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Heneral Luna, the scientist and journalist

/ 04:35 AM December 13, 2019

The film “Heneral Luna” made me sit up in 2015, not so much because it was an unexpected hit that made over P250 million at the box office, but rather because I had been sitting on the remains of the tragic general’s archive, which got burned at the Heritage Art Gallery in the 1980s. From notes hurriedly scribbled at the time—I didn’t have enough allowance to photocopy the entire balikbayan box of papers entrusted to me—I have a sense of what was lost.

First was an assortment of school notebooks in Spanish and French, written in Luna’s unmistakable hand, the fine, almost feminine penmanship you would not expect of the fiery general. The laboratory notebooks were particularly pretty and well-rendered, with drawings of bacteria and other things seen under a microscope, and notes that seemed to have been copied verbatim from books that remind us of a time before the existence of photocopiers, smartphones and images on jpg and pdf. Luna noted these texts down legibly, making me wonder if they were significant in his studies, or maybe he just didn’t have the money to buy certain books. Copying these out surely helped etch the material in his mind and memory.

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One of Luna’s scientific works on malaria was actually published in Madrid in 1893 as “El hematozoario del Paludismo, su estudio experimental…,” where he identified himself as a pharmacist who trained in the University of Madrid, an affiliate in the microbiology lab of the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1892. The title page of this work on malaria also mentioned his work under a certain Dr. Latteux, chief of the lab in the Hospital de la Caridad in Paris who was commissioned by the Spanish crown to work in the Philippines. I read somewhere that Luna read books on military tactics while he was in Ghent, Belgium, but did not know that he was working in the lab of some school of chemical engineering in the city.

One of the many manuscripts I failed to photocopy was Luna’s study on the composition of carabao milk, drawn from 30 lactose analyses while he held the post of “Profesor the Quimico-Micrografico”at the Municipal Laboratory of the City of Manila. I remember this each time I read a milk label that indicates it is “pasteurized.” The only other scientific work on carabao milk was done by Rizal’s contemporary at the Ateneo Municipal, Anacleto del Rosario, who was the first director of the Municipal Laboratory of Manila. Aside from studying the purity of carabao milk, Luna also took notes of samples of water he collected from various points of the Pasig River, I assume to see if the water was potable or not. While Luna is best remembered as a general of the Philippine-American War, his previous life as a journalist for La Solidaridad and as a scientist trained in Europe is not well known. He is known as a good swordsman who opened a fencing school in Calle Alix in Sampaloc, but it is not well known that he was reputedly one of the best guitar players of his time.

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In one of the envelopes marked “Chemistry Notes” was a loose manuscript titled “A mis soldados,” apparently an article Luna wrote for the information of his soldiers. In it, he referred to events of the Philippine Revolution and mentioned Emilio Aguinaldo, Edilberto Evangelista and [Manuel] Tinio. I noted that this was important, but I am not so sure if I had photocopied it.
In some notebooks that contained chemical formulas and pharmaceutical notes that were Greek to me were curious English exercises from 1895-1896 that read: “Has your friend’s son a desire to buy one more house? He has e (sic) mind to buy one more. Have you e (sic) mind to buy some more houses? We have a desire to buy some more, but we have no mony (sic). What has our taylor (sic) e (sic) mind to mend? He has e (sic) mind to men our shoes old coats. Has the shoemaker time to mend our shoes? He has time but has not mind to mend it. Who has e (sic) mind to mend our hats? The hatter as a mind to mend them. Are you afraid (sic) to look for my horse. I am not afraid…”

Heneral Luna’s archive survived the Philippine-American War, it survived the Battle of Manila in 1945, it survived being chucked into the garbage bin by Grace Luna’s heirs when she passed away in New York City, but it didn’t survive a fire from faulty wiring in Quezon City in the 1980s.

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TAGS: Heneral Luna, Heritage Art Gallery, Philippine historical perspective
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