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.

The Battle of Tirad Pass: myth and reality

Goyo Ang Batang Heneral poster.jpg

In less than a month, Director Jerrold Tarog‘s “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” will premiere in major cinemas all over the country. It is a sequel to the 2015 sleeper hit “Heneral Luna” (also helmed by Tarog) which chronicled the life of temperamental General Antonio Luna. This time around, General Gregorio del Pilar will take center stage as actor Paulo Avelino portrays the so-called “Hero of Tirad Pass”.

Textbook Filipino History teaches us that only 60 Filipino soldiers defended the pass against 300 US troops who were out to capture “runaway president” Emilio Aguinaldo. Naturally, since they were outnumbered, the Filipinos lost. But according to historians, Goyo died a romantic hero’s death since he was the last Filipino standing. It was said that he fought the US invaders until his last breath.

In the language of Millennials, Goyo was a true LODI who had a different kind of WERPA. Biro niyó, ualá na siyáng cacampí, lumalaban pa rin. PETMALU😂

But is this account of the boy general’s death accurate?

There was an eyewitness account to what had really happened to the “Boy General” during the first few moments of the battle, and it appears in the diary of Telesforo Carrasco, one of Goyo‘s men. Here it is, translated from the original Spanish by none other than National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquín…

…we saw the Americans climbing up, only fifteen meters away, whereupon the soldiers started firing again. The general could not see the enemy because of the cogon grass and he ordered a halt to the firing. At that moment I was handling him a carbine and warning him that the Americans were directing their fire at him and that he should crouch down because his life was in danger — and at that moment he was hit by a bullet in the neck that caused instant death. I myself was also hit by a bullet in the hat that caused me no damage. On seeing that the general was dead, the soldiers jumped up as if to flee but I aimed the carbine at them saying I would blow the brains off the skull of the first to run, whereupon the body of the general was being removed to the next trench…

It is safe to assume that Carrasco’s eyewitness account of Goyo’s death is believable because Carrasco never intended to have his diary published in the first place. And he had no beef with the young general. Carrasco, although a Spaniard, was loyal to his Filipino allies, to the president, and to our country. He was not a writer. He must have kept a diary just to keep his mind busy, to fight boredom, during those lonely days of trekking and hiding from their pursuers. It was his children who had his diary published after his death. They commissioned Nick Joaquín to translate it into English.

Judging from Carrasco’s account, the boy general died not because of romanticized heroics. He died because of careless curiosity.

Now I’m interested as to how the movie will portray the Battle of Tirad Pass. Did Tarog stick to del Pilar’s dramatized death that was taught to Filipino students for decades? Or did he even consult Carrasco’s diary as reference? We’ll see on September 5th.