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Filipinos are often described as a people who prioritize emotion over reason, a tendency that has perhaps stunted our sense of nationhood, as we are unable to look past our tribal allegiances. It’s an attitude that permeates most, if not all, aspects of our society, from politics to sexuality. And, if the movie Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is any indication, it informs the way we regard our heroes.
There’s no doubt Goyo is a beautiful movie, gorgeously shot, written, and edited. The acting, for the most part, is commendable. The actors give thoughtful performances, except for the main actor, who, caught in an existential crisis occasioned by the taunts of a prisoner he tortured, conveys thoughtfulness with all the subtlety of ChocNut.
Nevertheless, it would seem that at the tender age of 23, the boy general was a legend not just on the battlefield but with the ladies. Even then, throughout the provinces of Luzon, Goyo’s fame as a chicks-boy preceded him, and even then, it was clear that Filipinos worshipped celebrity, as both men and women, young and old, fell all over themselves to meet the young hero, with not a few fathers hoping to marry off their daughters to him.
But, as the film points out, much of his status derived from the fact that he was Emilio Aguinaldo’s favorite. He didn’t appear to be a brilliant military tactician, and seemed to not be a particularly decisive general, but his purported good looks and success with women seem to have gone a long way towards burnishing his reputation. Yet how much about Goyo was true heroism and how much was sheer hype?
We do like our heroes larger than life. We like them to embody manliness and swagger, and what could embody manliness in a hero more than romantic conquests? For all of Rizal’s brilliance—and indeed, as heroes go, he deserves his exalted status for being the flag-bearer of Filipino excellence—we seem to prefer to remember how many girlfriends he had, foreign and local. It would seem that his bravery, his academic achievements, his towering intellect, his acute perspicacity are sometimes overshadowed by his colorful love life. Could it be because the likes of Leonor Rivera and Josephine Bracken and all the other women in between reinstate the veneer of virility that had been diluted by his more intellectual pursuits and nonviolent principles?
And while it is all but normal for a young man of 23 to be so captivated by female pulchritude, as Goyo was, it does not augur well for any hero—and the boy general did seem to bask in his own glory—to be so easily distracted from his purpose by the sight of a beautiful woman.
The idea of purpose, lofty and abstract as it sounds, is part of what puts Goyo into an existential tailspin, and consequently casts light on what we as Filipinos believe in, with attendant reverberations on the notion of heroism, loyalty, manliness, and love.
Are we drawn to a cause because of the doctrine, or the personality behind it? What demands our loyalty, a leader, or the principles he claims to uphold? And if a man is loyal to the person rather than to a principle, does he still have a claim to manliness when his loyalty is really posited on false bravado, imagined machismo, and sycophancy?
Is this why we worship our strongmen presidents and deride the less bombastic ones? Do we prefer the president who appeals to our emotions rather than our common sense, whose reactions are knee-jerk rather than carefully considered? The president who dangles common-law wives and multiple mistresses to the delight of his base rather than the president whose sexuality sometimes appears opaque? When taken all together, do we indeed regard one president as a man and therefore worthy of fervent support, and the other subject to rumors of homosexuality or asexuality and therefore worthy of suspicion?
The odd thing is, once we acknowledge the dominance of the leader, all other men seem to be content enough not just to fall in line behind Dear Leader but relinquish any claims to alpha maleness in his presence and lick his ass at every opportunity to curry favor and remain in his good graces.
Often, there is no bar too low for their slimy obsequiousness. And then they go home to their families where order is once again restored and they are free to reclaim their temporarily misplaced manhood by asserting themselves as the man of the house.
Goyo’s own brother, a general, too, albeit less decorated, seemed happy to pander to his younger brother, delighting in Goyo’s romantic exploits and constantly reminding him of his “greatness,” which he likened to that of an eagle. Oftentimes, the brother approximated the role of Goyo’s fluffer, to the point of buffoonery, not much different from politicians and government minions past and present. In fact, in as far as he was portrayed in the movie by Rafa Siguion-Reyna, I found Julian del Pilar, later made commander of Bulacan province, smarter, more handsome and more compelling.
One thing must be pointed out, however. No matter the trail of broken hearts Goyo left across towns and provinces (although there is some caddishness, arrogance, and narcissism in the way the young general would carry at all times in a bag a clutch of letters written by women who believed they’d meant more to him than just a dalliance), he was always polite to and respectful of women. At the very least, the boy had manners.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Marian Hukom
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