Toast of the town

The toast of the town these days is an independent film depicting the life of General Antonio Luna, who headed the Philippine military during the Philippine-American war in 1898.

Heneral Luna is hailed for many things: Its script, cinematography, performances of its actors. On social media, the rave reviews from professional and amateur critics magnified the clamor to keep it in cinemas as it entered its second week.

Until today, movies of this caliber have not been commercially successful in the Philippines. The moviegoing public seems to prefer feel-good movies with big-named stars over films that question and disturb its viewers.

And how it disturbs.

The film shows how deep divisions in Philippine politics caused the country’s downfall during the war, and how the enemy exploited this weakness under the “divide and conquer” rule. Officials of the Emilio Aguinaldo administration could not put up a united front and turned against each other—against Luna, specifically, with whose methods they did not agree.

Luna was lured to Nueva Ecija on a pretext, and then shot and hacked not by the Americans but by his fellow Filipinos. Nobody was made accountable for the general’s killing. The main characters in the ensuing cover-up all denied they had any hand in Luna’s murder, claiming their love for country as shown by their long years as public servants.

If it were not for the people and the environment in which they existed, the ills that plagued the country in Luna’s time are still very much around today. There is the same intolerance for dissenting views. There is raw ambition, ego, indecision, entitlement and betrayal.

There is hypocrisy and doublespeak, grand declarations and despicable conduct, dark deeds and cover-ups.

The next few months will test whether the nation has done any growing up since the last elections. We have to deal with personalities again instead of the issues. We run the risk of casting our lot with the toast of the town—the person who dazzles us instead of the one who possesses both the character and capability to lead us.

Let us not allow our desperation for real heroes cloud our judgment in choosing our leaders.

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