Antonio N. Luna and Vo Nguyen Giap | Inquirer Opinion

Antonio N. Luna and Vo Nguyen Giap

/ 04:07 AM October 05, 2020

Two of the finest military minds in Asia are the subjects of my first column in October.

One was actually a pharmacist while the other finished studies with a law degree. Both had no formal military education and training but both were avid students of military science and history. One would be assassinated by his own soldiers at the young age of 33 years allegedly on orders from his President, while the other would live to a ripe age of 102, and be accorded the honors of a state funeral with 60 general officers in attendance. Both would be recognized by friend and foe as the most brilliant strategists of their respective armed forces.

Gen. Antonio Novicio Luna was the youngest of seven children of relatively prosperous Binondo merchants. A measure of the comfortable life led by the Luna family was the large stone house that was home to all the members. After obtaining a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Madrid, Luna returned to the Philippines only to be arrested and detained at Fort Santiago on suspicion of having ties with the Katipunan. He escaped the firing squad but was ordered exiled to Spain. At this point, Luna was convinced that the armed struggle by Andres Bonifacio was a futile exercise, saying “It is easier to unite the sky with the earth, than to make two Filipinos agree on their opinions.”


In Spain, Luna noted the progress of the revolution and spent time reading up on military strategy and tactics, field fortifications, and guerrilla warfare. When news came of the American victory over the Spanish armada in Manila Bay, he prepared to return to the country. A letter of recommendation from Felipe Agoncillo to Emilio Aguinaldo stated that Luna had made up his mind to take part in the revolution and to serve the country. Aguinaldo, against the advice of Mabini and others, took in Luna and named him undersecretary of war with the rank of brigadier general. He would later justify his decision, saying that although Luna did not attend a military school “…we needed his terrible temper to impose discipline on our unschooled army.”


As early as June 1898, Manila was surrounded by the revolutionary forces. With such a formidable body of troops, Luna believed they could storm the capital successfully and annihilate the Spaniards completely. Unfortunately, Aguinaldo believed the Americans were our allies and instead allowed them to occupy trenches once held by our forces. By August, the United States had landed sufficient forces to prevent rebel forces from entering the city and in a sham battle, the Spaniards surrendered to the Americans. If Luna had been calling the shots, it was possible Manila would have fallen to Filipino forces and the international community would have learned of Spain’s surrender, thus strengthening the legitimacy of the First Republic. In my dreams, I see Gen. Antonio Luna receiving the surrender of the Spanish commander and the flag of the Republic hoisted over the City of Manila, the capital of an independent Filipino nation.

In October 1898, General Luna established the Academia Militar in Malolos, precursor of the Philippine Military Academy with Col. Manuel Sityar as superintendent. A number of retired AFP officers have expressed the view that the site of the PMA should actually have been named Fort General Antonio Luna in recognition of his pioneering efforts in organizing the military school.


As the Philippine American war progressed, Luna proposed the establishment of numerous military strongholds from town to town, extending from Caloocan to Pampanga, that would allow a gradual withdrawal while fighting advancing US troops and making them pay a heavy price. At the same time, a guerrilla base would be organized in the Mountain Province for conducting raids on enemy garrisons. In addition, General Luna instituted measures to instill discipline among the troops and inculcate a sense of national unity to replace regional and tribal loyalties.

Regrettably, his impulsive nature, wicked temper, and personal discipline made him few friends and gained him numerous enemies. He met his tragic death in Cabanatuan at the hands of fellow Filipinos who resented his high-handed manners. We lost our most brilliant and capable military leader when we needed him most. An American general, Franklin Bell, paid Luna the high compliment of considering him “the only general the Filipino army had.”

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Yesterday was the seventh death anniversary of one of the greatest military commanders of the 20th century. Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap, a lawyer-turned-soldier, defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and was the architect of the 1968 Tet Offensive against US forces that led to their withdrawal from Vietnam.

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TAGS: Antonio luna, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille, Vo Nguyen Giap

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