and ethnocentricity, failed to realize that they were fighting a far superior enemy than Spain, for a far greater purpose: The very survival, not only of Cavite Province, but of the entire newly-created Philippine Republic.
Indeed, the unwillingness to subordinate one’s parochial interests for the greater good of the nation is the biggest stumbling block to the achievement of the greatness that our nation deserves. All the social, political and economic ills that we observe eating away at our society could be traced to the mentality that we live and work for ourselves and our family alone—and, by extension, the clan and the ethnic group to which we belong. The country and nation are remote concepts that hardly factor in the equation; apprehended by the mind but unfelt by the heart, unlike the empirical love and concern that one feels for oneself and one’s immediate family.
“Heneral, hindi po tayo nanalo”, (We haven’t won, General) Luna’s aide-de-camp, Col. Francisco Roman, told him, after seeing that the Americans withdrew only for a respite in the Battle of Calumpit, Bulacan. The General responded, “Álam ko. Pero, tingnan mo sila” (I know. But, look at them), referring to the Filipino soldiers who were shouting and jumping joyously behind them by reason of their mistaken assumption that they had achieved victory.
Like those soldiers, we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that the work of nation-building is a finite job. We have seen how untrue this mentality is simply by looking back at the failed promises of the EDSA Revolution where the people thought victory was already complete upon the ouster of the Marcoses and their cronies from Malacaňang, without realizing that it takes continuing herculean efforts to ensure that the government stays free of the likes of leaders whose kinds of actions spurred that revolution in the first place. Well, what do we know? A lot more of their likes have returned, and with a vengeance too—courtesy of…guess who?
As Gen. Luna had aptly put it: The enemy is within us, as a people. The ability to think, love and act beyond the confines of our smaller, tangible inner circle, to the greater, intangible outer circle that is our country and countrymen as a whole, is sine qua non to the constant effort to build a mighty Filipino nation. Until this mindset is acquired, the true focus of the struggle that Luna and his contemporaries had fought and sacrificed for has yet been achieved. And, from his grave, we could still hear the mercurial general continue to shout, as he did at the two soldiers guarding the building where he was assassinated, “Bakit ang dumi-dumi ng mga uniforme niyo? Puňeta!” (Damn, why are your uniform so dirty?!)