DepEd endorses El Presidente :(

The Emilio Aguinaldo biopic of the country’s first president, and one that revisits the first Philippine Republic, is clearly of quality. In fact it has been graded ‘A’ by the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) and is endorsed by Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (Ched), and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

endorsed by DepEd and CHED?  ano ba yan!  DepEd and CHEd should be the last to endorse hagiographic material such as this that exalts emilio aguinaldo at the expense of andres bonifacio and others like antonio luna.  this is blatant historical revisionism, mostly based, not surprisingly, on aguinaldo’s memoirs — and we know how self-serving memoirs can be.

if anything, DepEd and CHED should be warning the public that there is much much more to the 1898 revolution than the depicted cinematic heroics of aguinaldo.

jessica zafra is right, Bonifacio was NOT a traitor!

Salbahe pala si Andres Bonifacio.

Mark Meily’s film El Presidente would have viewers believe that Andres Bonifacio, Supremo of the Katipunan, was a traitor who was plotting against the revolutionary government. Naturally the film would take Aguinaldo’s side, being a biopic whose primary source, cited in the credits, is Aguinaldo’s memoirs. Writer-director Meily’s avowed intention is to clear up the misconceptions surrounding this controversial figure. I do not doubt Meily’s sincerity, but I have a problem with his history.

Like our grade school textbooks, El Presidente oversimplifies the facts. It is correct in its general outlines: elections were held in Tejeros, presided over by the visiting Supremo (Cesar Montano, who now has the distinction of having played Rizal and Bonifacio). Aguinaldo was voted in as president in absentia; Bonifacio got the consuelo de bobo post of Director of the Interior. Then Daniel Tirona rose to question Bonifacio’s credentials in a most insulting manner, saying that the position required a lawyer and not a mere laborer from Tondo. Bonifacio lost his temper, drew his gun on Tirona, declared the elections null and void, and stormed out of the room.

Historians have long noted Bonifacio’s foul temper and his unwise decision to encroach on Aguinaldo’s territory. (I am citing Bones of Contention: The Bonifacio Lectures by Ambeth R. Ocampo, who cites Apolinario Mabini’s La Revolucion Filipina and other sources.) The movie goes further, painting Bonifacio as a man who would betray the Revolution he started. In one scene Aguinaldo himself overhears Bonifacio and his supporters planning to spread false news of his arrest. In another, Artemio Ricarte (Ian de Leon) on Bonifacio’s orders sends reinforcements away so that Aguinaldo’s men are defeated by the Spanish.

The movie tells us that when Aguinaldo’s men arrested Bonifacio, he resisted, fought back action movie-style, and wounded some men before he was brought down. But the record of Bonifacio’s military trial tells a different story. Aguinaldo’s officers, led by Colonel Agapito Bonzon a.k.a. Col. Yntong, had been received by Bonifacio as friends. They were offered breakfast and cigarettes before they left. The following day Col. Yntong and his men returned, firing their weapons and accusing Bonifacio of planning to take off with the revolution’s money. The slander seemed calculated to set off Bonifacio’s temper. When it didn’t work, Bonifacio was shot in the shoulder. As he fell, someone stabbed him in the throat.

This does not seem to be the act of someone obeying orders to take the Supremo alive. The arresting officers claimed that the Bonifacio brothers had shot first, but when Bonifacio’s revolver was examined, all the bullets were intact.

It gets uglier. After Bonifacio’s arrest, Col. Yntong and his men captured Mrs. Bonifacio, Gregoria de Jesus. Col. Yntong ordered her beaten until she revealed the whereabouts of the money she’d allegedly hidden. The soldiers refused to obey, whereupon Col. Yntong forced her into an empty house with the intention of raping her to further humiliate the wounded Supremo.

Yes, this is the Bonifacios’ testimony, but as Teodoro Agoncillo said, Why did Aguinaldo never order an investigation into the charges against Col. Yntong?

The attempted rape is not mentioned in the movie. However, in the epilogue, we are told that during the election in Tejeros, Aguinaldo’s supporters were away fighting so most of the people present were Bonifacio’s men. (Historical accounts say otherwise.) It’s not enough that he lost the election; his own supporters rejected him. Nothing is said in Bonifacio’s defense, but the movie feels compelled to keep defending Aguinaldo long after he has won. He repeatedly declares that he had “no choice” but to act as he did. El Presidente does Emilio Aguinaldo a disservice by portraying him as a victim of circumstance.

Even if this movie is from Aguinaldo’s point of view, the goal should be the truth. We are talking about Bonifacio, the hero who started the Revolution. If you must unmask him as a traitor, you had better have irrefutable proof other than some shifty looks from Cesar Montano.

At times the history is merely sloppy – Jose Rizal’s imprisonment at Fort Santiago is mentioned casually, but his execution is ignored altogether. The long sequence of events from the Pact of Biak-na-Bato to the Philippine-American War is rushed through, presented in a series of meetings where we hear the contents of various documents. The Declaration of the Republic of the Philippines on June 12, 1898, surely the apex of President Aguinaldo’s career, is treated in a perfunctory manner.

Though it is heartening to see history as a subject for popular culture, El Presidente exemplifies what ails our nation. We have amnesia. We choose to forget the inconvenient past in the name of “moving on”. We edit history for general patronage. We reduce history to names and dates – as Ocampo points out, we enjoy the non-working holiday on Bonifacio’s birthday, but we never come to terms with his role in Philippine history. The disturbing reality is that the man who started the revolution against Spain was killed by his own countrymen. El Presidente sanitizes history some more by saying that on some level, he deserved it.

i would like to think that the descendants of aguinaldo, one of them a member of the cabinet, another a popular showbiz figure, are not entirely happy with this biopic.  i hope they realize that this movie is a disservice to nation because it is more of the old propaganda than it is a credible fleshing out of history.  it is all about painting aguinaldo as hero and everyone else as villain.  it is about refusing to take any kind of responsibility for bonifacio’s execution.  it is about refusing to dwell on the compromises he made with the spaniards that led to the pact of biak-na-bato and exile.  it is about glossing over his secret talks with, and faith in, the americans that led to his return, and eventually to the fil-am war.  aguinaldo had a lot of explaining to do, but he wouldn’t, until the very end, and you have to wonder why.

read teodoro m. locsin’s Interview with the General, June 11, 1949 .  asked about bonifacio’s death and mabini’s fall, aguinaldo said, “It was all politics, of course, and I wish you would not ask me more about it.”

yes, the devil is in the politics, and continues to reign supreme.

the aguinaldo family would serve the nation best by commissioning a fair and honest retelling of  their patriarch’s story, warts and all.


  1. Interesting. Yes, story book heroes. Cowboys and indians, like the US portrayed Custer for a long time as a brave soldier. Rather than a strategically stupid racist dead soldier. Aguinaldo was rather like most self-declared leaders, out of touch with ways to build consensus and a real nation, opting instead for an authoritarian demand for allegiance. Still, he had the right idea, and if the US had had more confidence in his ability to forge a nation from a bunch of bickering self-interests, things might have been very very different.

    If . . .

    The movie should be used as a tool for broader discussion, then it would be good for education. But to tell kids to see it to see a “hero” in action would be a gross educational distortion.

  2. manuelbuencamino

    Both served their country well. The two men, both heroes, did not and could not get along. Each wanted the other out. Naunahan lang ni Aguinaldo si Bonifacio. If both had lived, they probably would have concentrated on fighting each other rather then the Spaniards. That would have been worse.

    What happened between them is between them. Tama si Aguinaldo, “It was all politics, of course, and I wish you would not ask me more about it.” I think if the situation were reversed and it was Aguinaldo who was killed, Bonifacio would have made the same statement Aguinaldo made.

  3. i think it is in the national interest that we know and understand the details of their antagonisms, if only because we continue to live with this kind of politics and when no one is wrong or right, when everything is relative, wala tayong mahihita sa history.

    • manuelbuencamino


      I don’t know how we can escape relativity when confronted with this kind of a power struggle. The details of their antagonisms are recorded by parties partial to one or the other. That’s why I prefer to separate their personal problems from their heroic contributions to the revolution. It’s the only way I can see to give both their rightful place in history because from all accounts the conclusion I draw is naunahan lang ni Aguinaldo si Bonifacio. That does not make one better or worse than the other unless we are going to go into this class struggle thing of Bonifacio was masa and Aguinaldo represented the rich and so Bonifacio could do no wrong and Aguinaldo no right.

      • “Both served their country well.” both served their country as best they knew how for those times. they were both crucial to the struggle (just like both rizal and bonifacio were), yes, but i’d like to know more. and whether there might have been space for reconciling their differences…

  4. Butch Hernandez

    El Presidente is first and foremost an entry in the Metro Manila Film Festival. Indeed, it is based on actual events, much like Valkyrie, Saving Private Ryan or even Amigo. It could potentially be edifying, but it is a piece of entertainment fare nonetheless. As such, DepEd should have left it at that.

    • true, butch. if the deped hadnt endorsed it, oks lang, great entertainment the polishing of aguinaldo’s image. comment nga ni peque gallaga sa fb, “DepEd doesn’t understand Cinema…Just because the subject matter is “historical” doesn’t automatically make it edifying. Another case of the Cinema of Intent.”

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