The temptation in watching a film like "Heneral Luna" is to compare it with a book, such as Vivencio Jose's Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna. But the historical fact hunter in me gets parried by the visuals in that cabinet meeting scene at the start of the film as soon as Pedro Paterno appeared. I blurted out to my wife, Celeste, "I hate that guy." And it was all suspension of disbelief from there.
Apparently, Aguinaldo did not know how to facilitate a cabinet meeting, people were talking at the same time, and he didn't have the voice nor the gavel to quiet down everyone. When people were almost about to come to blows, he would not call for a break, so they could cool it down. I am reminded of Joker Arroyo's quip about a student government running the Aquino Administration, which I pray is inaccurate, but Aguinaldo's won't even pass as a student government. No wonder the revolution was doomed. Antonio Luna running the army, however, was different story. He knew what to do. Arthur MacArthur, the American general, wondered if they might be reading the same books, because Luna's strategies were familiar. Yet, to MacArthur's good fortune, Luna's army was fractious. I've read a lot of books about the Philippine revolution, and until now I haven't seen an organizational chart, which gives me the suspicion that there was none. This leads us to the counterfactual that had Bonifacio lived and organized the government himself, with Aguinaldo still leading the army, and Luna at his helm, the results might have been different. But Bonifacio would die, and Luna would die, and Aguinaldo would survive them all. And so the result was an embarrassing defeat. "Heneral Luna" the film was spot on. Antonio Luna's death in the hands of the Philippine Revolutionary Army marked the watershed event of the Fil-American War, and the movie makes a compelling case that it could not have been that way had he lived. He had a plan; the Cordilleras provided the natural fortress for the protection of the President and the base to re-build a guerrilla army. Unfortunately, Aguinaldo appeared to be half-hearted about fighting. Apolinario Mabini wrote in his own summation of the "Philippine Revolution" that,
To say that if Aguinaldo, instead of killing Luna (allowing Luna to be killed), had supported him with all his power, the Revolution would have triumphed, would be presumption indeed, but I have not the least doubt that the Americans would have had a higher regard for the courage and military abilities of the Filipinos. Had Luna been alive, I am sure that Otis's mortal blow would have been parried or at least timely prevented, and Mr. Aguinaldo's unfitness for military command would not have been exposed so clearly. Furthermore, to rid himself of Luna, Aguinaldo had recourse to the very soldiers whom Luna had punished for breaches of discipline; by doing so Aguinaldo destroyed that discipline, and with it his own army. With Luna, its most firm support, fell the Revolution, and, the ignominy of that fall bearing wholly on Aguinaldo, brought about in turn his own moral death, a thousand times more bitter than physical death. Aguinaldo therefore ruined himself, damned by his own deeds. Thus are great crimes punished by Providence.
Luna's death elevated him to the status of a Filipino hero for all time. The movie's penultimate sequence where as Luna was playing his guitar, Luna's mother enters, and the film drifts to a flashback of Luna's days gone by, gave me the shock of recognition, it's Joseph Campbell's "The Hero of a Thousand Faces". Luna could have stayed in Madrid and continued chasing the bohemian life of the defunct Propaganda Movement. He could have skipped the war and returned as a doctor when everything was all over; but Luna -- he was going to come back and lead the war against the Americans. His days as a young writer for La Solidaridad that initiated him to the quest for Philippine independence were marked in his soul. It was the inspiration of Rizal's friendship and tragic death that helped him keep the faith. It was his mission and calling. Fighting the war for independence was his bliss, and his death, his own fulfilment. Punyeta, ang ganda!