The sins of our past
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2018 - 12:00am

This is not a film review of Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, which unromanticized the heroic story of the boy-general-romantic. There are undeniably new learnings, or confirmations from this fact-based trilogy – things that, for some reason, we were deprived of as students when we learned history only from was fed to us from textbooks.

This Sunday, allow me to share my insights on circumstances surrounding the historic common cause for liberation, cracked as if by the geography of our country’s 7,100 islands. See how we are so much a product of our past.

Wiping out the opposition doesn’t make the government stronger.

Emilio Aguinaldo appears to be the first president of the “republic” we wish we did not have. The murder of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan, the gruesome slaughter of Antonio Luna, the only real general the revolution had according to the Americans, and the torturous death of Luna’s aides, were by accounts all attributed to Aguinaldo and his idea of strong leadership. History showed that all it did to the cause was to weaken it. Aguinaldo was less endeared for it, and the country less thankful and less supportive to him for it, to say the least.

What keeps government responsible in a democracy is the opposition. A leader that respects and recognizes the role of the opposition values democracy. Opposition makes the government accountable. Without it, ours will be an authoritarian state, where there will be no open debate on whether the government is doing right or wrong, no advocacy for fairness, no demand to do better.

The fringe benefits of “power”, once tasted, are hard to give up.

Aguinaldo, in my opinion, valued his position more than the cause. There was an account that Apolinario Mabini advised him to get off from his high horse to lead his men in the battlefield again for him to recover lost credibility. Aguinaldo, self-proclaimed leader of a scattered country that didn’t know better, would have none of that. Power is so convenient. He kept on escaping while the cause was losing; he sacrificed the life of his bravest general to help him escape.

When he was eventually captured, he pledged allegiance to the US, perhaps to preserve his chances. During the Japanese occupation, he corroborated with the Japanese for convenience. And when the first Philippine elections happened in 1935, at age 66, he still relished the fringe benefits of power, ran as an independent candidate, and suffered a landslide loss against Manuel L. Quezon.

Post-war, we saw a dictatorship that tried to perpetuate itself in power. We cured the resulting trauma by putting term limits in the Constitution. We saw attempts by strange men for ‘no-el’ (no-election), and for no term limits. And now, there’s a proposed constitutional change that can place the Philippine regions perpetually under political dynasties. Power is intoxicating, and the intoxicated do not want to get sober.

Loyalty to personality, not to country.

The main thesis of Goyo, the film, as well as other documentaries, is that Gregorio del Pilar was Aguinaldo’s hitman tasked to deal with the disloyal ones. Del Pilar was handsomely rewarded for his loyalty with a top government post as Major General of Pangasinan at age 24. When del Pilar carried out orders, he apparently never questioned if that was good for the cause they were fighting for, or whether it was fellow Filipinos they were hurting. He was loyal because Aguinaldo was good to him.

It is easy therefore to understand why Ilocos felt aggrieved, probably orphaned when General Luna, of Ilocano parents, was slain by Aguinaldo’s camp. The historic event was so polarizing that when it was Ilocos’ turn to have a strongman in Marcos, it didn’t matter what he did. Marcos was good to Ilocanos and they, along with other beneficiaries of that power, were in turn loyal to him.

China is in our territory, but you can’t blame our leaders for kicking out America.

Probably unthinkable now, but in the not-too-distant past, America, after colonizing the Philippines for about four decades, was granted parity rights while there was the 1935 Philippine Constitution. To insult your intelligence, parity rights granted US citizens and corporations the same rights as Filipinos over the country’s natural resources. Why?! How could they suddenly own our country as much as we do when we didn’t own a buck of America? How can we owe them when they actually owe us damages for colonization and then war reparation?

Maybe the bravery and the cause in the fields of revolution did not extend to political circles and offices. It was probably too much for our leaders to give up the convenience and pick up a weary fight. So we boot out America eventually, and when China came to town, and it’s still too much of an inconvenience to take a stand and pick up a weary fight.

For all his faults, General del Pilar had one thing undisputed: he was brave. He was young and fearless for the revolution. Perhaps the untold story is this: how many among the fearful and weak of heart, much older than him, did he inspire to give more, even die for the country? Many are convenienced, but who is the brave among us at this time?

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He is the chairman of the Tax Committee, and the vice chairman of EMERGE (Educated Marginalized Entrepreneurs Resource Generation) program, of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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