Looking Back

Who really ordered Luna’s murder?

On the afternoon of June 5, 1899, Gen. Antonio Luna arrived in the kumbento of Cabanatuan for a meeting with Emilio Aguinaldo. Tired from traveling over 100 kilometers from his base in Bayambang, he was understandably upset to be told that the President had left earlier in the day. Luna was met by Felipe Buencamino, with whom he had previous disagreements. Then there was Capt. Pedro Janolino, as well as the Kawit presidential bodyguards reinstated by Aguinaldo after he had them disarmed. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Luna, together with his aide Col. Paco Roman, was killed. Luna suffered over 30 wounds from bolos, bayonets and bullets. A lesser man would have died instantly from half of his wounds, but the general was able to stagger out of the building, cursing his murderers, before falling lifeless on the church patio. When it was all over, Aguinaldo’s mother, who watched the slaughter from a church window, said: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan (Is he still alive)?”


Afterwards, Luna and his aide were given a proper military burial. But the questions persist to this day: Who really ordered the murder of Luna? Was Luna really summoned to a meeting with Aguinaldo? If so, why wasn’t Aguinaldo there? And why were Aguinaldo’s Kawit bodyguards left behind, when their job was to secure the President at all times?

Textbook history has been oversimplified to blame Aguinaldo when the story is more complicated. We know about the assassination, but not the other events that led to Luna’s bloody end. From The Evening News, an American paper published in Washington, we read this report a week later:


“Manila, June 13. [7.35 p.m.]—General Luna, lieutenant commander of the Filipino army, has been assassinated by order of Aguinaldo. He was stabbed to death by a guard selected by Aguinaldo to kill him. Reports were received here this morning giving the news that Luna had been assassinated, but the information was at first discredited. Investigation proved, however, that Luna had been killed and General Otis has authentic information regarding the death of the insurgent general.

“Details regarding the tragedy show that last Tuesday the general and his adjutant, Colonel Ramon [Roman], visited Aguinaldo’s headquarters at Cabanatuan, their purpose being to procure Aguinaldo’s authority to imprison all Filipinos suspected of being friendly to the United States. General Luna asked the captain of the guard in the lower hall of Aguinaldo’s quarters, if Aguinaldo was at home, to which question the captain replied in an insolent manner, ‘I don’t know.’

“Luna berated the officer vigorously for his insolence, whereupon the captain put his hand upon his revolver. Luna instantly drew his revolver and fired at the captain, who was only a second behind the general in drawing his weapon. The captain returned the fire. Both missed and Colonel [Roman] interfered, whereupon a sergeant of the guard stabbed Luna with a bayonet. The entire guard then attacked both Luna and [Roman] with bayonets and bolos, soon killing them. The wounds of both men were numerous.

“The guard whose insolence to Luna was the main cause of the assassination was, it is said, arrested, tried by court-martial and promptly acquitted. Further advices say that Ney [?], by order of Aguinaldo, purposely insulted Luna and forced a quarrel. One report says Luna was shot before Ney stabbed him.

“The foregoing information was sent by the Filipino leader, Pedro Paterno, to his brother in Manila by special courier and is confirmed from other sources. The assassination of Luna recalls the similar fate of Andres Bon[i]facio in the Cavite province in the beginning of the revolution. Both were rivals of Aguinaldo for the leadership of the Filipinos.

“Luna was exceedingly unpopular among the Filipino troops on account of his stubborn, dictatorial manners, and very little regret is expressed at his death. Luna and Aguinaldo were unable to agree as to the manner of conducting the campaign, and it is said the rebel chief was afraid he would be assassinated by Luna’s orders. The death of General Luna is looked upon by the majority of the Filipinos as an undisguised blessing.

“Adjutant General Corbin refused this morning to discuss the reported assassination of General Luna. He would not deny that General Otis had informed the department of Luna’s death, but refused to affirm. It is believed that the death of Luna will mark the beginning of a break in the insurgent ranks. Notwithstanding his lack of accord with Aguinaldo, Luna undoubtedly had many followers among the rebels and they will, it is believed, resent his murder.”


Pedro Paterno is cited as a source for the news report and others that appeared in US papers.

Paterno was biased against Luna, and it is obvious that those most threatened by Luna protected themselves by playing on Aguinaldo’s fear and insecurity. They got rid of Apolinario Mabini by intrigue, Luna had to be disposed of by murder. A more nuanced reading of the challenges that faced the short-lived First Philippine Republic leads us to the complex background of the Luna assassination.

History provides perspective to the intrigue swirling over all the presidential aspirants for next year’s election. History remains relevant because in it we come to understand human nature, and appreciate why we are the way we are.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Antonio luna, Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo, Felipe Buencamino, Paco Roman, Pedro Janolino, Pedro Paterno
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