‘Nanlaban’: Bonifacio and Luna
Nanlaban” is a word that echoes in this administration’s deadly war against drugs. Nanlaban is invoked by police, who claim self-defense against suspects killed in cold blood while unarmed, running away, prostrate in surrender, or kneeling in supplication. Nanlaban was the basis for the controversial deaths of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna, two murders that popular opinion has laid at Emilio Aguinaldo’s door.
During Bonifacio’s trial, the prosecution claimed that Bonifacio resisted arrest in Limbon, on April 23, 1897. Aguinaldo’s soldiers were said to have merely returned fire in an encounter that left Andres Bonifacio wounded; his elder brother, Ciriaco, dead; and his younger brother, Procopio, beaten unconscious with fists, boots and rifle butts.
Adding insult to injury, Bonifacio’s wife Oryang was sexually abused by the arresting officer, Col. Agapito Bonzon. In vain did Bonifacio request the court to present his confiscated weapons that had all bullets intact—proof that he did not discharge his weapons, and that the arresting party shot at them without provocation. Nanlaban indeed. Bonifacio and his brother were executed for treason on May 10, 1897.
Antonio Luna was summoned, by telegram, to an important meeting with the president in Cabanatuan. When he presented himself at Aguinaldo’s headquarters on June 5, 1899, exhausted from a long journey on horseback, he was told the president was away. There he saw Felipe Buencamino, a high-ranking official he had arrested for treason, and Aguinaldo’s Kawit bodyguards whom he had disarmed and punished for insubordination. His famous temper flared, and the soldiers killed him allegedly in self-defense. Luna and his aide, Paco Roman, were finished off by gunfire; Luna was also stabbed to make sure he was dead. Being outnumbered,
Luna and his aide could have been disabled or restrained, but the handy alibi, then as now, was simply nanlaban.
Bonifacio and Luna come to mind again as historical documents that figure in their notorious deaths surfaced recently, and will be on the block next weekend. A sheet of yellowed paper, with the top right corner torn off, is expected to bring in bids starting from half a million pesos, and more viewers to Jerold Tarrog’s 2015 blockbuster “Heneral Luna,” now streaming on Netflix. Billed as “The Extremely Historically Important Hen. Luna Telegram, from Emilio Aguinaldo summoning him to his death,” the document reminds us how Luna’s terrible death ensured his place in Filipino hearts and tarnished Emilio Aguinaldo’s.
In his angry Guam memoirs, Apolinario Mabini blamed Aguinaldo for the deaths of Bonifacio and Luna. He even recommended a glorious death on the battlefield as Aguinaldo’s only redemption. Aguinaldo thumbed his nose at the Sublime Paralytic and outlived all his enemies, dying in 1964, five years short of his 100th birthday.
Cutting through auction house hype, we know that Luna received two telegrams while he was directing the construction of the defenses at Binmaley. The first one, sent from Angeles, called Luna to a meeting on the defense of Pampanga. The second, sent from Cabanatuan, called Luna to a meeting on a revamp in government.
Antonio K. Abad, in his 1926 book “Ang Mahiwagang Pagkamatay ni Heneral Luna” (The Mysterious Death of General Luna), wrote that the Angeles telegram was from Aguinaldo, while the Cabanatuan one was a trap, set by people to settle scores with the fiery general.
Partly in code, the message reads: “Folabo puoncimane iun thiuntodonade sin ordenar fegmicaen ciusi Esperando contestacion a mi telegrama anterior en que le pediapipso incupsicaen Suplico urgencia….” Decoded, it reads: “Paging for an important meeting, therefore you are ordered to come here immediately. Waiting for a reply to my previous telegram about urgent matters to discuss. Beseech urgency.”
Luna’s reply at the bottom of the coded message, supplied by the auction house, is “Felipe Buencamino not yet detained based on my accusation.” The original Spanish, in Luna’s fine hand, reads: “Felipe Buencamino aun detenido sin formacion [de] causa base [mi] acusacion.” (Felipe Buencamino still arrested without prosecution based on [my] accusation.)
While this is not the telegram fished out of Luna’s pockets as he lay dead in the afternoon sun, his fists clenched in defiance, his mouth curled from the curses hurled at his murderers as they finished him off, it reopens a wound in our history too painful to bear.
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