Cowards of Tirad Pass? 'Goyo' film irks lawmaker; historian sets record straight

David Dizon and Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2018 09:29 PM

MANILA - It has won praise from film critics and film-goers alike but the movie "Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral" by acclaimed director Jerrold Tarog has failed to impress one lawmaker.

The reason for his dislike: alleged "historical inaccuracy" and portraying Filipinos as cowards in the Battle of Tirad Pass. 

Senior Deputy Minority Leader Jose "Lito" Atienza Jr. said he came into the movie with the expectation that it would be similar to Tarog's previous movie "Heneral Luna." 

"Inspirasyon ko 'yang si Gregorio del Pilar. The country's youngest general died protecting [then president Emilio] Aguinaldo from the oncoming American forces. He chose Tirad Pass to make a stand," he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. 

In the movie, Del Pilar (played by actor Paulo Avelino) is portrayed as a young military officer riven by doubts but fiercely loyal to the Philippine president to the point of hunting down Aguinaldo's perceived enemies. 

The film follows the events of the last 5 months of Del Pilar’s life until his death at the Battle of Tirad Pass.

According to Atienza, history books always portrayed Del Pilar dying a hero's death. 

"Del Pilar died a hero. Sa accounts sa history books, sugatan na 'yan, sumakay pa sa kabayo niya para ipakitang ang Pilipino handang mamatay," he added. 

The movie, however, showed (spoiler alert) the young Del Pilar getting shot after standing up during the battle to get a better look at the advancing American forces. 

"Sa movie, hindi siya nakasakay sa kabayo. He was killed by a sniper. Sabi ko: 'P***ang pelikulang ito.' Kinalabit ko misis ko, sabi ko 'Alis na tayo,'" Atienza said.

Atienza also took issue with the portrayal of Filipinos "scampering away like scared rats" after Goyo's death. "Parang mga dagang pinapatay ng mga Amerikano...," he said. 

The lawmaker said one reason for his disgust is that young people suffer from a lack of heroes to emulate. 

"We need historical heroes and modern-day heroes to emulate. Film as a medium is one of the most effective media that could influence the character of our young. E bakit pinagmumukha mo na duwag ang mga Pilipino? Hindi tayo duwag. Never naging duwag ang Pilipino sa harap ng giyera, fighting the Japanese, the Spanish, even the Americans," he said. 

"Kung gagawa tayo ng historical film, kung kailangang mag adjust ng kaunti, dagdagan niyo pa ang kabayanihan. Hindi 'yung karuwagan."

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Historian Xiao Chua, who helped with the research for the film, said Atienza should read up on other history books, including the Teodoro Kalaw biography, to get a more accurate picture of the Battle of Tirad Pass. 

He said Del Pilar's death is based on the accounts of two people who were present during the battle: Vicente Enriquez and Telesforo Carrasco. 

In his book, Carrasco wrote that Del Pilar could not see the enemy "because of the cogon grass and that he ordered a halt to the firing."

"At that moment, I was handing [del Pilar] 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," he wrote. 

For Chua, news of Del Pilar dying while riding his horse on the battlefield is fake news meant to sell newspapers.

"Del Pilar died of carelessness. The account that he died while riding a horse is fake news. That is an embellishment of an American journalist in the time of yellow journalism. They wanted to sell newspapers and they wanted to make 'Goyo' appear romantic and all," he said. 

"Even the scene where the fighters ran away after Del Pilar's death are in the accounts...Aside from embellishments, everything, including Apolinario Mabini's description of the republic, is historical record." 

Tarog, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rody Vera, said he based the movie on various texts, including the following: 

  • letters of Apolinario Mabini, "An Acceptable Holocaust: Life and Death of a Boy General" by Teodoro Kalaw; 
  • A Spaniard in Aguinaldo's Army: The Military Journal of Telesforo Carrasco y Perez" by Telesforo Carrasco y Perez;
  • "General Gregorio H. Del Pilar: Idol of the Revolution" by Isaac C. Cruz; 
  • "Sentiments: General Emilio Aguinaldo’s Response to the Accusations of the Sublime Paralytic" by Emmanuel Calairo. 

He said he also went to the site of the actual battle to "see what was written in the history books." 

Atienza acknowledged that the "Goyo" film did use various sources to base the storyline. However, he said the country also needs to be inspired by heroes like Luna. 

"Our people are hungry for culture and history," he said. 

The move to make a more nuanced portrayal of Del Pilar instead of lionizing the young general also did not escape him. 


Meanwhile, Atienza also urged the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) to review a film's screenplay first to be qualified for tax cuts before going into production.

Speaking during deliberations on the FDCP's P120.5 million proposed budget for 2019, the lawmaker said tax exemptions could be used to encourage film producers to make better quality films. 

"Kayo ang may kapangyarihan to give incentives. Kayo ang nagka- classify ng mga pelikula ayon sa ating national interest. E bakit ang Goyo pinayagan niyo na ganun ang script?" Atienza told FDCP officials. 

"Trabaho ninyo to build a better society through movies."

The FDCP is the government agency responsible for the cinema evaluation system, which rates local films to determine their eligibility for tax incentives. The Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), under the FDCP, evaluates the films and determines whether it is grade A or grade B.

A grade A or B entitles the producers to an incentive of either 100 percent exemption from the amusement tax (Grade A) or 65 percent (Grade B).

"Goyo" was rated A by the CEB. 

Parañaque 1st District Rep. Eric Olivarez, Committee on Appropriations vice chairman, said the FDCP only reviews and rates the films after they are completed and after the producers apply for cinema classification under the Cinema Evaluation Board. He said the country produced a total of 120 films in 2017, which were also shown and recognized abroad.

Film producer and screenwriter Moira Lang slammed Atienza's remarks, saying it would lead to prior restraint and censorship.

"I wish they're joking. But this is no laughing matter. It's a dangerous idea to assign a government body the right to determine an unproduced film's worth based on the screenplay. A script is not a film, period," the former Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) executive committee member said.

"As if the horrors of a barely sustainable industry were not enough!" added Lang, who produced films such as "Norte, The End of History," "Zombadings," and "Patay na si Hesus."

An award-winning director, who wished not to be named, also criticized the proposal.

"In short, they only want to give incentives sa mga sipsip sa gobyerno. Kung sino ang mangahas na mag-criticize o magpakita ng hindi maganda about the government or our country, hindi mabibigyan ng incentive," he said.

"Ito ay patunay lamang na pawang mga kasinungalingan lamang ang gustong ipakita ng gobyerno. Hindi na sila ngayon kuntento sa fake news... pati na din sa pelikula, gusto nila fake na din ang content."

For film editor and producer Chuck Gutierrez, "it will be more supportive for the government to exempt all Filipino films from amusement tax."

"The amusement tax unfortunately takes almost 30% gross on tickets sales. Exempting local films from it will greatly encourage the Philippine film industry to grow and make better quality films, both from the mainstream and independent community," said Gutierrez, who produced and edited "Sunday Beauty Queen."