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How to understand Joaquín’s “A Question Of Heroes”

As a supplement to Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, a movie based on Gregorio del Pilar’s life and death, Esquire published a few days ago suggested reference books to give the curious moviegoer more information about the historical epic film’s background.

So if you’d like to appreciate the film better from a historical standpoint, consider partaking of the research that its writers did. Jerrold Tarog, who directed the film and co-wrote it with Rody Vera, has prepared a list of books worth reading—before or after seeing the film—to get a better sense of everything that Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral has on its mind.

I haven’t seen the movie yet. But I’m glad that the filmmakers did consult Telesforo Carrasco’s diary which was translated to English by Nick Joaquín from the Spanish original (Carrasco was a Spaniard). According to Director Tarog himself, Carrasco’s diary “provided a more believable version” of the Battle of Tirad Pass. And speaking of the 1976 National Artist for Literature, the director and his team also consulted the famed writer’s A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History, the same book that they used as one of the reference materials for their 2015 blockbuster Heneral Luna. Says Esquire about the book:

Here, writer and historian Nick Joaquín poses unprecedented questions about some of our country’s well-known heroes (including Gregorio del Pilar) as a way of providing a fresh perspective on history. This was also one of the materials that Tarog referred to as he made Heneral Luna. Today, he has only this to say: “This book keeps getting me into trouble.”

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Because it really is troubling, especially to those who have been accustomed to immaculate Filipino heroes. In this book, first published in 1977, Joaquín bravely raised questions which were then almost unthought of: how “Filipino” was Fr. José Burgos? what was the real motive behind Andrés Bonifacio’s killing? why did José Rizal opted for a half-breed instead of a “pure Filipino” to be the protagonist of his novels?

And in relation to Tarog’s film: should Gregorio del Pilar be considered a hero considering his tainted record?

When I first read A Question of Heroes years ago, my perception of our national heroes changed, particularly of General del Pilar. He wasn’t that blameless, after all. He too had blood on his hands. I have since not forgotten that part on how he, on orders from above, had liquidated the followers of General Antonio Luna, particularly the Bernal brothers (Manuel and José).

This is not to say that del Pilar should immediately be painted as a villain. He wasn’t. The point here is to show that our national heroes are not demigods to be worshiped blindly. They were as human as you and me. However, lest this blogpost becomes a commentary or a book review on A Question of Heroes, I’d rather let readers find out for themselves more about those examined heroes by grabbing hold of that precious book, perhaps the only book that stands out from Esquire’s list (my opinion, of course).

But just a word of advise: since A Question of Heroes is actually a collection of historical essays, the best way to unlock its “hidden knowledge” is by reading all of them consecutively, not randomly. If you do this, I’d be very surprised if you don’t end up wasted with hopeful tears of nationalistic rage upon reading the very powerful but poignant final paragraph of the book (in the chapter “When Stopped The Revolution?”), for that final paragraph serves as the grand concert to the book’s preceding chapters of dress rehearsals, rehearsals that are meant to prep up the dazed and confused Filipino mind on what should be done to better the status quo.

By following that reading process, one will realize that General del Pilar is but part of a chain, a sad chain of events that up to now has not yet been given a happy conclusion. It is a chain that has yet to be completed.

Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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