Lost in translation from French to Spanish: Was Paz, the wife of Juan Luna, adulterous?
I would like to respond to Dr. Rachel A.G. Reyes’s rebuttal of Professor Ambeth Ocampo’s article, “Juan Luna’s Crime of Passion” (10/16/20).
Being fluent in French, I found that the narratives in France and in the Philippines differ greatly not only around the story of the murder, but also in relation to the question of whether Luna’s wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, was unfaithful or not. It is of the latter that I would like to talk about here.
Ocampo refers to an article in the New York Herald dated Sept. 25, 1892, about which Dr. Rachel A.G. Reyes claims “there is nothing here to support Ocampo’s conclusions” — namely, that Paz was unfaithful. I must mention that Ocampo is wrong about the New York Herald in one regard: It is not based in the United States as he claims, since it is a French newspaper written in English. But regarding Paz’s infidelity, we can refer to the next day in the same New York Herald, in which more information is given: “His [Felix Pardo de Tavera] statement contains nothing new of importance, except an implied admission, by the family of Mme. Luna, of their knowledge that she had been improperly intimate with M. Dussaq.”
The question of Paz’s adulterous affair had been a subject of discussion ever since Luna received an anonymous letter claiming that Mme. Luna and M. Dussaq had caused quite a scandal with their overt familiarity at Mont-Dore in the summer of 1892. The letter-writer remains anonymous, but it was most likely written by Ms. Basley, the English nanny who had accompanied Paz. Although Ms. Basley did not testify at Juan Luna’s trial, the president of the court read her deposition, which left no doubt about the existence of adulterous relations between M. Dussaq and Paz.
But, more importantly, as mentioned by the article, the Pardo de Tavera family itself admitted to Paz’s infidelity on numerous occasions during the interviews after the murder and even during the trial. Paz’s brother, Trinidad, claims that he had first sided with Luna against Paz when he heard about her affair, and had even been willing to defend Luna’s honor as a witness in a possible duel with Dussaq. However, as Luna became more and more violent, Trinidad was shocked enough to eventually confront Luna. Furthermore, Felix, Paz’s other brother, admitted in a Sept. 25, 1892 interview that he once refused to embrace Paz because she was at fault: a fault that could tarnish their good name.
Regidor Jurado, the family lawyer, also claimed that Paz was an adulteress when he told Maurice Rogier on Sept. 24 that he could not understand how she could have become Dussaq’s mistress, but had resigned himself to the fact: “I cannot understand… But let’s leave it there. She becomes the mistress of this monsieur Dussaq, her husband learns it and becomes furiously enraged.” (“Je ne peux arriver à le comprendre… Mais passons. Elle devient donc la maîtresse de ce monsieur Dussaq, son mari l’apprend, entre dans une colère furieuse…”)
Félix Décori, the Pardo de Tavera lawyer during the Luna trial, also admitted to Paz’s adultery, although this part has been translated differently in the Spanish version of his plaidoirie (Proceso seguido contra el parricida Juan Luna San Pedro y Novicio natural de Badoc). In the French original it reads: “C’est une très grande faute, elle a trompé son mari…” (“It’s a very grave fault, she cheated on her husband.”) The Spanish translations which most Luna scholars refer to read instead: “Se la acusa de haber faltado à su marido” (“She was accused of disrespecting her husband”).
All in all, these claims can be summarized in the news from La Época published Feb. 8, 1892: “The weapons forensic experts give precisions on the reach of the revolver used by Luna.
“The majority of the witnesses state that the character of the painter’s wife was both restless and haughty.
“The president reads the declaration of the nanny of Luna’s child, which confirms the adultery of Paz with Dussacq.
“Trinidad Pardo, the brother of Paz, declares that he always understood that Luna was right, and said that he once advised his sister to declare the truth and repent.
“He declares that his brother in law used to hit his sister, as it was confirmed upon checking her body, and that he advised her to separate from her husband.”
For those who don’t know the story, Juan Luna was acquitted by the French courts of the gruesome murder of Paz and her mother, Doña Juliana. There is absolutely no excuse for this abominable decision. As the lawyer of the prosecution, Félix Décori, pointed out in his final plaidoirie, Luna may have found himself above the justice of humans, but not above that of God: he will forever hear in his mind a voice that whispers to him, “Killer of women, murderer!”
If such a thing were to have happened today in France, Luna would have spent his remaining days incarcerated, and Paz would have become a powerful symbol for the defense of women against domestic violence. Unfortunately, in the Philippines, Article 247 of the Revised Penal Code can still protect a man if he murders his spouse by punishing him with destierro, which means he needs to live at least 25 kilometers away from the family of his victim. Hopefully, this embarrassingly antiquated article will be repealed soon. Of course, it goes without saying that Paz’s affair in no way excuses either Luna’s brutal, horrifying crime or the appalling miscarriage of justice on the part of the French courts. Paz Pardo de Tavera’s death was tragic, and the historical facts on the record do not make it any less so.