Looking Back

What Mascardo said that got Luna’s goat

/ 12:18 AM September 30, 2015

All the swearing in the film “Heneral Luna” seemed to have made it through the MTRCB (Movies and TV Review and Classification Board) because these were in Spanish. One wonders if the Spanish “p” word, when changed to the Filipino “p-i” word, would have gotten approval, or limited to a specific number in the film. This reminded me of a time when I followed a historical lead in order to find out what exactly Tomas Mascardo said that got Antonio Luna so worked up.

By the end of April 1899, the enemy was moving steadily northward from Manila in hot pursuit of Emilio Aguinaldo and the Malolos government. Luna, who was then chief commanding general of Central Luzon, ordered all his commanders to be ready at their stations and await instructions from his headquarters in Calumpit. During a particularly trying period, Luna was informed that General Mascardo had disobeyed Luna’s orders by leaving his headquarters in Guagua to attend a fiesta in Arayat.


Historians differ on the reason for Mascardo’s trip: One source says he was attending a fiesta, another says he was bathing, and yet another says he was courting a beautiful lady in whom Luna was also interested. Whatever the reason, Luna dispatched a telegram ordering Mascardo to return to his headquarters in Guagua immediately; he also reprimanded Mascardo for leaving Guagua without permission.

Of course, Mascardo ignored Luna’s telegram, insisting that as the politico-military commander of Pampanga he only took orders directly from Aguinaldo. Furthermore, Mascardo maintained that his trip was official because he was inspecting the troops in Arayat.


An exchange of sharp and rather sarcastic telegrams ensued, with Luna growing angrier at every turn. At one point he suggested that Mascardo read all the Philippine military orders carefully, adding: “If you do not understand Spanish, you can get an interpreter for their translation.” Mascardo replied with pride that he considered himself “honored in possessing only the language of my country (Tagalog).” When Luna could not tolerate this insubordination any longer, he ordered the arrest of Mascardo, who had meanwhile returned to Guagua, and detention for 12 hours.

Maj. Eugenio Hernando was sent to arrest Mascardo—by force, if necessary. Hernando was suitably armed and provided with sharpshooters and a section of cavalry for support. Fortunately, force was not necessary, because Hernando was cool-headed and managed to explain to Luna that his order could result in unnecessary bloodshed. He offered to talk things out with Mascardo, to which Luna agreed.

Naturally, the Mascardo-Hernando talks led nowhere, and there was one sentence that was crucial, as we shall see later.

Hernando travelled from Luna’s headquarters in Calumpit to Mascardo’s headquarters in Guagua; he disturbed Mascardo’s siesta, which did not put the latter in a good mood. He politely reasoned with Mascardo to submit to Luna’s authority, but Mascardo stood firm: He would only obey direct orders from Aguinaldo.

Hernando then warned Mascardo that Luna could use force to force his submission and obedience. Mascardo was not easily threatened, and declared: “Major, tell General Luna that if he is a man who can execute his orders, General Mascardo, likewise, is a man who knows how to fight!”

This quote, a translation from the original Tagalog, can be found in Teodoro A. Agoncillo’s “Malolos Crisis of the Republic” (1960) with a note that reads: “The Tagalog original mentions a part of the male anatomy which, among Tagalogs, symbolizes bravery and courage.” What could this be? I asked myself as I opened Vivencio Jose’s “Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna” (1971) to find a more direct quote, also translated from the original Tagalog, as: “Major, tell General Luna that if he has [the] balls who can execute his orders, General Mascardo, likewise, is a man who knows how to fight!”

So I went to an even earlier source in Spanish by Epifanio de los Santos that directed me to the original Tagalog quote that reads: “Komandante, inyong sabihin kay Heneral Luna na kung siya’y may bay-g ay gayon din si Heneral Mascardo na maipaglalaban sa kanya.”


Words have wings, and when Luna heard about Mascardo’s off-color remarks he loaded his men onto a train and headed to Guagua to discipline Mascardo. This act, made in anger, proved to be disastrous because while Luna was away the enemy broke through the Filipino defenses at Bagbag and took his headquarters in Calumpit. Everything was lost due to Luna’s pride and Mascardo’s personal loyalty to Aguinaldo. The fact is that a sneering reference to Luna’s anatomy led to the fall of Bagbag, resulting in the finger-pointing and blame game that added to a wish in the government to rid itself of the hot-tempered Luna, who insisted on pursuing the war to the last man while some suggested peace with the enemy.

As a postscript, I am sorry to disappoint the romantic chismoso who maintain that Luna lost Bagbag because he left his battle position to court Ysidra Cojuangco. There is a persistent rumor that the Cojuangco fortune was built on the money of the revolution entrusted to Ysidra Cojuangco shortly before Luna’s death. My research into primary sources shows that the Aguinaldo government was careful about money and accounting, and so far I have not found the documents to prove the Luna-Cojuangco story.

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TAGS: Antonio luna, Heneral Luna, Tomas Mascardo
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