El Presidente (film)

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El Presidente: General Emilio Aguinaldo Story and the First Philippine Republic, or simply El Presidente (English: The President), is a 2012 historical biopic film written and directed by Mark Meily about the life of General Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippine Republic. The film stars Jeorge "E.R." Ejercito Estregan in the title role, along with Nora Aunor, Christopher de Leon, Cristine Reyes, and Cesar Montano.[1]

The film was one of the official entries to the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival and was released in theaters nationwide on December 25, 2012.[2] Produced by Scenema Concept International, CMB Films and Viva Films, in cooperation with the San Miguel Group of Companies, Petron, Boy Scouts of the Philippines, Las Casas Filipinas de Azucar, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines, it premiered on December 18, 2012 at the SM Mall of Asia's SMX Convention Center.


The story is told in flashbacks as Emilio Aguinaldo (E.R. Ejercito) thanks the United States 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 Kapampangan and U.S. forces under Frederick Funston's command in 1901, then flashes back to 1886, when an old woman gives Aguinaldo and his childhood friend Candido Tirona (Ronnie Lazaro) cryptic prophecies. Ten years later, Aguinaldo is inducted into the Katipunan by the Supremo, Andrés Bonifacio, and later assumes leadership of its Cavite chapter the Magdalo 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 in Cavite and takes on Spanish troops at Cavite El Viejo, Imus, and Binakayan.

As the Katipunan rebels gain ground in Cavite and several provinces, its Magdalo and Magdiwang factions convene to elect a provisional government. Bonifacio oversees the Tejeros Convention, which elects Aguinaldo as president, Mariano Trías as vice-president, and himself as interior minister. He storms out of the convention when Daniel Tirona objects to his position. 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. However without reinforcement they were overrun and Crispulo was killed. Meanwhile, an embittered Bonifacio establishes his own revolutionary government in Naic and was later arrested during his act in the village. 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 U.S. 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 winning his military victory under the First Philippine Republic 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 U.S. forces gradually arrive in the Philippines.

War with the Americans breaks out in February 1899, and General Antonio Luna is appointed supreme commander of the army. He is assassinated by disgruntled troops three months later, and the Filipino forces are gradually routed by the Americans. As a result, Aguinaldo flees to the north of Luzon. General Gregorio del Pilar volunteers to hold them off at Tirad Pass and buy Aguinaldo time. 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 the American occupation over the Philippines, Aguinaldo lives a quiet life, which is marred by Hilaria's death in 1921. He meets and marries 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.

As Aguinaldo lies on his bed, the same woman who gave him his prophecy appears to him one more time.



A 350-page script emerged in 1998, with the proposed film meant for the Philippines' Independence Centennial, but no production was made.

Ejercito said Meily was chosen to direct the film due to his knowledge of Aguinaldo, experience in large productions, and personal belief in him.[3] Meily's appointment was made despite swearing never to helm a historical film again, after working on Baler in 2008.[4] Ejercito's second choice for director was Mario O'Hara; the latter died before Ejercito made him an offer, on June 26, 2012. Ejercito ruled out picking Tikoy Aguiluz because a falling-out between them during the editing of his last film, Manila Kingpin.[4]

Despite the existence of the 1998 script, Meily opted to create an entirely different script instead.[4] He wanted to hire screenwriters at Ejercito's request, but volunteered to write it himself when no writers joined the project. Meily claims he tried to make the film as factually accurate as possible, and he describes the finished product as "95 percent" accurate to what really happened.[4] Historians were on set to ensure full accuracy.[5]

Ejercito described the film as much harder to make than Manila Kingpin because it "deals directly with our country's history." Over 50 professional actors and actresses were cast for the movie. He also described the "set, costumes, locations, and logistics" as "staggering by all Philippine cinema standards."[3] He also claimed that it was the biggest and most expensive Filipino film ever, as the film was made on a budget of P130 million.[6] Shooting took place over 43 days at select locations in Cavite, Laguna, and Bulacan.[7]


El Presidente, along with seven other Metro Manila Film Festival entries, was released on December 25, 2012 in 54 theaters,[8] although it was premiered on December 18, 2012, at the SMX Convention Center at the SM Mall of Asia.[5] It went on to gross P4.2 million in Metro Manila, the sixth most among MMFF films. After the film festival ended, the Metro Manila Development Authority did not release the total box office gross of the film as it was not in the top four highest grossing films. Ejercito complained that the film's low box office gross was due to rigged theater distribution, as more popular films were released in as many as 130 theaters. While all eight film festival entries were released in the same number of theaters in Metro Manila via drawing lots, theaters in the province could decide whichever movies to show.[8]

Critical reception

The movie garnered mostly positive reviews from critics. The Philippines' Cinema Evaluation Board graded the film an A, and it has been endorsed by the government's Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines.[5]

In a review, 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.[9] Philibert Ortiz-Dy of ClickTheCity.com, on the other hand, gave the film two and a half stars out of five, describing El Presidente as "deeply flawed as an entertainment, but there's a lot in it to like." While he did note the film was ambitious, he also stated that the "lack of focus hurts it in the end", due to its large scope.[10]

Rommel R. Llanes of the Philippine Entertainment Portal especially praised the performances of Montano and de Leon as Bonifacio and Luna, respectively. However, he also stated that Ejercito occasionally felt like Asiong Salonga, the main character of his previous film, Manila Kingpin.[11] Maridol Rañoa-Bismark, writing for Yahoo! Philippines, highly praised the film for "its breathtaking cinematography, well-choreographed fight scenes, haunting music and brilliant acting", but mostly for it being about the "triumph of good over evil."[12]

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.[13]

The movie garnered the most 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.[14]

Awards and recognition

Year Award-Giving Body Category Recipient Result
2012 Metro Manila Film Festival Second Best Picture El Presidente Won
Best Actor E.R. Ejercito Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Cesar Montano Won
Baron Geisler Nominated
Christopher de Leon Nominated
Best Musical Score Jessie Lasaten Won
Best Sound Recording Albert Michael Idioma Won
Best Original Theme Song Apl.de.ap and Jamir Garcia Won
Best Make-up Warren Munar, Benny Batoctoy and Virginia Apolinario Won
Best Float El Presidente Won
2013 Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards Best Picture El Presidente Won
Best Director Mark Meily Won
Best Actor E.R. Ejercito Won
Best Actress Cristine Reyes Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Cesar Montano Won
Best Screenplay Mark Meily Won
Best Cinematography Carlo Mendoza Won
Best Production Design Danny Red and Joel Bilbao Won
Best Editing Jason Cahapay and Ryan Orduña Won
Best Sound Albert Michael Idioma and Addiss Tabong Won
Best Original Theme Song Marizen Yaneza, Jessie Lasaten, and Maita Ejercito Won
Best Story El Presidente Won
Film Academy of the Philippines Best Picture El Presidente Won
Best Director Mark Meily Nominated
Best Cinematography Carlo Mendoza Won
Best Production Design Danny Red and Joel Bilbao Won
Best Editing Jason Cahapay and Ryan Orduña Nominated
Best Music Jessie Lasaten Won
Best Sound Albert Michael Idioma Won
Golden Screen Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role Cesar Montano Nominated
Best Production Design Danny Red and Joel Bilbao Nominated
Best Musical Score Jessie Lasaten Nominated
Best Original Song "Aking Inang Bayan" by Marizen Yaneza, Jessie Lasaten and Maita Ejercito Nominated


  1. Nora Aunor starts filming El Presidente.
  2. 2012 MMFF Official Entries: Official Website:. Archived from the original on September 27, 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dolly Anne Carvajal (December 11, 2012). E.R. hopes 'El Presidente' will replicate success of 'Asiong'. Philippine Daily Inquirer.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Edwin P. Sallan (December 26, 2012). With 'El Presidente', Mark Meily depicts Aguinaldo-Bonifacio conflict in accurate detail. AksyonTV.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Jecelyn V. Macahindog (December 7, 2012). Gov. ER Truly Proud Of 'El Presidente'. Manila Bulletin. Archived from the original on December 10, 2012.
  6. Ruben Marasigan (November 19, 2012). ER Ejercito on El Presidente's P130M budget: "Ito na yata ang pinakamalaki at pinakamagastos na pelikulang Pilipino." (This maybe the biggest and most expensive Philippine film yet.. Philippine Entertainment Portal.
  7. Edwin P. Sallan (December 26, 2012). With 'El Presidente', Mark Meilly depicts Aguinaldo-Bonifacio conflict in accurate detail, page 2. AksyonTV.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Jeffrey O. Valisno (January 10, 2013). Award and box office controversies: business as usual at the Metro Manila Film Fest. BusinessWorld.
  9. Phillip Cu-Unjieng (December 27, 2012). Aguinaldo and his story in 'El Presidente'. ABS-CBN Corporation.
  10. Philibert Ortiz-Dy (December 27, 2012). The Largeness of Life. ClickTheCity.com.
  11. Rommel R. Llanes (December 27, 2013). MMFF REVIEW: El Presidente: The Emilio Aguinaldo Story and the First Philippine Republic. Philippine Entertainment Portal.
  12. Maridol Rañoa-Bismark (December 27, 2012). Lest we forget: An 'El Presidente' review. Yahoo!.
  13. Jessica Zafra (January 4, 2013). Metro Manila Film Festival 2012 Moviethon: Day 7: Bonifacio was NOT a traitor. AksyonTV.
  14. Chuck Smith (December 27, 2012). 8th Metro Manila Film Festival winners. Yahoo!.