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‘Hermano Puli’: religion, rebellion, and nation

Showing at some local cinemas since last week—and I hope it’s not pulled out soon for lack of viewers—is
the historical movie “Ang Hapis at Himagsik ni Hermano Puli.” Competently directed by Gil Portes and
with Aljur Abrenica in the lead role, the film depicts the “agony and fury” of Apolinario de la Cruz (aka
“Hermano Puli”) and tells the story of the Cofradia de San Jose, a religious movement he founded in the
province of Tayabas (now Quezon) in Southern Tagalog.

The movie is very much worth watching because it is another reminder that our people’s march to
nationhood was not unilinear and did not happen overnight. Indeed, the Filipino nation has its beginnings in
the early struggles of our ancestors for dignity in various domains of colonial society. We can say that the
1896 revolution harvested the energy of these early revolts, and imbued it with a national consciousness it
had lacked.

Just as the film “Heneral Luna,” which recently had a successful run in the theaters, depicts the complexity
of the revolutionary process, “Hermano Puli” shows how the Christian religion that Spain had used to
domesticate the will of the Filipinos itself became the wellspring of their rebellion. In Hermano Puli’s case,
as in the countless others that came before and after him, the seeds of early grievances had to do with
religion.

The friars—the gatekeepers of Hispanic Christianity—saw some of the cofradias evolving into dangerous
cults that promoted beliefs and practices contrary to Christian doctrine. The colonial authorities began to
view these religious movements as anything but harmless prayer groups. Yet, we can be sure that these
cofradias’ own self-understanding was far from radical. Contrary to the Spanish authorities’ paranoid view,
these movements did not deliberately use religion as a cover for sinister political objectives.

How revolutionary conflict assumes religious forms is eloquently explained by Marx in his famous “Preface
to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.” In studying the period of revolution, he writes, “it is
always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of
production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious,
artistic or philosophic—in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight
it out.”

Hermano Puli’s initial awakening to the contradictions between the ideals of Christian equality and the
racism of the religious orders is shown in the film in the innocent conversation between Puli as a young boy
aspiring to be a priest and his mother who encourages his vocation while warning him of the difficulty of
breaking through the racial barrier within the Church. It is in the pursuit of his religious vocation that Puli
becomes aware of the contradictions inherent in Spanish colonial society. Even as his understanding of this
conflict is tempered by his religious piety, the struggle he and his followers are later forced to wage is
revolutionary at its core.

Apolinario de la Cruz was a charismatic preacher. Had he been given the chance to study for the priesthood,
the deteriorating conditions of Spanish colonial society would have radicalized him in the mold of the native
Catholic priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora.

Puli miraculously survived the Nov. 1, 1841 massacre of the members of the Cofradia de San Jose in the
hills of Tayabas. Wounded, he was making his way to Sariaya when some barrio folks he thought were
sympathetic tied him up and surrendered him to the Spanish authorities in Tayabas. There he was tortured
and shot by a firing squad on orders of the Spanish commander.

Hermano Puli died at age 27. He was, like many of the ordinary people who joined the Katipunan half a
century later, steeped in Christianity’s promise of a New Jerusalem, confident about the justness of their
cause, and hopeful that their faith and their amulets would protect them from harm. Had he lived longer, he
would have been the natural leader of a massive self-organized popular movement against all forms of
oppression.
The spirit Hermano Puli embodied reappears through various upheavals in our nation’s history. It remains
alive until today, and is found almost everywhere in our country, thriving in the shadows of the institutional
Church and the State, and inhabiting the interstices of a superficial modernity. The mountains are the natural
habitat of this mystical energy. Mount Banahaw, with its beautiful streams, gulleys, waterfalls, and caves is
probably the most famous of these sacred mountains. At various times, this enchanted place has sheltered
and nurtured mystics, dissidents, cultists, and every Filipino rebel who has ever felt as an outsider to his own
country’s conventions.

In one of the closing scenes of “Hermano Puli,” the mangled body of the hero is shown beneath a sign that
says, “Ito’y isang erehe, Huwag tularan (This is a heretic, Don’t copy).” I don’t know if the sign has
historical basis, but it certainly has a contemporary resonance.

If the movie wanted to establish relevance to our times, it didn’t have to go further than to show—to borrow
from O.D. Corpuz’s account of that tragedy—the “slaughter of defenseless old people, women, and children
who did not fight back because in their piety they believed they would come back to life.” (“The Roots of
the Filipino Nation,” vol. I) More than anything else, the film prompted me to ask why it is the defenseless
simple folk that usually bear the first blows of state violence during major turning points in our nation’s
history

One of the exciting movie this year is “Ang Hapis at Himagsik ni Hermano Puli.”It tell about the
revolution during the Spanish Colonization in our country, as Hermano Puli, portrayed by Aljur Abrenica,
shows his sorrows and fury against the merciless Hispanic Religion that time.

When Spain rules over the country, Catholicism holds the law, both spiritually and
politically. The Friars, the Spanish Clergy, known for corruption and violence against Indios (The mock title
of the Filipinos that time), they claim any properties as their own. Their voice lauded our country for more
than 300 years, the three century that makes us servant of Spain. Because of violence, many Filipinos have
gained their Nationalistic Heart, they even sacrifice their own life for our freedom, one of them is Apolinario
de la Cruz, also known as Hermano Puli. His love for our country gazes, he founded the Cofradia de San
Jose in Tayabas, a religious group. But for some reasons, the friars feel that the cofradia is becoming a
dangerous group for them, they persecute its members and also Hermano Puli.

The darkest ages of our country is already done. We are a Sovereign Country and the whole
world acknowledges it. Many of our Filipino Ancestors suffer, feel sorrow and even die for our country.
That dark moments is just a page of our wonderful and inspiring history. As Filipino, we must protect our
country, we must defend our rights and we must live freely, for this freedom we have, its root is the sweat,
tears and blood of those courageous Filipinos who lay down their life for our home land, the Philippines.