Heneral Luna: historical liberties and inaccuracies

   On October 9, exactly twenty days before the 149th birth anniversary of Antonio Luna and a whole year in advance of his sesquicentennial, a film about him (Heneral Luna) has been showing in theaters in the Philippines for a month already. There is also a projected premiere in cinemas in the United States. Such is the hype for the film that, as of the publishing of this article, its official Facebook page has more than 239,300 likes. That is, in comparison with Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo's more than 41,000 likes and El Presidente's more than 5,500. While the film has undoubtedly raised awareness of the people on the Filipino general and has featured the prowess of Filipino film-making, the film has also taken its own number of historical liberties and inaccuracies.

   Then again, it has to be clarified that no film is perfect, and historical films are no exception. Not all details can be fitted in one film. It has also to be taken into account that at the beginning of the film, the viewers had already been conditioned by this message (spoiler alert):
This film is a work of fiction based on facts. Liberties have been taken with the depiction of historical figures and the order of events. While historical accuracy is important, there are bigger truths about the Filipino nation that can only be reached by combining the real and the imaginary.
A viral Twitter post concerning one of the film's characters, Apolinario Mabini
Indeed, periodization and historical accuracy are not among the priorities of the film. This is a sacrifice the film has to take in order to fit its purposes. This may actually work for an audience fairly educated in Filipino history, but not otherwise. Alas, the education of the Filipino people of their own history has been thoroughly exposed by the film. Apparently, these very people were even educated by the film. Of course, there is the aim to make the viewers read on Luna and many actually did. Views on Antonio Luna's Wikipedia article dramatically increased from more than 9,800 in August to more than 130,600 in September. However, it is also apparent that many still rely on the film for their knowledge of the general, and with it, the historical liberties and inaccuracies. Therefore, this article shall feature some of these. In history, before any interpretation, there must be certitude of facts.

File:Tomas Mascardo.jpg
General Tomas Mascardo (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
   In the heated exchange between Luna and General Tomas Mascardo, military commander of Pampanga, it is not Colonel Francisco Roman, Captain Eduardo Rusca, and a subordinate of Mascardo who were tasked to deliver their messages. It was Major Eugenio Hernando, and this is a different person altogether from another character of the film, Joven Hernando, who was portrayed as a young journalist taking notes on Luna’s life. In my own opinion, it would have been more dramatic if they simply had portrayed one person conducting the tiring job of keeping the enmity between the two generals at bay. Then again, this would mean an additional character that would require another actor in the film. I would like to mention once more the economical issues which must have hampered this instance. One more thing to note, I initially thought that the Joven character in the film was Captain Jose Joven, who himself had memoirs concerning the war. Once more, this would mean an additional character that would require another actor. Speaking of Mascardo, I personally think that making a variation in the moustache of Mascardo in the film as compared to the photograph of the general can also be considered a historical inaccuracy. I understand that this was done to portray a fool out of Mascardo for comedy purposes, and the bad appearance being characteristic of a supposed antagonist of the story. However, I still am for providing fairness to the person. He has a pretty good mustache, fairly comparable to Luna’s. Light travels faster than sound; that is why there are people that appear good until you hear them speak.

Screenshot from the video
Courtesy to the video entitled
Aquino-Cojuangco | Facts They Don't Want You To Know
    I believe it is also worth mentioning Luna’s sweetheart (apparently, his girlfriend) in the film. She was named Isabel, who was portrayed in the film as a member of the Red Cross (Cruz Roja), and a member of a recognized and affluent family. This is perhaps intended to show that Luna had a soft side when it comes to women (another instance in the film would be the moments Luna had with his mother), revealing a multifaceted personality. I was fairly struck because nowhere had I found a woman associated with Luna named Isabel. In my opinion, I suppose that this is an attempt to cover the association of Luna with the Conjuangco family, which was earlier brought to attention by a popular Youtube video concerning the Aquino-Cojuangco clan. Besides, Isabel is close to the name of Jose Cojuangco’s mother, Ysidra. However, the best that the production team can give is a "wink" on this matter. It is said that it was an amalgamation of two of Luna’s love interests: Nellie Boustead and Conchita Castillo. There is also an element of Nicolasa Dayrit, who was the one of the Red Cross women to intervene for Mascardo. How about Ysidra then?

Screenshot from the Wikipedia article of the Battle of Santo Tomas
Courtesy of Wikipedia
   Another moment in the film is worth mentioning. Early in the film, Luna, charging on horseback, was shot in the battlefield. Apparently, he was saved not only by coins that were hidden under his uniform, but also by Colonel Roman. It is shown that Roman stopped Luna from killing himself when the latter was convinced that the shot was fatal. The coins were supposed to be gold coins. It did not appear to be gold coins to me as far as I am concerned. I was relieved because I was not alone in this observation, but these very people actually thought they were medals or even anting-anting (charm or talisman). Is it because they are not actually gold coins, but rather golden coins (any metal coin coated with gold) or it is not gold at all? One more thing is that gold is not really a material that you would expect to stop bullets with. If he really had a silk bag full of gold coins, then these gold coins must have been considerable in number to be able to stop a bullet. That or the bullet that hit Luna was not really high calibre. The main American rifle during the war was the .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen, which had a smaller calibre than the .45-70 Government that it replaced. Also, it is not Roman who saved Luna in the battlefield at that instance. It was another colonel, Alejandro Avecilla, who himself charged on horseback in order to save the general. Luna is not short of allies within the army who believed in him despite his methods, even if it is apparent that the film may have been trying to show otherwise. Then again, this would mean an additional character that would require another actor.

File:A mabini.jpg
Apolinario Mabini (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
   The battle mentioned here is the Battle of Santo Tomas, which would be occurring by May 1899. That is, a full three months since the Philippine-American War began. I may have failed to see this detail in the film, or it is not really mentioned that it was the Battle of Santo Tomas. It is situated too close to the Battle of Manila in the film sequence. Speaking of the Battle of Manila in Feburary 1899, it is also situated too close to the American takeover of Intramuros from the Spanish. It was depicted that it is in this battle that Jose Torres Bugallon was promoted to lieutenant colonel before his eventual death. Then again, Bugallon did not get shot in the trenches. He was charging on the road when he was shot. Despite obtaining wounds from American fire, Bugallon even managed to advance another fifty (50) meters. Since the Americans kept firing on the road, Luna's heroic rescue of Bugallon would have been more dramatic to portray. However, it was not depicted that way. Also, it would only be later in the film that other battles would be featured. These battles occurred earlier than the Battle of Santo Tomas, but it is coherent with the story that the film was abiding to. It was not meant to be chronological, one of the historical liberties the film has to take. It was meant to be recollections that are supposed to build up the plot that leads to his eventual death. I understand that they simply had to plot it out as it is. I am only wary that the rest of the audience might be led to believe that Luna did such an act early in the war. How I came to this thought is due to the highlighting of the War Plan Luna in the film. If I am not mistaken, it was featured at least two to three times in the film. While I understand that it is done to show the military genius that is Luna, it also led me to think that the rest of the audience might think that the First Republic still possess Caloocan and Novaliches at the time of the Battle of Santo Tomas. And in addition, the 4,000 men Luna gathered were to build trenches in these areas. Santo Tomas is already part of Pampanga, and a quick look at our maps would show how much we have retreated since the Battle of Caloocan was lost in February of 1899. The 4,000 men Luna gathered were to build trenches in the Calumpit-Apalit Line (the film uses the name of the river instead, Bagbag). This means that the Republic already lost Malolos at this time. In featuring War Plan Luna, I think it is fair to say that the film failed to show how Luna improvised details of his overall strategy as one town after another fell to American hands. It is to be noted, however, that the film had not failed to mention that the final touch of his war plan, the building of a military base (guerrilla camp) in the Cordillera, was not achieved. It is also mentioned that Luna used his money for the uniforms. It is an apparent that the film is trying to portray the lack of funding that Luna is receiving from the government for his programs. That is, even if in the film, it was shown that Mabini advised Aguinaldo to support Luna despite his attitude because at least, there is something that is being done. Speaking of Mabini, his legs did not fail due to a sexually transmitted disease (STD). He was paralyzed by polio in January 1896. He was 31 years old at the time.

It is to be understood that this is more of an article of clarification than criticism. There is yet to be an article pointing out such clarifications before this one came to the scene. Still, despite the historical liberties and inaccuracies that the film had to take, it is of no mistake that this is one of the better films to be produced by Filipino filmmakers in our day and age. It has exceeded all expectations and it is fervently hoped that there are more to come. However, even if these films already grace the silver screens, the utmost importance of reading and understanding Filipino history must always be taken into mind. Historical accuracy is never boring. It might even be more exciting than you think.

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Heneral Luna: historical liberties and inaccuracies Heneral Luna: historical liberties and inaccuracies Reviewed by Al Raposas on Friday, October 09, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. It is to be noted, however, that the film had not failed to mention that the final touch of his war plan, the building of a military base (guerrilla camp) in the Cordillera, was not achieved.

    - actually at the end of the movie, it was mentioned (as a screen text) that the planned base to be built in the Mountain Province never came into fruition

  2. The info is really very detailed, I should say. However, I've not found anything about the Cordillera base. I'll be dismissed, if I don't write it for http://www.essayhelp24.com/. If you know a reliable source, please, help.

    1. You can refer to the reference list if you need sources. Thank you for reading. Please continue patronizing this blog.