Heneral Luna: A misunderstood identity?
The movie Heneral Luna that came out in 2015 was a surprisingly big hit, becoming the highest grossing Filipino historical film of all time by earning more than ₱ 240 million. The main protagonist, General Antonio Luna, was a brash fellow with euphemistically “mabulaklak na salita” or flowery language but whose heart was in the right place. Clearly the movie-going public found him an authentic and lovable hero.
It is not the brashness that made Luna a hero, though. He is a hero despite the temper, the boorish manners and the foul mouth. Some may say it added to his charm – it made him visibly human. But in the end, I believe that these traits made him an ineffective leader and may have contributed to his downfall.
What were his heroic traits?
He was a firebrand of an army commander. He was known for a disciplined and professional demeanor in running military affairs. He was an excellent military strategist. These made him an immensely successful professional soldier but these were not enough to make him a hero.
What, then, made him a hero? In my view, there were three things that made him a Filipino hero.
He faced a crucible that deepened his convictions.
His heart was in the right place, to begin with. He was a propagandist that wrote under the pen name “Taga-ilog”
A hero often has a crucible moment, that is, a defining moment where his beliefs are severely tested from which he rises from. Perhaps Luna’s crucible that fortified his convictions was when he was arrested and jailed in Fort Santiago, exiled and then jailed again at the Carcel Modelo de Madrid for participating in the revolution against Spain. This is no different from the modern day experience of Ninoy Aquino and Pepe Diokno under their principal jailer, Juan Ponce Enrile, during the dark days the Marcos dictatorship.
He was steadfast with his cause.
He was studious and meticulous: After his release from jail, he studied military science under the Belgian General and war hero Gerard Leman. No doubt he was up to this task because he was a tried and tested intellectual. In his early years, he wrote a scientific treatise on malaria and was at one time chief chemist for the Municipal Laboratory of Manila.
He saw the dire need for professionalism in the disorderly and incompetent revolutionary army. To address this, he set up the precursor to the Philippine Military Academy in 1898 in Malolos, Bulacan.
His temper was most evident whenever his troops could not live up to his disciplinarian ways. Take the case of when General Tomas Mascardo failed to reinforce Guagua after Luna ordered this. Luna detained General Mascardo when the former received a report that the latter’s failure was due to a tryst with a girlfriend.
He was a leader for all of the people and not just some of them.
The Philippine revolution was being fought to turn back foreign oppressors – first Spain and then afterwards, the United States. There was no real consciousness to build a common nation for all Filipinos. At that point in time, there were only Ilocanos, Pampangos or Tagalogs for whom being Filipino came only second. He saw the need to overcome the divisiveness of the regional politics and insisted on organization and discipline to unite the army and foster this national consciousness.
The power of a movie hit
The temper, the brashness and the “flowery words” make a blockbuster screenplay. Sometimes I wonder if this powerful movie somehow made many of us hope that, going into the 2016 presidential elections, the uncouth Mayor Digong Duterte will be our modern day Antonio Luna.
I truly loved this movie when I saw it. It was entertaining and did get the young people interested in our history. But if it somehow contributed to the present big mess that we find ourselves in, I don’t think I like it at all.
I do hope that the next historical movie due in 2018, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, manages to better capture and highlight the essence of the heroism of Gregorio del Pilar. If it does and it comes out before the Congressional elections, maybe our young electorate can be inspired to sweep the super-majority of trapos out of the House once and for all.