The story is told in flashbacks as Emilio Aguinaldo thanks the US government for giving him the opportunity to attend the full restoration of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. The film begins with his capture by Philippine and US forces under Frederick Funston’s command in 1901, then flashes back to 1886, when an old woman gives Aguinaldo and childhood friend Candido Tirona cryptic prophecies. Ten years later, Aguinaldo is inducted into the Katipunan and later assumes leadership of its Cavite chapter while becoming mayor of Cavite El Viejo.
When trouble breaks out in Manila in late August 1896, Aguinaldo tries to assure the Spanish provincial government of non-interference and covertly marshals his forces despite a lack of weapons. Learning that the Spanish mostly put their forces in Manila, Aguinaldo finally mobilizes his troops and take the fight to Spanish troops in Cavite. As the rebels gain ground in Cavite and several provinces, its Magdalo and Magdiwang factions convene to elect a provisional government.
Andres Bonifacio oversees the Tejeros Convention, which elects Aguinaldo as president, Mariano Trias as vice-president, and himself as interior minister. He storms out of the convention when Daniel Tirona objects to his election. Aguinaldo’s brother Crispulo informs him of his accession and convinces him to leave his troops just as he was seeking to defend against the Spaniards at Pasong Santol. The rebels are defeated and Crispulo is killed. Meanwhile, an embittered Bonifacio establishes his own revolutionary government and is later arrested. Aguinaldo is concerned about Bonifacio’s actions and wanted him exiled, but the War Council advises his execution. Several months later, Aguinaldo leaves Cavite with most of his forces intact and makes it to Biak-na-Bato in Bulacan, where he signs the Pact of Biak-na-Bato and heads for Hong Kong.
There he meets with US officials who approach him with offers of support and recognition of a new Philippine Republic amidst the Spanish-American War. Aguinaldo returns to the Philippines and formally declares independence from Spain. As the Malolos Congress convenes, Felipe Agoncillo tries to represent the new nation at the Treaty of Paris negotiations, but gets stonewalled at every turn even as US forces gradually arrive in the Philippines. The Philippine-American War breaks out in February 1899 and Antonio Luna is appointed commander of all Filipino troops. He is assassinated three months later and the Filipino troops are gradually routed by the Americans.
As a result, Aguinaldo’s forces travel all over northern Luzon to escape the Americans. General Gregorio del Pilar volunteers to lead some troops in holding them off at Tirad Pass and buy Aguinaldo time to get away. His loyal courier is later captured by the Americans while getting some medicine for his son. Now aware of Aguinaldo’s hideout, Funston plans his capture. Having been made to accept US rule over the Philippines, Aguinaldo lives a quiet life, which is marred by Hilaria’s passing in 1921.
He meets and marries Felipe Agoncillo’s niece Maria in 1930. Over the next few decades, the couple witness Philippine history unfold once more as he is defeated in the 1935 presidential elections, Japanese occupation and the restoration of full independence. In 1962, an elderly Aguinaldo and his wife comfort each other over President Diosdado Macapagal’s decree to restore the actual date of the Philippine declaration of independence. In his final hours, the same woman who gave him his prophecy appears to him one more time.
The movie is partly based on Aguinaldo’s Memoirs of the Revolution. Writer-director Mark Meily states that the project had its genesis back in 1998. Over the intervening years, careful research was made in order to accurately portray Aguinaldo’s life, especially facts that have been glossed over in history books. These include his conduct over the trial of the Bonifacio brothers and his other actions during the Revolution. Meily himself was brought into the project as director after Ejercito pledged never to work with original director Tikoy Aguiluz because of their rift over editing Manila Kingpin. Shooting took place over 43 days at select locations in Cavite, Laguna, and Bulacan, with the Las Casas Filipinas de Azucar in Bataan substituting for urban scenes.
The movie garnered mixed reviews. The Philippines’ Cinema Evaluation Board graded the film at A.  Phillip Cu-Unjieng of the Philippine Star said it “vividly recaptures” one of the Philippines’ most turbulent periods in history by exposing the infighting among the Katipunan’s members and how Aguinaldo wanted to resolve them. He noted that the film’s quality makes it almost stand out as much as Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.  Philibert Ortiz-Dy said making the film was tricky, but dragged towards the end.
 The movie garnered most of the awards at the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival, winning the plums for Second Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Cesar Montano), Youth Choice Award, Best Float, Best Sound, Best Musical Score, and Best Make-up. Columnist and radio show host Jessica Zafra, however, was critical of the movie’s treatment. She said the depiction of Bonifacio’s death raised questions about its authenticity. She added that the film itself “does Emilio Aguinaldo a disservice by portraying him as a victim of circumstance” and even highlighted the “amnesia” prevalent among contemporary Filipinos.
Courtney from Study Moose
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