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Letters from Antonio Luna

Tragedy is the spice that has kept us engaged with Juan and Antonio Luna well over a century since they died in 1899. The General was assassinated by Emilio Aguinaldo’s bodyguards in Cabanatuan, while the Painter died of a stroke in Hong Kong that his brother, a noted toxicologist, believed to be foul play.

A blockbuster film has been made of the General, and an opera and an unstaged play inspired by the Painter. I have been on their trail for three decades, and stray material continues to slip through from various sources, the latest being a lot of Luna material on the block at Leon Gallery tomorrow: a letter from Juan to Antonio from June 1899 stating that he is traveling to London, he is bored and requests news from home regarding their mother, his son Luling and others; a very clear photograph of the Luna brothers crossing swords in their Sala de Armas on Calle Alix in Sampaloc (Antonio’s handlebar moustache led to misidentification in the auction catalog as M.H. del Pilar!); and a long, breathless love letter from “Paquita” to Antonio. Paquita has been identified as Francisca Sabas, a former contender as the model for Juan Luna’s “La Bulaqueña,” until the sitter was definitely identified from photographs as Emiliana Trinidad.

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Libraries and archives are the historian’s traditional hunting grounds, but of late, primary sources have surfaced at auctions, lured out of hiding by high prices. My enthusiasm is not shared by fanatics who demand that these should rightly be in our cultural agencies even if these are private property. Well, if the State wants to own these artifacts, they could be solicited as tax-deductible donations or acquired at fair market value.

The prized Rizaliana in the National Library—manuscripts of the “Noli Me Tangere,” “El Filibusterismo,” “Mi Ultimo Adios” and Rizal’s letters to Ferdinand Blumentritt—were acquired by the government before the war. Fanatics presume that the government will provide ready access to researchers or the curious, when auction houses have provided universal access by placing high-resolution copies online or allowing historians like myself to physically examine them. In my youth, I had a romantic attachment to originals; in my twilight, access or a soft copy serves my purposes.

In the past two weeks, I have dipped through materials in the Library of Congress in Washington, the Newberry Library in Chicago and the New York Public Library, bringing to light previously unknown letters from Antonio Luna—one addressed to Felipe Buencamino in Sulipan, the other to Apolinario Mabini in Malolos. The letter to Buencamino, dated April 22, 1899, and translated from the original Spanish, goes:

“The telegrams exchanged between the General Tomas Mascardo and me contain phrases that are offensive to a great degree. These offenses can be settled between gentlemen, and I think that the said general is a gentleman, so I beg you and Francisco Roman to demand from said gentleman a retraction, in writing, for all he has said or satisfaction by arms [ie. a duel]. I thank you and Sr. Roman for representing me in this annoying matter. Always your friend and sure servant, Antonio Luna.”

A second page detailing the established customs followed in the Code of Honor accompanies the letter, stating that Luna’s representatives demand from Mascardo a written retraction or reparation by arms, and the election of his seconds. If Mascardo retracts, everything is naught; if he doesn’t, Luna will establish the conditions for the duel as the offended party. Luna’s choice of arms is the pointed saber. The duel terminates when one of the combatants is incapacitated. All conditions and negotiations have to be made within 24 hours or, with just cause, in 48 hours.

However, when confronted, Mascardo refused to give satisfaction, and added insult to injury with a sneering reference to Luna’s genitals.

Together with the undated letter to Mabini are copies of the radical newspaper La Independencia, and a note on the appointment of his cousin Antonio Posadas, one of the richest men in Zambales, a patriot and ilustrado, as representative of Ilocos in the Malolos Congress. Luna states that his was “not a recommendation but a reminder.”

Similar letters have littered the corridors of power since the First Republic, giving us an insight into the inner workings and challenges of government. Give me a month and I will ferret out much more.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Antonio luna, History, letters, opinion, Philippines
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