The Cinderella story of Heneral Luna, an independent film that explored the colorful life of General Antonio Luna, a brave yet underrated hero who played an important role in the Philippines’ fight for independence against the Spaniards and later, the Americans, definitely put enough pressure on “Goyo, Ang Batang Heneral” to rise up to the bar. After all, its the second installment to this historical trilogy centered on three Filipino greats — Luna, Gregorio del Pilar and later on Manuel L. Quezon in Artikulo Uno’s bid to generate more interest in the lives of our heroes.
Synopsis: Immediately taking place after the death of General Antonio Luna under the orders of President Emilio Aguinaldo, the story explores the five-month period of relative peace where General del Pilar (Paulo Avelino), popularly known as Goyo is feted as a war hero before once again being put to the test as the Americans launch their large scale attack in key positions of the Philippine military.
Aside from getting significant attention because of the unexpected popularity of its predecessor, the story of General del Pilar, the hero of Tirad Pass also had better mass market appeal as it is topbilled by Paulo Avelino, an established mainstream leading man and talented actor.
Like Heneral Luna, the 2 1/2 hour movie explores the little known side of General Gregorio del Pilar, and depicts the young Philippine general as a womanizing and carefree general who gets his position because he is favored by the president. I acknowledge this, and laud the filmmakers for its courage in showing a popular Filipino hero in such a light. I only wonder if the film did too good a job in highlighting his imperfections that it eclipsed his heroism.
I say this because a major part of the film was devoted to showcasing Goyo’s happy go lucky existence, as he basks in the benefits of his position and shrugs off red flags that hint at the possibility of an enemy attack. He is not helped by his brother and confidante Julian, who convinces him that he is invincible and this is why the wise counsel of his best friend Vicente, is often ignored.
On a closer note, the film does imply that Goyo, despite his outward confidence and frivolities is not really as carefree as he lets on but rather suffers from what we now understand as PTSD or war shock from his earlier experience in battle. Apart from these brief flashbacks though, as well as the premonitions of what was to come, there is very little to help audiences connect to the character.
While he takes command of a huge army, Goyo finds it hard to command loyalty like his predecessor Heneral Luna. Because he is unsure of whether his actions are right, he second guesses himself and pretty much leaves the decision making to the President, whom he has pledged loyalty to. It is painful to watch soldiers falling like flies and yet, the young general, touted to be their savior, was still doing nothing extraordinary throughout their long and tedious journey.
Luckily, when push came to shove, he did muster up the leadership to enact his plan to use Tirad Pass as a strong ground to assault American forces on their way to capture President Aguinaldo in his hideout.
Unfortunately, his brilliant plan may have come too late because his 60 soldier-strong army, outclassed and outnumbered by the enemy, were run down by American forces who had both the equipment and the numbers to take them down quite easily. Worse, it was a Filipino tribesman, who had no love for the soldiers, who led del Pilar’s crew to their doom.
I get why The Battle of Tirad Pass was called the Philippine Thermopylae. It had a pretty similar set up. The difference was in the leadership. If this version of events accurately depicts what happened on December 1, 1899, then Goyo still failed to stay in the thick of things when matters took a tragic turn in Tirad Pass unlike King Leonidas who was always at the battlefront, risking his life along with his men and leading by example.
Goyo was not even fighting at the time of his death but was caught by a stray bullet, further plummeting the morale of what little men he had left and basically ending the crusade the moment he fell on the ground. It was, to say the least anticlimactic and disappointing and made his epiphanies useless and annoying in the general scheme of things.
I am sure that Goyo deserves the title of hero, not only by the merits of his efforts on Tirad Pass but because he paid his dues in the Spanish and American wars. He was a good soldier but perhaps because of his age (he was just 23 when he died), he lacked the maturity and experience to lead like Heneral Luna. Perhaps, it was also his youth that lulled him into a false sense of security and belief that the Americans were just about to admit defeat. Perhaps because he idolized his President too much that he never once raised opposition to his decisions — there were a lot of perhaps and what ifs because it was such a waste to see such potential nipped by making the wrong decisions.
All in all, “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” had near perfect cinematography but it failed to create a larger than life character in the core of the movie like it did with Heneral Luna. Apart from the implication that Goyo realized his love for his country in his dying moments, as well as his true love for Remedios whom he dedicated his last battle to, Goyo was a disappointing depiction of the life of the Philippine’s youngest general. No matter how great of an actor Paulo Avelino and Carlo Aquino are, there can only be so much they can do with this material.