Looking Back

A hero’s full life

/ 05:07 AM November 29, 2017

If you get your information on Antonio Luna mainly from the internet or social media, and neglect to validate it by going beyond the first page of links suggested by a Google Search, you will get the flat textbook image drilled into you in school. Of course, the recent Jerrold Tarog film colorized our sepia image, but one should not stop with a film and try to see the complex and conflicted person Luna was because, like many of our national heroes, he is the sum of many parts. The more you know, the better. Luna was the greatest general in the Philippine-American War, but then as the late Teodoro A. Agoncillo liked to point out, he did not win a single battle!

Luna and Apolinario Mabini did not join the First Phase of the Philippine Revolution led by Andres Bonifacio from 1896-1897, but joined the Second Phase led by Emilio Aguinaldo that moved from the Philippine Revolution against Spain (1897-1898) to the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). Tomorrow, Bonifacio, the Katipunan, and the Revolution will be remembered fleetingly then forgotten again till Nov. 30, 2018. How should we remember heroes and historic events?


I looked back not on Bonifacio but on Luna, because there is an underside to the narrative left out of textbooks, film and the internet. It is not so much that Antonio Luna did not join the First Phase of the Revolution, rather he squealed on it! In July 1896, a month before the outbreak of the Revolution, or the Cry of Pugad Lawin, Luna, moved by his “duty as a loyal son of Spain,” informed the director of the Municipal Laboratory of Manila of a secret society called the Katipunan. The director passed on this information to the governor general who summoned Luna to Malacañang in early August to get this raw intelligence information firsthand. Luna briefed the governor on this subversive society active in Manila, made up of members from the lower social classes. Luna said some from the upper classes, like him, knew but did not sympathize with their motives. Luna met with the governor more than once, and in the later audience provided details of the initiation rights where the Katipuneros “performed incisions on their arms and from the blood drawn from the wound sign their Katipunan oaths.”

Luna betrayed his friends and acquaintances, including Rizal, stating in an affidavit sworn in November 1896 that “the Katipunan is La Liga Filipina, that they had translated the Spanish liga into the Tagalog katipunan, and its founder is Dr. Jose Rizal.” Poor Rizal did found the Liga that died stillborn a few days afterwards when he was arrested and exiled to Dapitan in July 1892, but he was not responsible for the more radical Katipunan that grew out of the Liga under the leadership of Bonifacio. Without his knowledge and consent, Rizal was made honorary president of the Katipunan, his photo was displayed on the wall during Katipunan meetings and initiation of new members, and one of the passwords of the Katipunan was “Rizal.”


So one could say that Luna hammered a nail into Rizal’s coffin, that the Katipunan framed Rizal who was sentenced to death because he was, according to trial records, “the living soul of the rebellion.” Rizal did not fire a gun or waved a bolo, but his life and works did inspire the Revolution.

Why did Luna squeal? He was not happy with prison conditions, and he probably wanted to get even with those he thought had squealed on him. In his November 1896 affidavit Luna declared:

“I repeat, I am not a rebel, not a filibustero, not a Mason, I sided with the government because it was my duty, and I denounced all that I knew, with all the natural risks, thus relying on the justice of Your Honor, I do not doubt that I will be acquitted and set free.”

Luna was not executed like other rebels, he was even made to serve part of his Manila prison sentence in Spain, where he read up on military science, tactics, fortifications, strategy, etc. that came in handy when he later had a change of heart and was accepted by Aguinaldo and given the rank of general. Knowing a hero’s full life instead of just the high points makes for engaging reading and makes us reflect on much more than just who, what, where and how. Why is more important.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, andres bonifacio, Antonio luna, Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo, Looking Back
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