I had an opportunity to watch Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral over the past week. Blending history with some fictional elements, it is director Jerrold Tarog’s follow-up to 2015’s Heneral Luna and centers around the “Boy General,” Gregorio del Pilar, during the Philippine-American War. Being an outspoken millennial and the self-professed cinephile that I am, I’m taking this opportunity to share my thoughts about the film.
Critics have praised the film’s direction, production, and cinematography. Of course, one cannot help but compare it to its predecessor, Luna. While audiences appreciated Luna’s epic feel, charismatic protagonist, and provocative central question of “bayan o sarili,” Goyo presents a slower paced but also more introspective piece.
The narrative deconstructs our notion of the glorious Filipino hero, while also inserting commentaries on various contemporary social issues. The primary roles of narrators-cum-commentators in the story were played by the fictional photographer Joven Hernando and the historical Apolinario Mabini.
Throughout the film, we are confronted with this central question: While our heroes’ bravery and nobleness are certainly admirable, how do we avoid crossing the line into blind idolatry and unquestioning loyalty to our flawed leaders?
At one point in the film, Goyo captures one of Luna’s allies, Manuel Bernal, and becomes accessory to his torture and subsequent murder. After beating him, del Pilar mocks Bernal’s loyalty to his deceased commander and offers him a concession: a position in Aguinaldo’s army in exchange for his allegiance. Bernal rejects this and instead retorts to del Pilar: “While you are loyal to a person, we are loyal to a principle. You are not a soldier; you are nothing more than a dog!”
The film is bookended by Mabini’s scathing criticism of Emilio Aguinaldo. The President was ultimately responsible for the failure of the revolution as he surrounded himself with people who were most willing to align with his personal interests, rather than compromising with and empowering those who were most able to lead and serve for the ideals of the revolution.
That we take the time to question our heroes is incredibly timely. The nature of the battles we fight as a nation are evolving — from securing our sovereignty against foreign colonizers to restoring our institutions in the aftermath of the ruthless Marcos dictatorship, and, now, to defending fundamental democratic values against the rising tide of divisive and hateful populist movements. Thus, we cannot pin all our aspirations on our leaders, lest the ideals and principles which we fight for be obscured or forgotten.
It was Goyo’s utter fealty to Aguinaldo that enabled him to perpetrate heinous acts of violence and human rights violations against the President’s critics and detractors. It was the revolutionary army’s arrogance that blinded its officers to the discrimination and marginalization of their indigenous guides. It was Goyo’s complacency and incompetence that led to a string of tactical mistakes which ultimately cost them several key battles.
Through the film, we destroy the pedestal on which we have placed our leaders, heroes, and idols. Joven ponders why we must venerate our heroes as saviors. Mabini questions whether the Filipino is ready to hear such a truth of the immaturity and immorality of our leaders without feeling resentment. General Alejandrino ultimately gives up on the “generation of cowards and traitors” that has hitched onto the revolution and, instead, puts his hope in the succeeding one.
Nanlumo. This is how I felt immediately after watching the film.
But after much introspection, I found that while it was a deconstruction of our notions of heroes and idols, Goyo was not an indictment of the ideals we fight for.
The film does have a subtitle: “Ang Batang Heneral.” I was certainly annoyed at Goyo’s incompetence and brashness at every turn, but I realized that he was not much older in the film than I am now. With this fact becoming more salient, it was clear to me how our generation of millennials might identify with flawed protagonist.
Mental health is an emerging issue among youths today. In the film, we see glimpses of General del Pilar’s struggles with PTSD. Many young professionals and students are unable to confront their struggles with mental health; and yet, we must keep pushing on to meet the demands of this day and age.
At the young age of 23, Goyo’s attention centered around furthering his career and pursuing a romantic relationship. Surely one can relate to the desire to receive both the affirmation of a mentor and the affection of a lover.
Flawed as he might have been, the Boy General displayed admirable courage at the end of it all. While his love for Remedios had distracted him from the challenges ahead, Goyo eventually learned to truly love the ideals of honor, duty, and sacrifice. While he might have conflated loyalty to his leader with loyalty to his country, he ultimately surrendered his life in defending his country.
Being a millennial puts us in a position of learning from our heroes’ past mistakes and to keep striving for the ideals of our nation. Perhaps if I were in Gregorio del Pilar’s shoes, I likely would not have been able to handle the life-and-death pressures of commanding an army. While the challenges we face might not be as daunting, the work that must be done is certainly just as meaningful. Para sa bayan.
AJ Montesa is a young economist and advocate of reforms on fiscal policy and governance.