Looking Back

Goyo, the Lunas and National Heroes Day

Goyo” is a film much awaited for its historical content and Paulo Avelino’s good looks. As the third historical film from the same producers that gave us movies about Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna, it is so hyped up that I wish it will not disappoint.

“Goyo” should have opened this week in time for National Heroes Day. Instead, it will premiere on Aug. 30, a date hopefully auspicious given the serious Mercury retrograde at the beginning of August, the Chinese “ghost month,” that ends on Sept. 9.


Unfortunately, “Goyo” is lost among the commemorations that clutter August: Buwan ng Wika, Manuel Luis Quezon’s birthday (Aug. 19), Ninoy Aquino’s death anniversary (Aug. 21), Eid al-Adha (Aug. 22) and National Heroes Day (Aug. 27).

If we are to plot history in August, the most significant event should be Andres Bonifacio’s “Cry of Pugadlawin” [or Balintawak depending on the historian], which marked the beginning of the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1896. Some Filipino historians reckon 1896-1897 as the First Phase of the Philippine Revolution, and 1897-1899 as the Second Phase, directed by Emilio Aguinaldo after Bonifacio’s death. Goyo, or Gregorio del Pilar, is part of Phase 2.


National Heroes Day, like All Saints Day, commemorates all our heroes who do not have national nonworking holidays to their name. Among those who have are Jose Rizal (Dec. 30); Andres Bonifacio (Nov. 30); Ninoy Aquino (Aug. 21); and Jesus Christ, who has two holidays for his birthday (Dec. 25) and death day (Good Friday, a movable holiday). While World War II heroes are specifically commemorated on April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan [Day of Valor], they are honored again on National Heroes Day, the last Monday in August.

In 1931, the last Sunday in August was set aside for National Heroes Day. At the time, memories of the Philippine Revolution were still fresh and relevant, and the Philippines was yet a colony of another country. Then, in 1942, J. P. Laurel moved National Heroes Day from August to Nov. 30, diluting the memory of Andres Bonifacio. It is not well-known that Laurel decreed National Heroes Day 1943 to be held in Bataan, as a quiet reminder to resist the Japanese occupation.

In November 1945, Sergio Osmeña chose Capas as the location for National Heroes Day, to remind all of the sacrifices that were made during the war. It was Elpidio Quirino, in 1952, who rightly separated National Heroes Day from Bonifacio Day, and restored it to the last Sunday in August.

The problem was how to provide a non-working holiday on a Sunday, so the practice was to have the commemoration on the last Sunday of August, followed by a nonworking Monday. This was later rationalized by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2007, who moved National Heroes Day to the last Monday of August, thus creating a three-day weekend for her “holiday economics.”

Goyo is referenced in the current Leon Gallery auction catalog, in a lot that includes a pair of epaulets, with two stars on a red field—the shoulder insignia of a lieutenant colonel allegedly taken by the enemy during the Battle of Tirad Pass on Dec. 2, 1899, where Goyo was shot dead by an enemy sniper. It is odd that Goyo is mixed with items associated with Antonio Luna, because there is a historical reference that hints at Goyo being Aguinaldo’s hit man, with a contract for Luna’s life that was taken earlier by Aguinaldo’s bodyguards in Cabanatuan in 1899.

You can ignore the epaulets, the copy of La Independencia, even a manuscript decree of Nov. 25, 1898, under Aguinaldo’s name regulating the military uniform, because the real treasure in this lot is a piece of paper containing the epaulet designs for officers of the Filipino Army, from lieutenant to captain general. The designs were by Juan Luna, from the specifications supplied by his younger brother Antonio.

I last saw these drawings three decades ago, before a fire gutted the Heritage Gallery in Cubao, taking with it the archive and memorabilia of the Luna brothers. I’m happy that auction prices have drawn out this rare bit of ephemera from hiding. If I’m not mistaken, Juan Luna executed the designs in watercolor, while the text is in Antonio’s legible hand.


That’s one piece of paper on which two patriots collaborated to leave a tangible souvenir of the long road to freedom and the emergence of the Filipino nation.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Goyo, National Heroes Day, Paulo Avelino
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