As uncomfortable as it is to watch the ugly truth—played on the big screen yet—the well-made film offers every Filipino an opportunity not so much to condemn as to understand why we are the way we are, by looking back to see, unadorned and un-deodorized, where we’ve come from.
Director Jerrold Tarog, in an interview with the Inquirer, expresses the hope that “Heneral Luna” would “inspire the young to break our cycle of betrayal and have a stronger sense of nationhood.”
The cycle of betrayal, indeed, seems to have shown itself in every crisis our country has gone through, across history. But how to break the cycle when no one is held to account for one’s treachery, never mind condemned, by the authorities or by the public itself?
How, when no apologies are demanded or offered? On the contrary, the truth is denied, even twisted, history rewritten and true martyrs ignored, deprived their rightful places of honor.
Shrine of remembrance
My paternal grandmother— whose own son Liling, the eldest of nine, was bled out first for the benefit of wounded Japanese soldiers before he was beheaded—lived long enough to see how those who collaborated with the enemy continued in power, prominence and wealth.
In her pain and desperation, Lola could only ask why such things happened not only to her son, but to others like him executed at Bagumbayan. Lolo himself had to build the shrine of remembrance for all of them.
Until we begin to honor our martyrs and heroes, until we expose and call to account the despots and their collaborationists of our history, we would not be able to begin to straighten ourselves out.
In this way, “Heneral Luna” gives me hope. As stories of the young martyrs of martial law continue to move me to tears, they should, if anything, teach, and thus begin to straighten out, Junior, who remains in the dark or in denial.
The young serious professionals behind “Heneral Luna” and its underlying mission have undertaken painstaking research, the better to portray our history faithfully, courageously and credibly, if with some artistic liberties. They have offered us a broader as well as deeper look at Antonio Luna, as high-handed and ill-tempered as he was (he was a Luna, after all).
He is a doctor of medicine and a general in the army of Emilio Aguinaldo, who benefits from the ambush and murder of rival Andres Bonifacio and becomes president. Ironically, Aguinaldo, despite conceding Luna to be his best general, is portrayed to have arranged his entrapment and brutal murder, as was the case with Bonifacio.
It all brings back vivid images of the assassinated Ninoy Aquino.
The wider view naturally exposes the other equally less than perfect characters of the era aside from Aguinaldo—Pedro Paterno and Felipe Buencamino, among others; the two appear to personify opportunism through collaborationism, the path of least resistance at the sacrifice of such ideals as nobility of spirit and sense of nationhood.
It is to the credit of Nonie Buencamino, a descendant of Felipe, that he has himself portrayed him the way he did. It gives me hope to see someone like him have the decency to not offer any excuses for an elder’s wrong; indeed, his portrayal seems his way of apologizing for his forebear.
To be sure, his family has made rich contributions to music and the arts. If only every family hounded by collaborationism had a Nonie, as the Aquinos had their own redeemer son in Ninoy; our own family, in our Chino; the Paternos, in their Ting; the Roxases, in their Gerry!
Standing up for one’s ideals for country, especially at the risk of one’s life, is certainly no attractive proposition. But collaborationism, with foreign or homegrown despots, would be easier to understand if it had not been so profitable, if it had not been attended by the cushy opportunity not only to live again, but to live on and on, and in extravagant wealth and comfort.
In fact, there had been so much of it as to last for generations, making the initial choice a mere opportunistic and commercial one.
That’s why I’m heartened by courageous films like “Heneral Luna,” and look forward to the next production, “Heneral Del Pilar.”
It gives me the old great feeling inspired by the memorable interview of Ted Koppel with Ferdinand Marcos. It was a great moment for freedom, a triumph of truth over lies: there was Koppel splitting the screen, one showing a straight-faced Marcos lying, the other an actual footage of the reality at Edsa for all the world to see.
For many years now we’ve been enjoying our freedom, without realizing we could be squandering it in careless little ways, as in the case of a rich educated friend from a prominent political family who offered no apology when she admitted she voted for a popular candidate because he couldn’t lose, notwithstanding his obviously dubious moral principles. A politician herself, she could not afford to antagonize a sure winner.
That’s precisely how we often squander freedom; we forget that every political choice is necessarily a moral one; anything else is opportunism, a betrayal of principles, a treachery even against ourselves.
A decent and single-minded man, Antonio Luna could not himself find his proper place; he was as misplaced as his nationalism in the scheme of things.
There he was fighting the enemy on the battlefield, his soldiers dying around him, while his government was making deals for themselves with the enemy.
Luna had been standing in the way of ambition and collaborationism and would not go away; he just had to be eliminated, and by soldiers led by an officer whom he had stripped of his rank for dereliction of duty, but who found new favor in patrons who wanted Luna done in thoroughly, in the most brutal way.
We need to hear Luna’s voice echoing the chorus of martyrs across history, reminding us again and again what we need to understand before we can even begin to change: “Ang kaaway natin ay ang ating sarili.”