‘Goyo’: Lies our history teachers told us

In Photo: As the title character in Goyo, Paulo Avelino is a one-note, unidirectional volley.

I WOULD like to listen to lies next time. I have enough of truths about how unworthy our heroes are. I’m tired of realizing the heroes on stamps, the man on the white horse, and the person staring at me from bills are all unreal.

If you are wondering what I am ranting about, it is about the latest hero opus from Jerrold Tarog, Goyo.

Goyo is Gregorio del Pilar, the boy-general who, our teachers once told us, guarded Tirad Pass. He wouldn’t move. He was unafraid. The Americans, the enemies, outnumbered the Filipinos. The Americans had superior arms, but it didn’t matter.

One version of this heroic plot spoke of a young man alone in that sorrowful mountain pass. His men had all died and he was there waiting for the enemy. He would fight to the finish. He would be last man standing.

In Tarog’s film, nothing of the sort happens.

There’s no last stand. The Americans may have superior arms but their tactics are dismal. They just look good because the Filipinos are really bad. With a vantage point to target the Americans below the pass, the Filipinos nevertheless remain ineffectual. They could not seem to hit the targets. From below, it appears the Americans could hide themselves from the Filipinos but when the camera shifts angles, we see the Americans as merely below the small hill on which the Filipinos have ensconced themselves.

Then, we assure ourselves: the Americans don’t know the terrain. The peak of the pass is measured to be more than 4,000 feet but we do not feel this height in the film. The enemies indeed can’t find their way up the hill and the pass. But there’s an Igorot, the American officer remembers. In some accounts, the Igorot is identified as a Tingguian Igorot. The Igorot, seen in earlier scenes as being ridiculed and abused by lowland soldiers, shows the Americans the way.

Some American soldiers are able to clamber the opposite side of the mountain where there are no trenches. It’s but a few minutes that they, in the film, are able to surprise the Filipinos.

One of the first to fall is General Gregorio del Pilar. A Filipino soldier shouts: El general está muerto. The general is dead.

The Filipino soldiers start to scamper. They run leaving their guns. As they come down from the hill, they are seen removing their rayadillo, the pin-striped military uniform. And in one quick and arresting cinematic metaphorical device, the young men are in their white long-sleeved shirts as they come down the mountain pass. The battle is terminated. The party is over. The revolution is, after all, one hell of a costume ball!

Aguinaldo has escaped. That, it appears, is the only good result from the defense of the pass. Aguinaldo has the very young Goyo to thank for. This is the same officer who chases after the remaining officers loyal to Juan Luna, whose assassination it’s implied Aguinaldo has ordered.

The issue of the other generals against Goyo is not only that he’s young—and inexperienced—but that he is blindly loyal to his boss-general, Aguinaldo. Goyo, in the film, doesn’t stand for any principle but only for his president.

And so I rant. And so I’m sad. We don’t have any nation. We don’t have any bravery to write about and inspire us and the next generation.

Mabini is the only good, wise and able person in this epic tale of failures and hoax heroes. The problem is the greatest brain with the clarified principles in his mind has also been removed from the cabinet to allow the Buencaminos and other supposed patriots to welcome the new colonizers, the Americans.

In the end, what do we have and what do we get from this film Goyo?

The last hope for the Filipino (read “nationalist”) audience is to savor the macho allure of the twentysomething general. But even in love, he is a lousy and unfaithful lover. He leaves his girlfriends and keeps the letters written to him by those women who cry over him. Atop the mountain, wedged in Tirad Pass, he stands recklessly until a bullet hits him. He falls and the American soldiers who get to him first strip him of his medals and insignia. He is left on that spot, according to early historical reports, for three days until another group of Americans see the corpse of Goyo and bury him.

If we are to accept the storytelling of Jerrold Tarog, there’s nothing valorous in Goyo at all. In fact, if we are to follow the paths that the other personalities tread around Goyo, there are very few or even no real heroes in our nation. If we are to pause and ponder on the tales told through the eyes of Aguinaldo and del Pilar and many others, then there’s no real revolution, no real independence and there’s no real nation formed at all when the smoke from the cannons and rifles have dissipated.

So, what about Goyo as plain cinema? I can’t disassociate Goyo and the performances of the actors that portray the historical characters anymore, as the ideology of the film has already taken over its form and content. For the sake of good old criticism, Eppie Quizon as Apolinario delivers a sincere performance—maybe because his character is the only sincere and morally decent element in the film. Mon Confiado has always been a compelling character but his a__hole of a revolutionary is revolting already from its Heneral Luna outing and now in this Goyo episode, that it’s worthless to affirm anything about his presence.

As for Goyo himself, Paulo Avelino is a one-note, unidirectional volley.

One has to go through extracinematic measures, look for sources outside the screen to be assured that one’s national identity and collective past still matter after being wracked open by Goyo.

In Teodoro Manguiat Kalaw’s account, An Acceptable Holocaust: Life and Death of a Boy-General, the historian refers to us some lines from the diary of Gregorio del Pilar: “The General has given me a platoon of available men and has ordered me to defend this pass. I am aware what a difficult task has been given me. Nevertheless, I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life. I am doing everything for my beloved country. There is no greater sacrifice.

The Americans, by way of certain documents, are even kinder.

Richard Henry Little was a journalist of the Chicago Tribune and he was with the American army that made the attack in Tirad Pass that fateful day of December 2, 1899. He wrote: “It was a battle above the clouds. I saw the most youthful and the bravest of Filipino generals trying vainly to line up his soldiers to stave off the advance of the American troops who pursued him, with the purpose of covering Aguinaldo’s retreat. I saw him talking to his soldiers from trench to trench, inspiring pride in themselves, to ponder over their valor and love of country…. Later we saw from below one of our soldiers turn around, climb the top of a rock, and aim his rifle at General del Pilar. We held our breath not knowing whether or not to pray to God that the soldier hit or miss his mark. Afterwards we heard a shot and the youthful del Pilar fell….

The journalist described Gregorio del Pilar as “cheering his men in the light.” He “heard his voice continually during the fight urging his men to greater effort, scolding them, praising them, cursing them, appealing one moment to their love of their native land and the next instant threatening to kill them himself, if they did not stand firm.

According to the Chicago Tribune war correspondent, “It was a great fight that was fought away up on the trail of lonely Tirad Pass on that Saturday morning of December 2. It brought glory to Major March’s battalion of the 33rd Volunteer Infantry who were victors. It brought no discredit to the little band of 60 Filipinos who fought and died there. Sixty was the number that at Aguinaldo’s orders had come down into the pass that morning to arrest the onward march of the Americans. Seven were all that went back over the pass that night to tell Aguinaldo that they had tried and failed.

The rest of the fifty were either wounded or killed.

How do we make sense of this film then? If only for the fact that we have a film that dares question the heroism of those whose names are already inscribed in the histories and consciousness of this republic, then we can praise and be in awe of the filmmakers behind Goyo. Having said that, I’m left with this persistent pain in my mind and heart: If there is no worth to the deeds and life of Gregorio del Pilar, why make a film about him? The way to national debate is an expensive enterprise, indeed.

But if we are to believe what the film says, then, by all means, let us remove the name of Goyo from Fort Del Pilar, the location of the Philippine Military Academy, symbolically and geographically the putative last stand of this nation. Let us also bring down the statues of Gregorio del Pilar scattered all over Bulacan and other places. As for Aguinaldo and all the crimes ascribed to him and his regime, what does the raising of flag each year in Kawit still serve?

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