The way Antonio Luna died
When Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna, passed away in Manila in 1952, his American wife Grace offered to sell the paintings in his estate to the Philippine government. The government refused the offer either from lack of funds or lack of interest, and Mrs. Luna packed everything and returned to New York. When she died, the estate passed to a friend named Beth Troster, who eventually also passed away, leaving all the Luna material in a New York attic.
One of the lawyers handling the estate remembered the name Juan Luna from a Philippines postage stamp and contacted the Philippine mission in New York, which responded with the same indifference displayed by the government in 1952 that led to this treasure leaving the country. Next the lawyers approached an auction house to dispose of the paintings, and were told that these had “no commercial value.”
To make a long story short, expatriate Filipino writer Alberto Florentino and his wife Eva were able to access the collection and brokered its return to the Philippines through Mario Alcantara of the Heritage Art Gallery in Cubao, Quezon City. Most of the paintings were acquired by the Far East Bank and Trust Co. (FEBTC) and donated to the National Museum, where they are currently displayed in a dedicated hall in the National Gallery of Art. Some of the paintings were retained by the FEBTC that was eventually acquired by the Bank of the Philippine Islands; a selection of these are currently on exhibit at the Ayala Museum.
What many people do not know is that an even bigger treasure was neglected in the Heritage Art Gallery—the papers and memorabilia not just of Juan Luna but also of his brother, the ill-fated Gen. Antonio Luna, who was assassinated in Cabanatuan in 1899 by soldiers he had disarmed and discharged. These soldiers were loyal to Emilio Aguinaldo, who took most of the blame for Luna’s assassination when the list of conspirators should include others in his cabinet who wished Luna dead.
While everyone was busy going over the Juan Luna paintings and speculating on the scads of money these would command in the art market, I was allowed to examine the boxes of papers and personal effects of which nobody took notice. In one box, for example, I saw the painting frock of Juan Luna as well as his brushes and palette. In another box, I saw the bloodied uniform of Antonio Luna that was preserved by his mother as a grisly reminder of his tragic death. In another box were architectural plans and all sorts of plaques and awards that once belonged to the famous architect Andres Luna de San Pedro.
I focused on a box that contained Antonio Luna’s papers—his student notebooks (which came complete with fine drawings of specimens he observed through a microscope) and the papers of his mature life: letters (including a batch of racy love letters from a woman named “Paquita”), parts of a journal, official military papers, etc. Since I was then a student on an allowance, I asked to borrow some papers to photocopy. To my surprise, Mario Alcantara, without even asking me to sign a receipt, let me cart home the whole balikbayan box of papers.
That weekend, I sorted out what I felt were the most important papers and had them photocopied. I had to wait a month for my next allowance to have the rest photocopied. And since I didn’t want to be responsible for the whole lot, I returned it to the Heritage Art Center, where everything was eventually destroyed in a fire triggered by a lightning bolt. It is all quite sad when you think that these papers survived the Philippine-American War and the Battle for Manila in 1945, as well as being consigned to the trash in New York in the 1980s. So much history lost in a freak accident.
Antonio Luna’s papers could have given us more information on the context in which his tragedy played out. When I was watching the film “Heneral Luna,” I waited for the assassination scene and got more than I bargained for. The violence in the last part of the movie would definitely merit an “R” rating in my book, but in the Philippines, people are more offended, or pretend to be offended, by sex in the cinema.
I went through my notes after watching the film, and wondered why the assassins were never punished. It is odd to even think that it was a case of self-defense because it was one man against a company of soldiers. One would think that once wounded, Luna was easy to disarm and contain, but that he received more than 30 wounds from bolos and gunshots is proof that much anger was released in that killing. One or two fatal wounds would have been enough for an ordinary murder, but 30? Then, of course, we have heard of Aguinaldo’s mother watching the murder from a window in the convent and, when all was done, shouting for confirmation that Luna had indeed been killed: “Nagalaw pa ba yan?”
Luna’s last will and testament were found in his papers after his death. It is dated March 31, 1899, and written en route from San Fernando to Calumpit: “1. I leave whatever I have to my mother. 2. If they will kill me, wrap me in a Filipino flag with all the clothing with which I was dressed when killed, and bury me in the ground. 3. I wish to state freely that I would die willingly for my country, for our independence, without thereby looking for death.”
With his tragic death Luna will be remembered for a long time because the way he died continues to our time.
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